New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC’s ex-Premier League strikers Thierry Henry and Jermain Defoe both produced master classes on Saturday.
In a clear reminder of their respective quality, Henry and Defoe carried their teams to victory in the MLS with the Red Bulls thumping Columbus Crew 4-1 and Toronto winning 4-2 against Houston Dynamo.
The wins saw both New York and Toronto strengthen their holds on play-off spots in the Eastern Conference.
In New York, Henry played a role in all four goals and also launched a half-time tirade against his team-mates to inspire them to the win, while in Canada, Defoe set up his team’s first goal and scored a second-half brace as Toronto came from 2-0 down to triumph.
Bradley Wright-Phillips was the first to benefit from Henry’s work at Red Bull Arena, tapping home from directly in front in the 17th minute to score his 15th goal of the season.
After Columbus equalised with six minutes left in the first half through Adam Bedell, Henry ensured the Red Bulls led at the break, stabbing home a loose ball after Wright-Phillips had two efforts saved within seconds of each other.
The Red Bulls captain was clearly unhappy with how the game was going, letting out a couple of angry words as he ran back to the halfway line and that continued at half-time.
“He [Henry] came in at halftime and was just irate and in a way it was good because he took it out on the [Crew] in the second half,” New York goalkeeper Luis Robles said.
“Obviously that was vintage Thierry. When he plays like that, there’s not a defence in the league that’s going to be able to stop him.”
Lloyd Sam and Eric Alexander took advantage of Henry’s brilliant vision in the second half as the Red Bulls made it five games without loss, strengthening their hold on fifth position in the East with a three-point gap on the sixth-placed Crew.
In Toronto, Houston led by two goals at the half-hour mark after an early brace from captain Brad Davis.
The United States international made it three goals in two games since returning from the FIFA World Cup but the home side were level by half-time.
Defoe set up the hosts’ first goal with a cross that was dropped by Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall, allowing Jonathan Osorio to pounce, while Dominic Oduro equalised in first-half stoppage time.
In the 63rd minute, Defoe put Toronto ahead, rounding two Houston defenders before slotting past Hall from a tight angle, while the English veteran made it 4-2 with a minute to play after pouncing on Servando Carrasco’s terrible back pass.
Toronto moved to 24 points with the win, one ahead of the Red Bulls, and the Canadian club sit third in the East.
Late goals were the order of the day, with five of the seven games including goals after the 85th minute.
Colorado Rapids scored twice in the final quarter of an hour to draw 3-3 at Philadelphia Union, who had Michael Lahoud sent off in the 77th minute, while Dom Dwyer completed his double in the 89th minute in Montreal as reigning champions Sporting Kansas City defeated the home-town Impact 2-1.
Across Canada in Vancouver, a second-half red card to the Whitecaps’ Jordan Harvey saw the home side capitulate in the closing stages against Chivas USA to lose 3-1.
In other MLS results, Chicago Fire won 1-0 at New England Revolution and Los Angeles Galaxy prevailed by the same score against Real Salt Lake.