Now that Thierry Henry is signed, sealed and given his No. 14 jersey, where does that leave the Red Bulls?
Now it’s Hans Backe’s team who is saddled with the unenviable task of having to maximize perhaps the best signing in league history. Everywhere he’s gone, Henry has scored goals – it’s just a matter of giving him the proper service. And the Red Bulls don't want to waste the talents of their new star up top.
To quote Cary Grant from Operation Petticoat: “It’s like a beautiful woman dying an old maid, if you know what I mean by old maid.”
Henry, much like Grant, has never been a maid anywhere he’s gone.
Since Henry will be played with Juan Pablo Angel up top and not as a wide player like he was at Barcelona or during spurts with Arsenal, the ability to get him the ball in a position where he can be effective is a must for New York. Too many times this season, Angel has been forced back into his own half to retrieve the ball, diminishing his effect on the game.
According to Backe, Angel is a box player most effective in and near goal. Henry, like Angel, needs to get the ball where he can be most effective. He’s always been an effective goal scorer, and shouldn’t spend his energy setting the table for others.
But does New York have enough quality assets in place to provide those assists to Henry?
The Red Bulls’ midfield has been workmanlike this year, a tough four-man group tricky to crack defensively but a bit short on flair and creativity. Brian Nielsen, brought in earlier this season to play on the left flank, was supposed to help solve that problem. The former Danish youth international, however, has struggled with fitness and battled knee problems.
At the moment, the roster lacks that truly creative midfielder the dynamic attack needs. Joel Lindpere has three assists on the season and he’s been a great asset to the team, but he’s probably more effective on the left side of a diamond midfield. The Estonian is not a true No. 10 nor the creative force that would turn the expected Angel-Henry partnership into something that can win a championship.
Outside of Lindpere, there is no one on the Red Bulls roster who can orchestrate the attack. Rookie Tony Tchani has nice touch and poise, but he is more of a holding midfielder. Seth Stammler and Carl Robinson are both through and through defensive-minded players. Dane Richards, Jeremy Hall, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and the aforementioned Nielsen are all wide options, and Irving Garcia is a project player who needs more time.
But there is likely hope on the way. Backe repeatedly mentioned during the buildup to Henry’s signing that the team is also eager to sign a quintessential No. 10 to shore up a midfield in need. Technical director Erik Solér also expressed as much, inferring that the team that signed one of the biggest DPs in league history might not be done just yet.
Either way, the pressure mounts now for New York. Just how they build on the biggest opportunity in franchise history will play out in the coming weeks and months, likely with all of MLS eager to see what comes next.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012