For all the talk about Clint Dempsey and the Seattle Sounders’ determination to win the MLS Supporters’ Shield, or for Landon Donovan’s last chance to lead the Los Angeles Galaxy to another MLS Cup before he retires, the team that’s gotten hot in time for the MLS Playoffs is actually the New York Red Bulls, led by Thierry Henry and his world class technical abilities.
Henry came to New York several years ago to great aplomb, but much to his disappointment has yet to claim a title in this league. He did help the Red Bulls to a Supporters’ Shield trophy last season, but they fell in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, the team has taken a different path. An up and down season resulted in a 4th place finish in the Eastern Conference and an appearance in the wildcard round. The Red Bulls defeated the reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City, and have now earned a two-goal advantage in the Conference Semifinal matchup against top-seeded D.C. United.
But while Thierry Henry is the Red Bulls’ most famous character, the chief goal scorer all season long has been Bradley Wright-Phillips, who now has 3 goals in 2 games in these playoffs. During the regular season Wright-Phillips led the entire MLS in goals by quite a large margin, netting 27 times!
And in many ways, this is the type of player that Thierry Henry thrives with. In his glorious Arsenal days he worked alongside Dennis Bergkamp, one of Holland’s finest legendary strikers. Now he supports Wright-Phillips, and the successful working relationship has been evident in the early goings of the playoffs, with Henry setting up goals with quality passes. His cheeky back-heel assist was an absolute gem from the Frenchman.
But the MLS Cup is still a long ways away, and the New York Red Bulls certainly have their work cut out for them. Should they navigate through D.C. United (which looks likely given their two-goal advantage, they would probably face the New England Revolution before the final, likely to be against either the Galaxy or Sounders).
To me, an MLS Cup against the Galaxy would be a monumental occasion given the impending retirement of Donovan and Henry’s own uncertain future. He may be leaving the game soon too at age 37. While the American hero would likely get most of the attention, I could see Henry having the final say. His supporting cast is finally capable of bringing home a title, and he is hitting top form during this playoff run.
While any American would certainly like to see Donovan retire from soccer on top, Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls have the opportunity to play the spoiler role to perfection. Henry’s career accolades are the stuff of legends and include a World Cup title with France in 1998 as well as a EURO title in 2000. He has played on the grandest of stages and performed. While Donovan certainly has had his own share of success as well, the pure class of Henry and his talented teammates Bradley Wright-Phillips and Tim Cahill might just snatch the MLS Cup for New York! Either way, it’s shaping up to be an enthralling end to the 2014 MLS season.