Last week, Thierry Henry shrugged for much of his answer when asked about playing three straight afternoon games in the middle of summer. The middle game of that stretch, a 1-0 New York win over visiting Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, saw a 100-degree temperature at a 1 p.m. kickoff. Henry noted that baseball players do play games during the day in summer but in baseball, the players also don’t have to run for 90 minutes straight.
The heat impacted a game that was played at a snail’s pace, which most of the match lacking rhythm. The final 15 minutes degenerated into hopeless long balls from both teams. A 71st minute goal by Henry, who took down a long pass by Sebastian Le Toux in the penalty area and left-footed a shot off the post that rolled into the goal, was the difference. It was a moment of brilliance in what essentially amounted to a scorched earth policy where the Red Bulls tried to control the game’s flow.
“We said before the game there’s no [use] to just talk about the heat or the way we’re playing. It has to be smart decision-making and when you have the possession or when to move forward,” head coach Hans Backe said. “I think overall it was a decent game with these conditions but the players were afraid, in a way, because of the heat. We said, ‘Let’s do our job for 90 minutes.’”
The Red Bulls had a handful of chances in the slowly played game and looked the more dangerous side throughout, registering four shots on goal compared to Chicago’s one.
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“We knew it wasn’t going to be much to the game,” Henry said. “It wasn’t going to be the best game ever.”
The Red Bulls held possession for 61 percent of the match, meaning that they let the ball do the work and made the visitors chase the game. It was part of a design to lower their exertion level and not have to force the issue as much. It was the Fire who looked the more tired of the two sides by the second half.
“Especially today, you want to be on the ball as much as possible and I think that will make you run less. For us before the game, we’re like ‘OK, it’s very hot, we better be on the ball, be very simple,’” midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy said.
“The more you have the ball, the less you’re running after the ball.”
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for updates from practice and extended team coverage.