In Thursday night’s opening match of the Barclays New York Challenge, Thierry Henry dove full-body to connect with a Joel Lindpere cross from the left flank.
For Henry, it was the first goal in his new kit in a 45-minute performance that saw him do it all. Henry scored, set up his teammates with deft touches and worked hard defensively in addition to instructing the younger players on the field.
Some of that wisdom seemed to rub off a little bit on Sunday afternoon on Red Bulls’ striker Mac Kandji.
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“It’s fair to say that there are improvements to my game,” Kandji told MLSSoccer.com. “I’ve learned from Juan Pablo [Angel], I’m learning now from Thierry. I’m hearing what he says – he’s such an amazing player – but I’m also watching what he’s doing and how he does it on the field.”
In the 7th minute of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Manchester City, Kandji produced a mirror image of Henry’s goal from three days before. After Dane Richards did some hard work down the right flank to free himself, the right winger sent in a ball to the six-yard box.
And there was Kandji, who managed a full-body stretch and powered in the Red Bulls’ opening tally right in front of Shay Given’s goal.
In practice last Friday, Red Bulls’ head coach Hans Backe praised Kandji for his effort in the Barclays opener against Tottenham. Playing up top and holding a very high position against the Tottenham defense, Kandji’s positioning and discipline gave space for Henry to float.
Kandji even earned praise from Tottenham’s coach Harry Redknapp, but the most satisfying review for Red Bulls fans came from Henry himself.
“Mac is easy to play with,” Henry said.
When Henry came out at the half Sunday, it was clear that Kandji suffered without the former French international up top to create space. That didn’t stop the Red Bulls’ forward from making the most of his chances.
In the 70th minute, Kandji got possession of a long ball and against a stiff challenge, and held possession bravely. Making a turn with the ball, he wisely laid off a pass to Dane Richards, who blistered a shot that beat Stuart Taylor in Manchester City’s goal.
Richards credited Kandji with the hard work that led to the game-winner, and Kandji admitted that his level of patience has made all the difference.
“Just holding the ball, waiting for support. I [did] have an inch of space, I could have taken a shot,” Kandji admitted. “The better thing to do was hold the ball, wait for support.”
A play that won’t show up in the boxscore, however, was perhaps the most impressive one for Kandji.
Receiving the ball near the halfway line in the 21st minute, Kandji collected possession, calmly looked up and then made his decision to slot a ball between two Man City defenders. Dicing the English club’s backline, the ball unleashed Henry into a one-on-one on Joe Hart in goal.
The shot from Henry went wide but the moment showed the maturity of Mac Kandji.
He put his hands over his mouth when talking about the goal, clearly wondering what could have been had Henry buried the shot.
“I’m trying to hold the ball, make that right decision – I’m listening to coach about that,” Kandji said. “(Henry) has done that before – I’ve seen him try that on the field - trying to get me the ball. I just held the ball that split second and then got it to him. He’s done the same thing for me. I need to be unselfish and get him the ball. It’s a strike partnership we have.”
“That’s what a partnership is all about, supporting each other,” Kandji added. “Playing for each other.”
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