After struggling to find the right partner for Thierry Henry this season, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke may have finally found his man.
It started back on April 16, with the Red Bulls winless and in need of a spark. Petke decided to pair Henry with Bradley Wright-Phillips as his strike partner against the Philadelphia Union. The result was the Red Bulls first win of 2014 and the start of a three-game unbeaten run that has seen Wright-Phillips at the center of New York’s good fortunes.
The former Manchester City man tallied four goals in the next two matches – a hat trick versus the Houston Dynamo on April 23 and the game-tying tally last Saturday against the Columbus Crew – and earned Major League Soccer’s Players of the Week honors for his blistering-hot form.
With Wright-Phillips firmly established in the starting lineup, he is now finding his comfort zone with Henry and the rest of the team.
“I feel like when I play with Thierry and most of the players, I feel like I’m going to get a chance … at some stage of the game,” he said to the media after his career night against Houston. “I don’t worry about getting chances, just putting them away.”
Petke has been impressed with Wright-Phillips’ partnership with Henry and credits the Englishman for putting in a good shift when partnering the Red Bulls captain up top.
“Well, it’s not easy to play partner along someone like Thierry,” Petke said. “And I mean that in a good way because Thierry is a guy that likes to drop, and he’s so creative that a lot of times only one guy up front. It’s not an easy task for somebody. Bradley’s accepted that throughout this year and he knows he’s the guy that has to occupy the center backs for large chunks.”
A LOOK AHEAD: AT FC DALLAS (SUNDAY 2:30 PM, MSG)
The Red Bulls face their sternest test Sunday when they hit the road to battle FC Dallas.
Tied with the Seattle Sounders for the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, FC Dallas had been one of MLS’s hottest teams before losing, 4-1, to DC United last week.
It could be a good time for the Red Bulls to head down to Texas with the Hoops facing a variety of injury and suspensions issues. Playmaker Mauro Diaz, MLS’s Player of the Month in March, left the match against DC United with a knock to his knee, while midfielder Michel and right back Zach Loyd will be unavailable for Sunday’s contest due to red cards received against DC United.
Despite the missing personnel for FC Dallas, Petke is not taking Sunday’s match lightly.
“They have two players out for suspension, but I don’t think that really affects them as much as perhaps it would other teams because they do have other valuable players and the system that they play,” he said on a conference call Tuesday. “They have the players on the bench, as well, who come on and know their position. So I expect a very difficult game in Dallas, extremely difficult.”
The Red Bulls will be facing their own lineup headaches, albeit one Petke will welcome. Tim Cahill is expected to be at full fitness, and, despite New York’s three-game unbeaten run, Petke said that the Australian international will more than likely play some part in the match against FC Dallas.
“Tim is a very valuable part of this group and it’s easy to fit someone like Tim in when he’s 100 percent healthy,” he said. “So whether that will be in the midfield, up front, there should and will always be a place for Tim whether that’s off the bench or to start.”