HENRY WATCH – Real Salt Lake 2 New York Red Bulls 0

Thierry Henry’s return to North London was over all too quickly. wearethenorthbank.com can’t be the only ones who still have an appetite to see the legendary Frenchman on a Football pitch, even if we can’t see him at Arsenal anymore. In an attempt to satisfy this obsession we will report back on his performances in MLS and keep you updated on how he fares in his second full season with New York.

March 17 2012 – MLS Regular Season
VS Real Salt Lake (A) @ Rio Tinto Stadium

Rimando, Beltran, Wingert, Olave, Schuler, Beckerman, Grabavoy, Velasquez, Gil, Paulo Jr, Espindola.
Meara, Solli, Miller, Holgersson, Keel, Tainio, Palsson, McCarty, Richards, Lindpere, Henry.

Thierry Henry led the New York Red Bulls on to Salt Lake City in search of their first points of the new season. A vast improvement on the disjointed season opener was required, especially against a buoyant RSL who managed to come from behind to beat LA Galaxy 1-3 last week. In the build up to this weeks game Henry spoke of wanting to see a greater team effort. He told the New York Red Bulls website;

“Individuals every now and then step up, but other than that, it’s got to be a team effort, and I’ve said it for a very long time. Everybody from Fernando the kit man to us has to pull the same weight.”

This should probably be interpreted as a gentle reminder to his underperforming team mates. I wrote last week of how frustrated Henry looked on the pitch as he was drawn into a deeper role, attempting to create the goal scoring chances the midfield had otherwise failed to. It’s not unlike New York players to criticise each other. Last season Rafael Marquez was suspended by the club for openly berating his colleagues. Speaking after last seasons defeat at the hands of RSL he commented on his own poor performance by saying “I think this is a team game and unfortunately there isn’t an equal level between my teammates and I’’ before going on to brand Tim Ream, now of Bolton Wanderers, “infantile”.

Henry has obviously taken a slightly more diplomatic route but I think it’s fair to suggest that New York’s two Designated Players are missing the quality of team mate they used to enjoy when they played in Europe.
Luke Rodgers is still in England waiting for a visa and Juan Agudelo is away with the US U23 squad, preparing for the Olympics, so Hans Backe opted for a slight formation change. In came recent recruit Victor Palsson to make up a 5 man midfield, leaving Henry to work the front line alone.

The first half hour passed largely without incident. New York appeared mindful of their opponents and seemed to want to avoid going behind. The midfield was disciplined and a previously shaky back four looked reasonably calm. This left Henry to feed from scraps up front. Typically, he looked frustrated at times but he dug in and looked to put in a shift for his team.

His first moment of real quality came on the 28th minute. A Real corner was cleared by New York; Dane Richards was able to poke the ball into the path of Henry who carried the ball from inside his own half, deep into RSL territory and won a corner for his efforts. He may have lost some of his old pace but this was proof that Henry can still change gear when he has to, maybe just not as often as before.

Despite a relatively organised showing New York went behind on 38. It all came from a New York attack which seemed to lack direction. A series of square passes ended with Palsson attempting a poor cross which was easily cleared into the path of Fabian Espindola. Stephen Keel made a misguided attempt to play off side and left the Argentinean to race clear from halfway and put the home side ahead.

New York attempted a response and on 43 Henry had his first effort on target. Joel Lindpere jinked and weaved on the left wing, clipped the ball across to Henry who let the ball run across his body but a stabbed right foot effort was too tame to trouble Rimando in the RSL goal.

Hans Backe made a change at the break, withdrawing Palsson and putting on last week’s scorer, Kenny Cooper. This allowed Henry to drop in behind the new target man in a 4-4-1-1 formation. The change in shape seemed to be working on 53 when a direct ball to Cooper was laid off to Henry whose flicked effort was again too tame to trouble the keeper.

Despite having plenty of possession New York went further behind on 58 minutes. Some neat play on the left fed Velasquez who in turn teed up Espindola. His shot was parried by Meara but only as far as Gil. 2-0 RSL.
New York looked to bounce back and again it was the talismanic Frenchman who looked most like making something happen. With his back to goal he tried an acrobatic over head kick on 63 minutes although it drifted just wide of the far post. In fairness, this was the closest they came to scoring.

From there on the game got away from New York. They dominated possession and built pressure but there seemed no real likelihood of scoring. Henry dropped deeper and deeper, as he has done last week, looking to dictate play but ultimately without reward.

It was a similar performance to last week for Henry. He put in plenty of effort but was ultimately frustrated by a lack of direction from his team mates and the close attention from opposing defenders. As you would expect, he looks like the most likely player to score but worryingly also looks like the most likely player to create a chance. The closest they came was the self made half chance that culminated in a narrowly missed bicycle kick.

Two games, two defeats. It’s not a good start but they will take comfort from the fact that Marquez is back next week and Luke Rodgers shouldn’t be too far behind. Both defeats have come on the road so they will expect improvement when they play at Red Bulls Arena for the first time this season, next weekend. There is no disgrace in losing to Real Salt Lake, they will by a genuine challenger this season; however work still needs to be done to bring greater coherence all over the pitch.

March 25 2012 – MLS Regular Season
Vs. Colorado Rapids (A) @ Red Bull Arena