Want to know why the Red Bulls’ front office splashed the cash on Thierry Henry just over two years ago?
All you have to do is watch the highlights from last Saturday’s Red Bulls 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew. That’s all you’ll ever need to confirm that the French superstar has been worth every single penny since his arrival in 2010.
Even at the age of 35, the Red Bulls’ captain continues to display moments of sheer brilliance, above and beyond what you’d expect from your standard Major League Soccer match. His 93rd-minute Olimpico goal – a goal scored directly from a corner kick – was simply out of this world. While the technique to execute the goal was immaculate, the intelligence, foresight and sheer audacity to even attempt such a feat is something only the true geniuses of the game have.
“I saw the keeper over-commit his position,” Henry said to MSG’s Joe Tolleson after the game. “He went too close to the [near post]. I took it really quickly … I tried it and it went in.”
Call it an intangible, an “X” factor that gives the very best players that extra edge in the heat of battle. It is what separates good players from being legends of the game. Thankfully for the Red Bulls, their best player has it.
This Red Bulls team has had outstanding performers throughout this season, from Connor Lade to Kenny Cooper to even second-choice goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. But the bottom line is this group will only go as far as Thierry Henry can carry them.
Marquez in Midfield
With a fit Rafa Marquez available for selection, coach Hans Backe decided to start the former Barcelona star in midfield against the Crew.
While certainly not 100 percent match fit, Marquez made an impression early on. His inch-perfect long pass to Henry in the ninth minute provided the Red Bulls the spark the team needed after falling behind early.
For Henry, having Marquez in midfield gives him an extra dimension to his game.
“I keep talking about Rafa, he’s the only guy in the world who can give you a ball like that,” he said. “Trust me, he made it look easy, but it’s not that easy. I know when he’s on the field, I can go behind the defense. It’s another weapon for me.”
Marquez can be a playmaker in midfield and his ability to hit pinpoint passes from the center of the park will stretch defenses like it did against Columbus Saturday. Think of Marquez as a NFL quarterback, spreading the ball around to wide receivers and finding the holes in zones to exploit.
No matter where Marquez plays, the question remains if the former Mexican national team captain can hold up physically. His season has been interrupted constantly due to nagging injuries. A healthy Marquez can only boost New York’s chances of winning the Eastern Conference.
With three games in such a short of period of time, you can expect a few alterations to the starting lineup for the Red Bulls’ top-of-the-table clash against the Wizards Wednesday (6:30 p.m. on MSG+).
It might be a lot to ask of Marquez to play two matches in three days, which could mean a return for Dax McCarty to central midfield. While McCarty played well as a right-sided midfielder — he scored the game-winning goal off a Henry corner — his play in central midfield this season has made him one of MLS’s underrated players.
Joel Lindpere and Sebastien Le Toux could also be reintroduced into the starting lineup after coming on Saturday as substitutes. While having many different options may lead to selection headaches for Backe, it must be the said the Red Bulls have never had the wealth of options at their disposal than they have now.
Kansas City, Here They Come
It’s a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, as Sporting Kansas City puts the best road record in MLS on the line (7-4-2) vs. the best home record in the league (10-0-3). A win Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena would catapult the Red Bulls into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Sporting may not have the firepower the Red Bulls have, the former Wizards are a rock-solid unit on defense and have surrendered just 25 goals this season, the fewest in MLS.
Kei Kamara is Sporting KC’s leading goal-scorer with 10 on the season, but the player to watch is Graham Zusi. Impressive in the US’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Jamaica last week, the 26-year-old is the player that pulls the strings for his club side in midfield and will no doubt be the player that Backe will warn his team about.
With such a favorable schedule ahead of them, a draw wouldn’t be the worst result for the Red Bulls. Still, it’s would be safe to say that anything less than three points would be a disappointment. This is New York’s chance to claim the top spot in the East and stay there for the rest of the season.
It will make for interesting watching come Wednesday night.