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April 26, 2007

Bulls get 4th straight shutout in 1-0 win


Hunter Freeman scored the lone goal for the Red Bulls in the 79th minute.
Hunter Freeman scored the lone goal for the Red Bulls in the 79th minute.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Frisco, Texas -- It's stuff you rarely have heard about the Red Bulls over the years.

League records, a defense that refuses to budge or crack and a defender scoring the winning goal only 10 minutes from where he grew up.

Four games into this very young MLS season and the Red Bulls find themselves atop the 13-team league.

They can thank another solid defensive performance and Hunter Freeman's first goal of the season en route to a 1-0 victory over F.C. Dallas before a crowd of 14,087. at Pizza Hut Park Thursday night.

Coach Bruce Arena likes to remind the media that there is a long way to go. But in contrast to last year's version of the team, the Red Bulls already have come a long way.

They are 3-0-1 with 10 points, off to their best start in the club's not always glorious 12-year history. Last year they didn't record their 10th point until their 10th game on June 10.

Just as importantly, they haven't surrendered a goal in four matches, which is a league record for the longest defensive scoreless streak from a season's kick off.

The win also equaled the Red Bulls' road total from 2006, when they finished with an awful 1-8-7 mark.

"It was well-deserved in the end," said midfielder Dave van den Bergh, who set up Hunter Freeman's game-winning goal in the 79th minute.

"New York played better and they won the game, and deserved it," added Dallas coach Steve Morrow, whose Western Conference leading side fell to 2-2-1.

To Arena, his team's success on defense is no secret.

"We play very well as a unit," he said. "It’s our entire team that understands that when the other team has the ball, we’ve got to work together and try to get it back. And plus, our ability to hold the ball at times is a defensive mechanism as well. But overall, I think we continue to grow as a team."

Freeman, who hails from Allen, Texas only 10 minutes away, beat goalkeeper Shaka Hislop from six yards, firing home a van den Bergh left-wing cross.

"I actually had a similar play probably a minute before that where Dave played the exact same ball where (Dallas defender Chris) Gbandi slipped and kind of caught me off guard and the ball bounced off my shin and I was kind of mad at myself about that," Freeman said.

"A minute later, Dave played another great ball in. Gbandi overran it. It bounced off the ground and I took it off my chest and I just tried to hit it as hard as I could. I could see that the players were running at me, but I was just concentrating on the ball and fortunately for me and the team, it went in."

In front of his personal cheering section.

"It’s great to do it in your home town is always good in front of friends and family," Freeman said. "To come out on the winning side and for us to continue our shutout streak, you couldn’t ask for a better scenario than that."

The talk in the locker room afterward was the team defense.

The Red Bulls eclipsed the previous league mark of 345 minutes without allowing a goal from the start of the season, which was held by the 1999 Dallas Burn (before the team changed its name to F.C. Dallas).

While the back four of Freeman, Carlos Mendez, Jeff Parke and Todd Dunivant played well in front of goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus -- he had to make four saves -- the players felt the team defense was the key again. Waterreus' most difficult stop came in the 76th minute, when he denied Arturo Alvarez from in-close before Mendes cleared the rebound out of harm's way.

"It all starts with the frontrunner," van den Bergh said. "Jozy (Altidore) does a very good job. He fights for 90 minutes to shut the defenders down and not give them an easy out. I think the guys in the midfield try to shut off the passing lanes and obviously, they’re going to get through. But if they do get through, we have a great defense and behind them, we have a great goalie. We’re a very tough team to score against and it shows."

Team captain Claudio Reyna credited the Red Bulls' possession game as a key to the shutout and keeping such dangerous attacking players as Carlos Ruiz and Kenny Cooper (both players have two goals apiece) off the scoreboard for the second time within two weeks. The Red Bulls blanked Dallas in their April 15 home opener, 3-0.

"It’s important in the heat to keep the ball and we did that," he said. "You saw over 90 minutes that we created more chances and we were very sound defensively and only held them to a few chances. That speaks volumes because I think Dallas is a good attacking team. Defensively, we have to be very proud of the way we played."
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