UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – When Thierry Henry signed with the Red Bulls last year, pundits and fans alike wondered how fast the star forward would hit double-digit goals.
Instead, Henry battled with fitness concerns and played sporadically en route to just two goals in league play and a handful of minutes in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
But now, with an offseason under his belt and a better understanding of his teammates, the league and the rigors of MLS, Henry is fit and ready to go. Still, he is telling anyone who will listen that this isn’t his team; he’s just one piece to the puzzle.
“It’s not my main concern to be the go-to guy,” Henry said on Monday before the Red Bulls departed for Florida to continue the second leg of their preseason training.
Henry points to the Red Bulls' 3-2 preseason friendly loss to Chivas de Guadalajara last week, a game where the team played well in closing out the Mexican leg of their preseason tour. He was pleased with the team’s “possession and ability to hold the ball,” something that takes all 11 players on the pitch.
[inline_node:328681]Just as importantly for Henry is that he is beginning to feel fit, making it easier to blend into the side. After two games in Mexico, he is pleased with where the team stands in terms of readiness for next month’s league kickoff.
Despite losing to Chivas, Henry saw good things in the result where we “played well for 70 minutes.” He thinks the style and flow of the Red Bulls was encouraging as they get ready for the real games in March.
“The way we were passing the ball around, it is the kind of thing that can help you win a title,” Henry said.
Head coach Hans Backe is particularly pleased with Henry’s fitness. The Frenchman suffered hamstring pulls shortly after his arrival and then a “knee knock” before the playoffs, so Backe never got to see the full Henry on the field for his club. Now in the wake of the Chivas game as the team gets ready for Florida, Backe is excited to see his star striker on the pitch and ready to go.
“He’s almost back to 100 percent fitness,” Backe said. “He hasn’t missed a session.”
But those looking for Henry to dominate the scoresheet in their fantasy league might be disappointed this year. In the Chivas game, Henry sat just behind Juan Agudelo as a second striker, allowing the teenager to go toward goal. Henry provided vision and touch, spraying the ball into space and getting his teammates involved.
Henry said he’d be perfectly happy to get “Juan [Agudelo] four goals, get Dane [Richards] a goal – even get Bouna [Coundoul] up on a corner kick for a goal” and let the team succeed around him and not because of him.
“I’m now, more in my mind, about making the team better,” Henry said. “It’s more important to make the team click.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer