The result of Thursday night’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham in the opening match of the Barclays New York Challenge will soon be forgotten, but the importance may live on for a generation.
A Thierry Henry goal in the 25th minute off an assist from Joel Lindpere gave the Red Bulls the lead and opened the scoring account for the former Barcelona striker, now in his New York kit.
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Henry, who was treated to a loud and prolonged standing ovation when announced to the crowd of 20,312 at Red Bull Arena as part of the Starting XI, was clearly the star of the night. Since last week when he was unveiled to the media as a member of the Red Bulls, Henry’s arrival in New York has made headlines.
But his arrival at Red Bull Arena on Thursday night was quite a bit more low-key than the limousine he took to his press conference last week – Henry, along with family and friends, took the train to Harrison from his hotel in New York City.
“It was quite an experience riding in with the fans,” Henry said about his train trip. “But for me, it was the quickest way to come to the game.”
The obvious offensive spark Henry provided his new team didn't take to long to come, either, thanks to some deft touches by the Red Bulls. Macoumba Kandji collected the ball in the final third, drawing two defenders with him.
The ball ended up with Lindpere on the left side, who made a move past his marker and got free. Lindpere said that in that position along the endline, he always tries “to put that hard pass in front of goal.” Henry reached for the ball, sliding and making contact as he deflected the Lindpere pass across goal and into the back of the net.
Henry’s dive made the effort a goal.
“Actually, he’s taller than I thought,” joked Lindpere after the match.
The Red Bulls looked solid in the midfield as they rode Henry’s goal to a halftime lead over the English Premier League side. Henry’s presence on the field opened space for Kandji and Lindpere to push forward and Dane Richards consistently found space behind the Tottenham defense.
Often, Henry would instruct Kandji to stay high while he dropped back to midfield. The result was that the Frenchman pulled defenders with him, isolating Kandji in the attacking third with space to move.
“He talks to you throughout the game – he helps you,” Kandji said after the match, who noted that Henry’s speed and positioning opened up the game for the New York offense.
The Red Bulls showed surprisingly well against the Champions League-bound club, holding possession and creating numerous opportunities. Despite their strong run of play in the first half, Tottenham would equalize in the 62nd minute via a goal by captain Robbie Keane. Ten minutes later, Gareth Bale would give the English side the go-ahead goal despite a diving effort by Seth Stammler to clear the effort.
Despite the two goals in a 10 minute span, the Red Bulls walked away pleased by their performance against one of the better teams in the world.
“We looked at it as a chance to get back on the right foot defensively,” said defender Tim Ream.
Despite the loss and conceding the lead, the night was owned by No. 14 and the goal he scored – and Red Bulls fans hope it will be the first of many for his new club.
“This is a player who can make things happen by himself,” head coach Hans Backe said after the match.
Henry said this match was a good chance to gauge his fitness with his goal being to play 90 minutes in the next league match, an Aug. 31 fixture in Houston. By his estimation, he is 10 to 15 days from being fully fit. But most importantly, Henry says his focus is on helping the team.
“It’s not me or two or three," Henry said. "It’s the whole team."
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