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Drilling down on: at New York 1, Chicago 0

Chicago Fire v New York Red Bulls

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 18: Thierry Henry #14 of the New York Red Bulls looks on against the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena on July 18, 2012 in Harrison, New Jersey. Red Bulls defeated the Fire 1-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)

Mike Stobe

Man of the match:

Apologies to Markus Holgersson, the New York center back whose long legs were required for several clutch interventions (on the few occasions Chicago managed to get something going offensively). But when Thierry Henry uncorks something special like Wednesday, and when that “something special” is the only goal in an much-needed result, well, Man of the Match is pretty much decided.

(MORE: Watch Henry’s goal here.)

Packaged for take-away:

  • The story, of course, was the stifling heat (and the choice to play in mid-day). If you believe the tales of “field temperature,” it was somewhere north of 110 degrees on the surface at kickoff. (Those on-field readings are from instruments that sometimes sit in direct sunlight, so they don’t always accurately reflect how we consider relative “temperature,” which is typically gauged in the shade.) Still – it was damn hot. No argument there.
  • So the game was predictably slow and tactical, with lots of passes played to feet and not a lot of gut-busting (i.e., exhausting) runs off the ball. New York was much, much better at it.
  • First actual threat on goal: 20 minutes in, as Mehdi Ballouchy made a little room for himself just inside the Fire penalty area to test goalkeeper Sean Johnson. First corner kick: 24th minute.
  • Chicago wanted to sit in deep in a 4-2-3-1 and use the speedy Dominic Oduro on the counter. The problem was …
  • With so little of the ball, none of the Fire attackers seemed to be in the right mind. For instance, Chicago Brazilian playmaker Alex only rarely had something to say about Wednesday’s contest. With Alex not looking overly interested in finding doorways into involvement, Fire coach Frank Klopas withdrew him at halftime in favor of Patrick Nyarko.
  • Sebastien Le Toux started ahead of Kenny Cooper for the home team. Could have been tactical, or it may have been strategic, a chance to get Cooper some rest. He’s been one of New York’s reliably healthy bodies in 2012 and has played in every match so far. (Cooper entered in the 82nd Wednesday.)
  • For a team with Thierry Henry, there was still a lot of dump-and-chase going on for New York early.
  • New York’s Dax McCarty was seen in a slightly different role. He sat alongside Victor Palsson in a 4-4-2 but played as the more advanced man.
  • It wasn’t the best arrangement initially for McCarty, whose instincts (from being in the more defensive role more of this year) meant he still played safely and slightly more defensive. He still had a good match; The “Ginger Ninja’s” passing this year is among Major League Soccer’s best. But for about 20 minutes Wednesday, the distance from his two strikers sometimes got stretched.
  • That changed as Ballouchy adjusted his positioning. He started on the right in midfield, but with so little defending needed on his side (because Chicago’s Marco Pappa was a non-factor on attack, and because Fire left back Gonzalo Segares wasn’t a bit interested in rampaging forward – and who could blame him?) Ballouchy began turning up in different spots, free to hunt and peck that way. That’s when New York turned a lot of ineffective possession into effective attacks. So “voilà!” ... McCarty then had his link with the forwards.
  • On the other hand, it created an odd effect: Ballouchy handled the ball a lot more than Henry, who remained higher alongside (sometimes too much “alongside”) Le Toux.
  • Red Bulls right back Brandon Barklage had something to do with all that, as well. His big effort to get up the right side was responsible for supplying width, which otherwise would have been lost as Ballouchy shimmied inside.
  • When the visitors did gain possession, they had few ideas on how to move forward. The Fire finished with one shot on target. Even in oppressive conditions, on the road, that’s pretty lame when facing a backup goalkeeper who needed some testing. Bill Gaudette started for a second consecutive match for injured rookie Ryan Meara.
  • New York always seemed to have a goal; Henry took a good delivery from Le Toux to provide it.
  • Referee Edvin Jurisevic looked capable in terms overall management in this one. But he did decline to call a high foot three times. With the concussion problems going around MLS, referees need to be vigilant in policing that, too.