[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan each scored a goal and jawed at each other on a few occasions; their confrontations and those of their attacking teammates formed one of the many intriguing subplots as the Galaxy and Red Bulls tied, 1-1 at Home Depot Center Saturday.
At the risk of oversimplification, it can be said that last year the Red Bulls jettisoned a cerebral South American striker for an English product of younger and more rugged vintage.
True, Luke Rodgers officially signed with MLS many weeks after New York exposed Juan Pablo Angel in the Re-Entry Draft, by which means Los Angeles claimed and eventually signed him, but his possible acquisition had surfaced during the latter stages of the 2010 season. New York, also mindful of teenager Juan Agudelo’s rapid development, had told Angel during the summer that in the wake of Henry’s arrival, no longer did the Colombian fit into its plans.
So Angel’s performance for the Galaxy against his former team gave this matchup a sharper edge, though during the 90 minutes Angel stuck to a quiet if intense resolve, while Henry and Donovan kicked and cajoled and mocked each other on several occasions. They also scored, which Angel failed to do.
Henry stunned LA in the fourth minute with a simple yet classy finish, immaculately controlling a curving pass from Dane Richards to take it past keeper Donovan Ricketts and then drill it into the empty net. After an Angel shot into the net was correctly disallowed for offside, Donovan equalized shortly before halftime with a sharp header from a David Beckham corner kick, and a minute or so later Donovan rolled a shot toward an open goal that a scrambling Tim Ream hooked off the goal line with a masterful desperation slide.
Angel played the full 90 minutes and despite plenty of touches in good spots couldn’t add to the one goal and one assist he’s registered in 2011. Still, he showed his instincts are still sharp even if his finishing has been erratic.
In the first half, he cut inside from the left to open up a lane to goal, but his right-footed shot along the ground missed the near post by a couple of yards. In the second half, he glided past a ball-watching Ream to re-direct a Beckham cross wide of the near post in the 54th minute, and 19 minutes later he angled his jump away from goal to meet a Chad Barrett cross to snap a header right at Red Bulls keeper Bouna Coundoul.
Rodgers, active as always but seldom effective, gave way to Agudelo in the 72nd minute, and the youngster squandered a great chance he escaped defenders to head a foot wide in the final minutes. Occasionally Dwayne De Rosario got on the end of an attacking sequence, and near the end he pieced a nice combination with Henry to drive into the goalmouth, where a brave block by Ricketts thwarted him. Throughout the game, Angel maintained his focus, connected to the action without getting caught up in its wilder moments.
The Angel subplot played out subtly, his poise and composure serving as a counterpoint to bubbling emotions and some spectacular moments, such as Henry’s juggle up the sideline that moved the ball more than a dozen yards upfield without it touching the ground. A Richards shot off the post in the final minutes added credence to Red Bull coach Hans Backe’s observation that the match could have ended 3-3 just as easily as 1-1.
As the season unfolds, Angel’s goals and assists will be more critically compared to his salary of $1.25 million, a cut of about $650,000 from his Red Bull wages. To him, the 58 goals he scored in four seasons for the Red Bulls are less relevant to than his current team's place in the standings.
With more games played in MLS than any team except Seattle, the Galaxy (4-2-4, 16 points) is first in overall points. The Red Bulls (4-1-3) are second, a point behind.
“At the end of the day it’s just another three points that we’re playing for,” Angel told mlssoccer.com. “I felt good. I was calm. There are emotions obviously playing against your old teammates and the team you played a number of years for but to me it was just another game.”