In a battle of Eastern Conference heavyweights, the Montreal Impact held on to a tie-breaking lead over the New York Red Bulls at the top of the division, but left Red Bull Arena feeling every bit the second rate side.
In their most dominating 90 minute performance of the season, New York flattened Montreal 4-0 in front of a lively crowd of 17,235 fans.
“It was a great result for us,” Head Coach Mike Petke said. “I thought they, especially the first half, they executed almost everything we wanted in the video, pregame. Second half, as usual with most teams, (Montreal) comes out energized as they are down. I am sure the coach really gave it to them at half-time. They came at us a bit but we weathered the storm and got back to the way we were in the first half as the second half went on, finished the game strong.”
The Red Bulls now hold a 9-7-4 record while the Impact fall to 9-5-4 on this third and final regular season encounter between the two clubs (New York holds a 2-1 edge head to head).
Eric Alexander enjoyed a standout night, starting with a weaving run in the eighth minute of the match. The Red Bulls winger took the ball from the center stripe and marched right through the right side of the Impact defense, shaking off three defenders in the box and firing a shot past an outstretched Troy Perkins.
“There was a lot of space in the game,” Alexander noted. “It was hot out. Transition was tough for both teams. When the game opens up like that, especially when there is a lot of space in the wings, I was getting good balls from my teammates and they were making good off the ball runs – it gave me one on one situations.”
Alexander would take a nearly identical run later in the half, only to see his shot hit the post.
Meanwhile, Fabian Espindola continued his resurrection. The Argentine striker took a ball from the wingside some eight minutes after Alexander’s goal and sent a delicate service into the box, finding Thierry Henry. The team captain got a toe past his defender and beat Perkins to double the team’s lead.
Montreal struggled to find answers. Their best opportunity of the night came on a Marco Di Vaio headed goal that was called offside.
The New York Red Bulls, meanwhile, just kept on the pressure. An Henry corner kick in the 63rd minute found a diving Tim Cahill in the box, slamming home the Red Bulls third goal of the night.
The icing on the cake came in the 88th minute when Lloyd Sam picked up a foul in the box off of a frustrated Jeb Brovsky. Henry looked towards longtime friend Peguy Luyindula to take the shot. With a low attempt to the far right, the Frenchman beat Perkins and ended his scoreless streak, giving the Red Bulls their fourth and final goal of the night.
“It was a little weird for me,” Luyindula admitted. “I’ve been waiting for that since a long time.”
By night’s end, a Sporting KC victory over Chicago gave put them two points ahead of both the Impact and New York.
The Red Bulls host Lyon this Tuesday in a friendly match before hitting the road Saturday for Toronto.