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Frank Isola: Red Bulls' glamour Galaxy tilt hamstrung by Henry injury

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Frank Isola: Red Bulls' glamour Galaxy tilt hamstrung by Henry injury
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Frank Isola: Red Bulls' glamour Galaxy tilt hamstrung by Henry injury

Thierry Henry managed to do what no one else in Major League Soccer has done this season: stop Thierry Henry.

The French striker was on record-setting pace, seemingly scoring goals at will and terrorizing opposing defenders and goalkeepers. But Henry’s history-in-the-making season was been interrupted due to a right hamstring injury that could keep the New York Red Bulls superstar sidelined for more than a month.

For the short term, the injury is a crushing blow to MLS. The league’s two marquee teams – New York and Los Angeles Galaxy – meet in a nationally televised game on Saturday at Home Depot Center.

Henry versus David Beckham is to MLS what Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James is to the NBA. Those meetings, however special, are few and far between, so when an injury prevents one of the world's biggest stars from taking the field, it feels like the proverbial punch to the stomach.

For the long term, Henry’s injury "is disastrous" for the Red Bulls, according to their head coach Hans Backe. That's no exaggeration. New York is already playing without Juan Agudelo, who is recovering from knee surgery. The club's other Designated Player, Rafa Marquez, is serving a suspension for breaking a player's collarbone. (Think of Marquez as the Metta World Peace of MLS.)

The Red Bulls suddenly have significant problems. They have a young backline that on Saturday in Los Angeles will have to contend with Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle. The club's only healthy striker is Kenny Cooper, who is third in the league with seven goals.

Cooper, though, has benefited from playing alongside Henry, who was loaned to Arsenal over the winter and returned to the States on a mission. Henry already has nine goals with five assists and has played like the world class striker the Red Bulls signed two years ago.

"His leadership in every single training session is invaluable," Backe said. "It's a huge loss for us, both on and off the pitch. It's going to be difficult now without him."

The injury doesn’t mean Henry can’t return and eventually lead the Red Bulls to their first championship. The season, after all, is still young.

Henry, however, is not.

Henry will turn 35 in August, which is old for a professional footballer and ancient for a striker. Henry, though, keeps himself in fine condition and still enjoys the competition. His mind is still young. But there is no way of knowing how Henry’s body will respond.

Will the injury linger or does Henry pick up where he left off? Backe should fear the worst. That’s what coaches do. Last Saturday, Henry finished off a pass from Conor Lade, the rookie out of St. John’s University, to give the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead over New England. But 15 minutes later, Henry made a run for the goal only to fall to the turf after attempting a quick stop. It could be his last act on a soccer pitch for a while.

"It's quite a big hamstring [injury]," Backe said. "A huge one."

Henry’s injury is a big loss for Red Bulls and the league. His once-in-a-lifetime season is over for now. He'll miss at least five games, including his showdown with Beckham in Los Angeles. The Galaxy should consider themselves lucky.

Maybe in a few months those same two teams will meet in the final of the MLS Cup. If so, we'd all consider ourselves lucky.

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