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PRESEASON: Supporter Shield winners demonstrate class, composure in rout of Montreal

Out of the three following choices, what is most surprising: Roy Miller scored a goal, that goal came off his right foot or he can dance a smooth samba? The answer is actually none of the above. It is instead young Ruben Bover unleashing  a primal roar of prolonged frustration into the rainy Kississimee, FL. night.

That dance and scream occurred during the New York Red Bulls 3-0 win against the Montreal Impact in the second game of the Disney Pro Soccer tournament at the ESPN Wide World Sports Complex on February 22. The result is their first win in the mini-tourney and second overall in their 2014 preseason.

Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill returned to the lineup after not playing against Sporting Kansas City. The two veterans once again formed the forward pairing like they did versus Philadelphia. In defense, Richard Eckersley, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya and Roy Miller composed a completely new back four. Luis Robles retained his position behind them in goal, of course.

Dax McCarty and Peguy Luyindula played as the central midfield tandem, while Mike Petke’s favorite two way wingers, Eric Alexander and Johnny Steele, started on the right and left, respectively.

Miller’s aforementioned goal opened the scoreline right before halftime. Henry, who dropped deep as a playmaker on an earlier sequence, found the space to pass to Miller on a slashing run with a perfect through ball. Using his weaker right foot, Miller lifted the ball over the goalkeeper into the bottom corner. Cue the dancing.

The second goal of the night came after a slew of substitutions by both sides around the 60th minute mark. Ruben Bover, looking increasingly confident as a central midfielder alongside Michael Bustamante, received a pass from Lloyd Sam at the top of the 18. With no Montreal player closing him down, he rifled a shot near post. The power of his favored left foot beat the goalkeeper more than the accuracy.

Bradley Wright-Phillips (BWP) finished the scoring with an easy tap-in after hustle and bustle from forward partner, Andre Akpan. The goal came seconds after both strikers were subbed on for Henry and Cahill in the 67th minute. Wright-Phillips said the goal “was all Andre” and he “showed great work to close down”.

“That’s what Mike wants to see, close the guy down,” Wright Phillips said to newyorkredbulls.com. “Fortunately, I was just following in to see if he needed support, and it ricocheted to me.”

Beside the three goals, the other major positive to take from the game was the clean sheet. Although Montreal had some chances running in behind the back line and on set pieces, the starters and subs maintained a shutout against dangerous players like Marco Di Vaio and Felipe.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who replaced Robles in the second period, praised his rearguard’s fortitude on the night. “We’re a tough team to break through,” Meara said to newyorkredbulls.com. “To be like that this early in preseason, that’s a good sign.”

Dominantly defeating a conference rival is always cause for optimism, but fans should not forget that although points are rewarded and a winner will be crowned, this Disney tournament does not carry any significant meaning come opening kickoff in Vancouver on March 8.

“The most important part was the fitness,” Cahill said to newyorkredbulls.com. “But it’s nice to get the three goals as well.”

General thoughts:

  • Thierry Henry’s dominant and sharp start this preseason continued in the very first minute, as he won the ball deep in the midfield, played a “wall-pass” with Alexander on the right, and crossed a ball that just missed Cahill. His play making and defensive recoveries in deeper positions continually confused the Montreal midfielders. On multiple instances, the Frenchman twisted and turned away from midfield pressure to initiate an attack with a forward pass. Like in Jacksonville against the Union, Henry was again unplayable.
  • Is Eckersley better than Barklage? The right back made many overlapping runs in the final third, leading to a few crosses. A back-heel unread by Henry in the corner made the forward applaud the effort. He also had a powerful shot outside the 18 saved, but his game suggested no significant upgrade to Barklage of the past two seasons. At the very least, Barklage is more athletic  and dynamic than the young Englishman. He memorably scored a brace against former club DC United in 2012 and assisted on McCarty’s game-winner versus RSL last season.
  • Although Olave and Sekagya helped record a shutout, the two defenders did not always look in control. They allowed Di Vaio and second runners from midfield to sprint in behind the back line on multiple occasions. Only offside decisions from the linesman, several last ditch tackles and Robles saves, kept the Impact off the scoreboard.
  • Luyindula looked composed in central midfield. He consistently retained control of the ball and glided past his opponents. McCarty once questioned how his past coaches saw him only as a striker. The answer may lie with the fact that he possessed tremendous pace in his younger days. At 34, his loss of speed can seriously hinder his ability to play forward, however, this is less of a concern for a center midfielder.
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