HARRISON, NJ – Mike Petke was looking to shake things up after the Red Bulls‘ 2-0 loss to DC United last Sunday.
The loss to its Eastern Conference rival left New York outside of the playoff picture and searching for answers after a disappointing result.
The head coach decided it was time for a change. He altered his favored 4-4-2 formation for one that provided more solidity. Using a 4-2-3-1 formation, Petke opted to move Thierry Henry from his normal central playmaking role out wide to the left after having an emotional heart-to-heart talk with the former Arsenal star.
The decision proved to be a masterstroke. Inspired by a rampaging Henry in a wide left position, the Red Bulls moved back into a playoff spot after battling for a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City Saturday night. The team captain was the focal point for both Red Bulls goals. He helped set up Bradley Wright-Phillips‘ 11th-minute penalty and scored the game-winning goal in the 52ndminute with a right-footed rocket past Sporting Kansas City goalie Andy Gruenebaum.
Petke was not surprised that his captain put in a hard shift for the team.
“I had a long talk with Thierry earlier in the week,” he said to the media in his post-match press conference.
“He sought me out and we had a long conversation. Together, we re-dedicated ourselves and tried to figure some stuff out. He led the team, he put tireless work in and he capped it off with a [goal that should be nominated for Goal of the Year].”
Playing out wide is not something foreign to Henry. His natural instincts make him drift to the left due to his early development as winger before being converted into a striker at Arsenal. It’s a somewhat dangerous gambit for Petke to use Henry out on the wing since it asks a lot of the 37-year-old defensively, but the Frenchman excelled on that end against Kansas City.
An intense Henry was a welcomed sight for the rest of his teammates and Dax McCarty hopes that performances like the one against Sporting KC will be the norm for the Red Bulls down the stretch.
“When Thierry is [ticked] off in the right way, when he is engaged and when he is mentally taking it upon himself to be into it, he’s unstoppable,” McCarty said. “You can’t stop a player like that when he wants to play his absolute best.”
While Henry was taking many of the accolades for the Red Bulls win, the forward wanted to focus on the road ahead for the Red Bulls.
“When you work hard as a team, you can eventually win a game,” Henry said. “I hope that we didn’t leave it too late to be able to make the playoffs. We’re on a good path, but let’s not get too overexcited or so about the win tonight because we have a difficult game against [DC United], but I will leave it at that.”