After a Landon Donovan goal cancelled out an early strike by Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls kept pace with the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Saturday for a 1-1 draw against their Western Conference rivals.
Henry opened the scoring early by finishing a pinpoint accurate through ball from Dane Richards at the right of the penalty spot. The early strike rattled the Galaxy until Donovan leveled the score late in the first half by heading a David Beckham corner kick past a diving Bouna Coundoul. Though the two conference-leading sides played with ample pressure on the opposition, neither broke through for the game winner.
The draw keeps the Red Bulls atop the Eastern Conference with a two-point cushion over the Columbus Crew, while the Galaxy lost ground from the result thanks to a contentious win by Real Salt Lake over Chivas USA.
Play of the Game: Donovan's Non-Goal. While New York played the second half with the same pressure and confidence that carried them through the first, one wonders how that would have changed if the Galaxy had caught the lucky break instead of the Red Bulls right before halftime.
At 43 minutes, Beckham received a pass at the center circle from Chad Barrett and immediately lobbed it 20 yards forward to a sprinting Donovan. Donovan received Beckham's pass behind the Red Bulls defense and worked his way around Coundoul to clear all obstructions between him and the net. He gave an easy touch on the ball at the arc for what looked like an eminent Galaxy goal until Tim Ream scrambled from behind Donovan and diverted the shot away from net at the goal line.
Donovan's shot broke the plane of the goal line, but replays did not unequivocally show that the ball cleared it. While it might spark a few calls for implementing instant replay via goal-line technology, Ream's stop before halftime likely kept the floodgates closed on the Galaxy.
Man of the Match: Teemu Tainio. Though Tainio did not play on Saturday due to a sore groin, viewers could feel his absence on the pitch as Los Angeles pushed back against the Red Bulls' defense. Mehdi Ballouchy, who started over Carl Robinson in place of the injured Tainio, played admirably in relief and made no major gaffes that resulted in Galaxy goals. That said, he lacked the solid forward passing that Tainio consistently delivers and frequently struggled to mark an attacking Donovan. Ballouchy makes for an adequate plan B as a holding midfielder, but the Red Bulls could find themselves in trouble if he needs to emerge as a plan A.
The Honeymoon is Over. Coundoul's three-game shutout streak and 333 consecutive minutes without a goal scored came to an end courtesy of Donovan's strike in the forty-first minute. Save the lapse in judgment that put him out of position on Donovan's non-goal, Coundoul played another strong game in net with seven saves to his credit. Without the goodwill of the shutout streak providing wind for his sails, Coundoul will need to put some extra work in on his ball distribution from the penalty area and work to further cement himself as the number one goalkeeper in New York.
Agudelo Hype Machine: Two Agudelos (Out of Five). Juan Agudelo replaced Luke Rodgers late in the second half and finished Saturday's contest with one errant shot to his credit. While Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe inteds to give Agudelo more time as a super-sub to learn the game, one wonders what's left for him to learn riding the bench until late in games. It becomes doubly troubling to see Agudelo across from Henry up top as their playing styles mimic each other rather than complement one another. It's unclear how many opportunities Agudelo will get to make noise in New York before U.S. National Team duties coming calling for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup in June.
One. That's how many teams in the Eastern Conference won their match this week, and lowly Toronto FC's 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo likely does not send shivers of fear up New York's spine. While everyone hopes for a win against a team of the Galaxy's caliber, leaving Los Angeles with a point in the standings could prove just as valuable in the long run. It's not the sexy way to do it, but these gritty performances pay dividends later in the season.
The Red Bulls will make a pit stop in Canada this week for a friendly against the NASL's Montreal Impact on Wednesday. They then return home for a prime-time contest against Chivas USA on Sunday, May 15.
Chivas USA will look to rebound from a controversial 1-0 loss to CONCACAF Champions League runners-up Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The Goats will likely head to New York without Argentine forward Marcos Mondaini as a result of a red card issued to Mondaini for a vicious tackle on dynamic RSL midfielder Javier Morales.