The secret is out, Mac.
Growing up, Red Bulls attacker Macoumba Kandji idolized Thierry Henry. Kandji said that he often watched Henry when the Frenchman played for Arsenal, catching the forward in Champions League action on television. He loved the way Henry attacked and played smoothly on the ball.
“But don’t tell him that I idolized him,” Kandji said with a laugh.
The fact is, Henry is having a huge impact on the team, even though he hasn’t played a game yet. Beyond the inevitable boost in ticket sales, jersey purchases and media attention, Henry is raising the intensity of practice. His teammates want to be the one to get a tackle on him, strip the ball, intercept his pass or make a move by him.
The practice field is certainly buzzing these days.
Head coach Hans Backe has taken note. He praised Henry for his intensity on the field, even when no one is looking. Backe said that when the team returned from Columbus this weekend – Henry traveled with the team but did not play – the forward left the bus and went for a personal session with the team’s trainer.
All with the postseason in mind.
“It’s going to be vital to arrive into the playoffs in shape,” Henry said.
Henry, a fan of “all American sports,” said that MLS is unique from any league he’s been in before in terms of the playoff structure. While he said he wants the team to finish top of the table, he realizes from MLS experiences in the past that it’s the hot team that lifts MLS Cup. In fact, he cites the NBA as the perfect example.
“[The Boston Celtics] got into a rhythm in the playoffs and nearly won it,” Henry said.
Backe also praised Henry for his role in the training session on Monday when he was working with his teammates.
“He’s already helped the young players with the small details,” Backe said.
Henry stayed after practice on Monday for nearly 40 minutes to work on fitness and shooting. He said that the work rate and extra effort that has become the trademark of his game is something he brings with him to his new club.
As far as leaving his mark on the younger players, Henry said it part of being a professional, plain and simple. There are no ulterior motives.
“I’m not doing this to leave a legacy,” Henry said. “I’m doing this because the game asked it of me.”
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