MLS WEEK 18: Red Bulls taking giant strides

New York's inability to matter in Major League Soccer, either as the MetroStars (as its club was known from 1996 to 2005) or Red Bulls, is over. With just two signings, the longtime stragglers have become the league's signature franchise, no matter what David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the Galaxy might believe.

Thierry Henry became the greatest player to take the field in MLS when he was in the Red Bulls' lineup for last weekend's 2-2 draw at Houston, and on Monday the club announced former Mexico national team captain Rafael Marquez had arrived from Barcelona.

That's a great 1-2 punch. Both figured in the World Cup in South Africa -- Henry became the first Frenchman to play in four World Cups; Marquez made his third Cup appearance for Mexico -- and although both are on the wrong side of 30, neither is so far past his prime that comparisons to the North American Soccer League's old-boys policy is warranted.

New York has struggled to forge an identity since MLS kicked off. Despite a long line of big-name coaches (from Eddie Firmani to Carlos Queiroz to Carlos Alberto Parreira to Bora Milutinovic to Bob Bradley to Mo Johnston to Bruce Arena) and more than a few superstar players (including World Cup winners Lothar Matthaeus, Branco and Youri Djorkaeff), the club has rarely been a winner. It's lone MLS Cup apperarance, two years ago, followed a miracle run through the playoffs.

Red Bull GmbH, the Austria-based makers of the energy drink, took over the team in 2006, and after a few hiccups, it's starting to get things right. Red Bull Arena, which opened this year in Harrison, N.J., is by all accounts the finest soccer-specific facility in the country. The hiring of Swedish coach Hans Backe, frontrunner for MLS Coach of the Year honors, has been a real coup: He's got the Red Bulls in second place in the Eastern Conference, much better than any honest prognosticator had them in preseason.

And stars aside, there's some talent on the roster: We like, a lot, Senegalese midfielder/forward Macoumba Kandji, Ghanaian forward Salou Ibrahim, Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere, and speedy Jamaican winger Dane Richards, among others.

But the additions of Henry and Marquez is something else. Henry might be the most dynamic attacker France has produced; he's unquestionably among the finest players of his generation. And Marquez, no matter some of his unsavory antics in rivalry games against the U.S., is the most important Mexican player of the past decade -- sorry, Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

If Backe can make everything mesh, get the chemistry right, then Marquez's comments at his introductory press conference may turn out correct.

“I am totally convinced that I’ve made the right decision,” he said. “I believe in the project that Red Bull has started. … It’s a project that is growing, and I think it will be the best team in MLS.”

DYNAMO LOSE ONSTAD: The Houston Dynamo, already reeling from an eight-game MLS winless streak that has left the club -- usually one of the big contenders for the title -- just two points from the Western Conference cellar, got a big dose of bad news when an MRI exam showed that goalkeeper Pat Onstad has torn abdominal muscles.

The Canadian national-teamer, at 42 MLS's oldest player, has long been among the elite netminders in the league. Tally Hall, who spent two seasons in Denmark without starting a first-team match before joining Houston last year, will play in Onstad's absence.

Not all the news is bad for Houston. Star midfielder Geoff Cameron, who was thought to be done for the season when he suffered a knee injury in April, is expected to play in Thursday's SuperLiga semifinal against Morelia.

ODDS AND ENDS: Juan Pablo Angel was Player of the Week after scoring both of New York's goals, both on assists from MLS debutant Thierry Henry, in a 2-2 draw with Houston. … Defender Ike Opara, among the Rookie of the Year frontrunners, will require surgery to repair a broken foot sustained in San Jose's loss to Seattle. … The rumored Omar Bravo-to-Kansas City deal looks like it's dead. Bravo played for Guadalajara in its Copa Libertadores semifinal second leg Tuesday night, and Chivas apparently wants to keep him. … A group headed by former Tottenham executive Paul Kemsley, with Pele as honorary president, is looking to revive the New York Cosmos, the signature franchise of the old North American Soccer League. MLS officials, who have long had interest in putting a second franchise into the nation's biggest market, acknowledged that there have been talks with the group. … Former UCLA forward Kamani Hill, who spent four seasons in Europe, is training with the San Jose Earthquakes.

Past week’s scores (home teams listed first)


Colorado 1 (Ballouchy pen. 26), FC Dallas 1 (og Baudet 22)

Philadelphia 1 (Le Toux 25), New England 1 (Perovic 70)

Kansas City 1 (Bunbury 62), Toronto FC 0

Houston 2 (Davis 24, Mullan 89), New York 2 (Angel 10, 58)

Real Salt Lake 3 (Saborio 13, Findley 79, Gonzalez 94+), D.C. United 0

San Jose 0, Seattle 1 (Montero 26)

Chivas USA 3 (Braun 37, Gavin 45, Borja 53), Columbus 1 (Lenhart 88)


L.A. Galaxy 2 (Donovan pen. 37, pen. 81), Chicago 3 (Pappa 4, John 5, Banner 19)


Western Conference: L.A. Galaxy 40 points, Real Salt Lake 34, FC Dallas 27, Seattle Sounders FC 25, Colorado Rapids 24, San Jose Earthquakes 23, Houston Dynamo 20, Chivas USA 18

Eastern Conference: Columbus Crew 34, New York Red Bulls 27, Toronto FC 23, Chicago Fire 20, Kansas City Wizards 19, Philadelphia Union 15, New England Revolution 15, D.C. United 12

This week's games (all times Pacific)


Columbus at Philadelphia, 5 p.m.


Chivas USA at Toronto FC, 1 p.m.

D.C. United at New England, 4:30 p.m.

Real Salt Lake at Kansas City, 5:30 p.m.

San Jose at Colorado, 6 p.m.


Philadelphia at FC Dallas, 3 p.m.

New York at Chicago, 6 p.m.

Houston at Seattle, 8 p.m.

Leading goalscorers

1. Edson Buddle (Los Angeles) 12

2. Juan Pablo Angel (New York) 11

3. Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC) 8

Sebastian Le Toux (Philadelphia) 8

Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) 8

6. Justin Braun (Chivas USA) 7

Conor Casey (Colorado) 7

Fredy Montero (Seattle) 7

Marco Pappa (Chicago) 7

Steve Zakuani (Seattle) 7


Past week's results (home teams listed first)

Tuesday, July 27

Friendly: Harrisburg City Islanders (USL Second Division) 1 (og Harvey 31), Philadelphia 1 (Mwanga 30)

CONCACAF Champions League: L.A. Galaxy 1 (og Martinez 83), Puerto Rico Islanders (USSF D2 Pro League) 4 (Foley 26, Addlery 45, 81, Hansen 55)

CONCACAF Champions League: Toronto FC 1 (Barrett 20), Motagua (Honduras) 0


MLS All-Star Game: Manchester United (England) 5 (Macheda 1, 12, Gibson 70, Cleverley 73, Hernandez 84), MLS All-Stars 2 (Ching 64, De Rosario 90)

CONCACAF Champions League: Seattle 1 (Montero 60), Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) 0


CONCACAF Champions League: Motagua (Honduras) 2 (Guevara 6, 64), Toronto FC (MLS) 2 (De Rosario 59, Barrett 79)

CONCACAF Champions League: Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) 1 (Canales 34), Seattle Sounders (MLS) 1 (Fernandez 75)

This week's games (all times Pacific)


SuperLiga: Puebla (Mexico) at New England, 4 p.m.

CONCACAF Champions League: L.A. Galaxy at Puerto Rico Islanders (USSF D2 Pro League), 5 p.m.


SuperLiga: Morelia (Mexico) at Houston, 5 p.m.

Friendly: Inter Milan (Italy) at FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m.


Friendly: L.A. Galaxy vs. Real Madrid (Spain) at the Rose Bowl, 7:30 p.m.