Thierry Henry returns to Emirates Stadium with New York Red Bulls this weekend.
Arsenal fans know everything about the Arsenal legend but what about the rest of the New York roster?
We spoke to Michael Fensom, a soccer writer for the Star-Ledger, to get an American perspective on the MLS side.
THE STORY SO FAR
The Red Bulls came into this season with high expectations. Last year they won the Eastern Conference and crashed out of the play-offs in the first round but the team is considered stronger this year. Some of their young players have come through and gained experience at the end of last year. So far they have had a year that has underwhelmed. Right now their record is 6-5-12 - good enough for third in the conference. A lot of people think they should be in first.
They have had a unique year in terms of the Gold Cup took away five of their starters for most of May and June - including their two central defenders Rafa Marquez and Tim Ream. They also had some injuries during that time, Thierry Henry missed a game with a red card… what happened during that stretch is they started tying a lot of games. They lead MLS with 12 draws right now, and for a lot them they have given up goals at the end of games or fallen behind. It happened last week against FC Dallas - they fell behind, went down a man and Henry made a spectacular goal to salvage a point at home.
THE ONE TO WATCH
Thierry Henry is currently leading the MLS with 11 goals. Last year some people had wondered about his ability but I think that was a little bit unfair considering he had played a full season in Europe then the World Cup and then come over on about four weeks of rest. His body had broken down and he said that his body was not in good shape at the end of last season. But he’s come back this season and that’s certainly a bright spot as he is their offensive catalyst at this point. He’s playing a little bit underneath the top striker, so he’s the guy who is required to make plays and also score goals at the same time.
The Red Bulls signed Teemu Tainio right before the season. He has been in the Premier League with Tottenham, Sunderland and Birmingham City. Although he has missed a few games recently with a thigh injury, he has been a big addition because he sits deep, right in front of the back four. And in the games that he is missing, it’s obvious that they lack the right tempo that they want to play because they try to build out of the back with passing and he’s usually the guy that gets that going right from the start. He’s been a real bright spot as well.
MAN OF THE MOMENT
You can also add Juan Agudelo. He’s an 18-year-old striker who scored a couple of goals for the U.S. National team, including one against Argentina. He’s had a bit of an up-an-down year, as an 18-year-old would, but he has shown some real ability to score. He’s a guy who is still learning, but is developing rapidly when you consider his first start for the team came in the playoffs last October.
THE MAN IN CHARGE
I just wrote a story about Hans Backe in the newspaper and found that some of the people like him a lot and some people said he’s not even deserving of praise. I guess maybe that’s the same with any coach. Hans came in last year after the team in 2009 was the worst in the league. They only won five games and Hans came in and tried to revamp the system and focus on defence and really took a basic approach with the club. He took the team to Spain for pre-season training in 2010. He worked very precisely on defence and a system where they could pass the ball out of the back and let the players up front be a little more free with the ball. And they did that because the Red Bulls brought in guys like Thierry and Joel Lindpere who are strong technically with the ball up front.
I think they are going to use this trip as a mini pre-season to get ready for the second half of the year. At the start of this year they would play four in the back, a diamond in the midfield and then two strikers. But since the De Rosario trade, they have gone with more of a 4-4-1-1 with Henry a bit below the top striker. Their two centre backs – Ream and Marquez – are very good passers and usually get it going. Their two full backs are good at overlapping. They bring width and come forward a lot. The problem they have is when they can’t control the centre of the midfield - most of the time that’s when Tainio is out. When he’s in there, they control it much better, the service to Henry is better and good things happen.
Obviously this is going to be a nice moment for Thierry and I think he’ll love every minute of it. As for the players, there will be a lot of exposure for guys like Agudelo. They’ve had offers from clubs in Europe for him already and they have said they want to wait and hold onto him for a couple of years. Tim Ream is a guy who only started playing centre back a few years ago. In college he played all over the place, but for that reason he’s very technically sound for a centre back. He’s worked on his defending a lot, but with his technical skills, if he keeps playing better he’s a guy who could make it to Europe at some point.