It ended with one final moment of genius from Thierry Henry and with the crowd waving their arms as if to tell the Frenchman “we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.”
This was the type of night MLS commissioner Don Garber dreamed about when Henry decided to trade fame and fortune in Barcelona for relative anonymity and fortune in Manhattan. Red Bull Arena was sold out on a mild September night in Harrison, NJ and Henry was at the top of his game. This is precisely what the league needed and exactly what Henry can do.
“Thierry,” said Red Bulls manager Hans Backe, “was phenomenal.”
Henry contributed to all four goals in New York’s 4-1 win over road-weary Toronto FC last Saturday. The final tally was three assists and one absolutely sublime goal in the stoppage time when he finessed a chip shot over Freddy Hall, Toronto’s helpless goalkeeper. Henry has now scored 14 goals in 21 starts and on this night he was simply playing at a different level.
Kenny Cooper scored two of the easiest goals you’ll ever see because of Henry’s brilliance. On two separate occasions, Henry out-foxed multiple defenders by playing perfect passes to Cooper, who was left unmarked 10 yards from goal.
While everyone was expecting Henry to shoot, he showed excellent vision and unselfishness by making the extra pass.
“If I see a guy in better position I’ll try to pass it,” said Henry, whose first assist came when Markus Holgersson headed home his corner kick. “It’s as simple as that.”
Henry can be the easiest and toughest superstar to play with. Easy because his play-making ability transcends the game and makes those around him better and more confident. Tough because he wears his emotions on his sleeve and has an annoying habit of raising his arms in frustration when his teammates don’t perform up to his standards.
There are times when Henry needs to be reminded that he’s no longer playing with the likes of Robin van Persie and Lionel Messi. A little patience every now and again wouldn't hurt. Henry’s frustration got the best of him in the closing minutes of a loss to Sporting KC on Sept. 19 when he head-butted an opposing player. Henry was suspended one game for his foolish and embarrassing outburst. That transgression was fresh in everyone’s mind when Henry took to the pitch on Saturday against Toronto FC, and Henry more than redeemed himself.
“When he shines like this, you could say he’s the best player in the league,” Backe added.
Even David Beckham and Landon Donovan realize that Henry is the premiere player in MLS, but Beckham and Donovan own the title that has eluded Henry and the Red Bulls. Ultimately, Henry will be judged on how many trophies he delivers to championship-starved New York. He’s won just about every medal available except for an MLS Cup.
The Red Bulls brought him here to accomplish just that. They brought him here for moments like last Saturday when Henry showed that even at 35 he’s still very much a world-class player. He’s a true superstar who needs to cap his career in the United States by doing exactly what Beckham did last season.
Follow FRANK ISOLA on Twitter