COMMENTARY | This moment, this scenario, this fall is exactly why the New York Red Bulls acquired Thierry Henry back in July 2010.
There is no clear-cut favorite to win either the Major League Soccer Supporters' Shield or the MLS Cup this September. Real Salt Lake may finish the regular season atop the overall league standings, but I'm not yet convinced that they aren't this year's version of the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes. Odds are that LA Galaxy are going to stumble in the playoffs eventually. Neither Sporting Kansas City (who recently lost Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough) nor Montreal Impact have been consistent enough to be runaway favorites to win the MLS East. Many are on the Seattle Sounders bandwagon at the moment, but we've been here before with this franchise.
That leaves the Red Bulls. Like every team mentioned in the previous paragraph, New York undeniably have recognizable holes. They're painfully light on strikers, their wing play disappears far too often, and the back line is one Jamison Olave injury away from being a disaster in the making. With that said, the Red Bulls have two legitimate stars with the talent needed to carry a squad to the first championship in the history of the franchise, a trophy win that would ease the pain felt by the most battered fan base in all of MLS.
Check that. The Red Bulls had two legitimate stars healthy and ready to go.
New York lost Tim Cahill to injury for "3-4 weeks" for the second time in two months due to a questionable tackle, this time during last weekend's RBNY vs. DC United contest. I placed the timetable in quotes because Cahill managed to return earlier than originally expected in August, and all indications were that he had fully recovered from the PCL tear. The fear now is that Cahill may not again be at his best until he's able to go through an entire offseason. "First the PCL, and now an ankle injury," one source who wished to remain anonymous explained to me. "(Cahill) is kind of a medical marvel, but he also turns 34-years old in December, and this guy has been through wars. He needs rest."
Cahill has, for my money, been the team's unquestionable MVP in 2013. He's been more than just the emotional leader everybody knew the club was getting when he signed for New York in July 2012. No RBNY player has netted more goals this season than has Cahill (8). I don't see how anybody could debate that New York have been at their best with Cahill healthy and in the starting XI.
Henry's campaign has not been nearly as successful. He's scored just seven times, he's often looked disinterested during contests, and he was even benched by head coach Mike Petke for 58 minutes this past Saturday. Henry, a living legend and maybe the best overall player of his generation, has a reputation for checking out early when he's over a project. Multiple individuals with knowledge of the situation hinted to me this past winter that 2013 would be the last year Henry played in MLS.
Henry also happens to be maybe the most competitive athlete the US top flight has ever had. That's the man the Red Bulls desperately need with Cahill sidelined and potentially slowed up through November. New York need their captain, the guy who remains patient enough to get around defenders using his IQ rather than his physical skills that have diminished over the past several years, the star who barks at both opposing players and at teammates during matches, the icon who gestures to supporters and then rewards those fans with highlight reel goals.
In short, the Red Bulls need angry Henry.
It's possible that Petke was looking to find that version of the player by leaving him out of the starting lineup against DC. Video clips of Henry laughing it up with teammates before the singing of the national anthem left me believing that the coach's tactic didn't achieve its desired result. The likes of Petke and even Cahill won't be able to light a fire in Henry. He's done it all and he's won it all, and he now has to find that spark that has, throughout his career, gone out from time to time for whatever reasons.
Otherwise, the Red Bulls don't stand a chance.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Red Bulls
- Thierry Henry
- Major League Soccer
- Tim Cahill