By Kevin Mooney
Without question, 2012 will be a memorable year for Thierry Henry. Two months after wrapping up a successful 2011 season for the New York Red Bulls, he packed his bags and headed to London to join Arsenal on loan. And with two game-winning goals -- including one on virtually his last kick with the Club -- the Frenchman only added to his legendary status.
But his time back at the Emirates had an expiration date, and he returned to America for his third season with the Red Bulls. USA.Arsenal.com tracked Henry's progress throughout the 2012 season. Below is a brief summary of the second half of his season. For a summary of the first half the season click here.
The Red Bulls opened the month with a trip to New England to take on the Revolution. But without Henry and two other starters, the Revolution rolled past the visitors, and New York missed a golden opportunity to take re-take first place in the conference. Henry returned to the line-up against the Seattle Sounders, but none of his three shots hit their mark and the Red Bulls had to settle for the home draw.
The Red Bulls returned to their winning ways just as Henry scored his first goal in nearly three months. And he ended his drought in spectacular fashion. The Arsenal legend controlled a long pass over the top of the Chicago defense and fired a volley from a tight angle -- left-footed and across his body -- to the far corner past the diving goalkeeper. It was only the Red Bulls second win in eight games, but it was enough to propel them back into second place in the conference.
Henry continued to show good form in the next two games as New York exhibited excellent form at home, but struggled on the road. He followed up an assist in the 2-0 win over Philadelphia at home by scoring the Red Bulls' lone goal in a 3-1 loss in Montreal.
Clip courtesy of NewYorkRedBulls.com
The playoff race began heating up in August as the Red Bulls faced a home-and-home series against Houston Dynamo. Houston leapfrogged past New York and into first place with a 2-0 win in Texas, but the Red Bulls retook sole possession of first place when they won by the same score at Red Bull Arena one week later. It was an assist by Henry that sealed the win.
The conference lead would not last through the weekend, but the victory also marked the beginning of a five-game unbeaten run. A home win over Portland and back-to-back road draws against Sporting Kansas City and DC United closed out the month.
Despite the decent run of form by his team, Henry had only scored twice since suffering a hamstring injury in April. That all changed in early September when he notched a brace against the visiting Columbus Crew - including a memorable "Olimpico" style goal in second half stoppage time. Taking a corner from the left side, Henry bypassed his players in front of the goal and fired a curling shot off the far post and into the net for his 13th goal of the season.
Clip courtesy of NewYorkRedBulls.com
But the unbeaten run would soon come to an end. Two of them in fact. The Red Bulls dropped their first home game of the season against conference leaders Sporting Kansas City in a sluggish performance. That was followed by a 1-1 draw in New England with both goals coming in second half stoppage time.
Henry and the Red Bulls rebounded against Toronto in spectacular fashion. Henry put on a masterclass performance, picking up three assists before claiming a goal of his own in the game's dying moments. His one-touch chip from 25 yards out gave him 14 goals on the year - tying his tally from 2011.
Match highlights courtesy of NewYorkRedBulls.com
A slip at home against Chicago put the Red Bulls playoff hopes in danger. The home loss saw New York drop to fourth in the Eastern Conference with only two games remaining, but a well-timed international break may have been just what the doctor ordered.
A refreshed Red Bulls battled conference leaders Sporting Kansas City to a 0-0 draw at home, which was just enough to secure a spot in the playoffs. But the team still needed to overcome Philadelphia Union on the road to ensure a direct ticket to the playoffs rather than face a one-game knockout round.
And the Red Bulls were up for it. Henry notched his 15th of the season in between two Cooper strikes to give the visitors a 3-0 win and a playoff match-up against their arch-rivals, DC United.
While the final standings gave DC United the home field advantage against the Red Bulls, Mother Nature had other ideas. Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States and the New York-New Jersey area was especially hard-hit. With no power and limited transit options around Red Bull Arena, Major League Soccer shifted the first game of the series to RFK Stadium in Washington, DC giving the Red Bulls a bit of an advantage.
And the first leg went New York's way. The game ended in a 1-1 draw after each side scored an own goal within a five-minute span in the second half. The return leg was set for four days later at the Red Bull's stronghold.
But nature again had other ideas. A powerful winter storm dumped several inches of snow on the pitch at game time, and the match was postponed until the following day.
When the game finally took place, an unbelievable final 20 minutes sealed the Red Bulls' fate. New York were awarded a penalty when DC United goalkeeper was adjudged to clip Cooper in the penalty error. Cooper stepped up to take the spot kick and put it past the replacement goalie, much to the approval of the Red Bull faithful. But the referee disallowed the goal and called encroachment on the parts of Henry and Tim Cahill. Cooper's second attempt was blocked.
Six minutes later, the game went to 10-on-10 when Red Bulls' defender Rafa Marquez was sent off for picking up a second yellow card. Just before going into extra time, United found the back of the net, ending the Red Bulls' season.
Thierry Henry finished his third season in MLS - and best to date - with 15 goals and 12 assists.
As for next season, a great deal is up in the air. New York faces some big changes with a new sporting director and a new head coach. The Red Bulls let go of Erik Soler - the man who signed Henry - in October, eventually replacing him with former Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh. The Red Bulls also announced that they will not extend the contract of head coach Hans Backe, whose current deal expires at the end of the year.