Respect for the man was everywhere.
As Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry trotted off the field in front of a sold out Providence Park Wednesday night, supporters of all backgrounds - Portland Timbers, MLS, Bayern Munich – rose to give the former World Cup, European Championship and UEFA Champions League winner a thunderous applause not only for what he did on the night, but his achievements for the last two decades.
Each player was slated to play 45 minutes but MLS All Star head coach Caleb Porter left Henry on for two extra minutes to give arguably the most accomplished player in League history a classy recognition.
“I felt he deserved that tribute to start the second half no matter what his future is,” Porter said. “He's been great for the league and he's done a lot for the sport in this country and has had a wonderful career and I felt he deserved this tribute.”
As Henry exited the field, he was embraced by one of the great American soccer players of all time, Landon Donovan. Donovan, who announced his retirement at the end of the MLS season Thursday, and Henry have never played on the same team on the club level and yet the respect was evident.
"For him to play in a game like this with that sort of intensity and that sort of commitment, it says a lot about who he is as a player and a person,” Donovan told FoxSoccer.com. “He could have easily played this game and not cared. He absolutely cared. He was tackling. He was running. He was chasing guys. I told him it's an honor to be subbed in for him. He's had an unbelievable career. I was proud to come on for him."
The post-game media scuttlebutt was littered with platitudes for the Frenchman, who joined MLS from FC Barcelona in July 2010, and his virtuoso performance in the game. Despite the exhibition format, as Donovan mentioned, Henry’s playmaking ability, quality and drive did not go unnoticed by his teammates. Henry linked up gracefully with his teammates, was dangerous in the attacking third and nearly scored a spectacular, long-range goal in the first half on the volley that drew a loud gasp from the crowd.
“A lot of passion and heart even before we stepped on that field,” said Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando when asked what he saw from Henry Wednesday. “It’s a different side that I don’t get to see and he really led us today in the locker room and on the field before the game. To see his commitment, getting back on defense, going forward and even getting some tackles in a game like this, it shows a lot about his character and commitment to this game.”
“He’s a legend and it’s just an honor to have played with him,” said Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin – a player who was five years old when Henry won the 1998 World Cup with France. “I hope there’s more times in the future, but if not, then it’s one of those things that I’m going to remember forever. He’s a guy that I grew up idolizing. Just to be able to sit next to him and talk to him and absorb his thoughts, it’s incredible.”
Despite the occasional physicality of the match and his side being on the wrong end of a 2-1 loss, legendary Bayern Munich head coach and Henry’s former manager at Barcelona Pep Guardiola reserved special praise for Henry.
“I'm so happy of the performance of Titi Henry,” Guardiola said in his post-game press conference. “It was an honor for me to train, to be his trainer. He helped me a lot in my first year or two years together, and in my first year in Barcelona he helped me a lot. And he was important part to help us win the treble. He's a very, very good guy. I'm happy for him because he deserves the best. I trained one of the best players in the world.”
Henry was asked multiple times in his post-game media access whether he had made a choice on his future following this season, but declined to provide any details, only saying that he hasn’t decided and will do so after the Red Bulls’ campaign ends.
Until then, Henry, who leads the league in assists this season and has been an instrumental player for the Red Bulls during his four plus years, will continue on in his 20th season in professional soccer growing his legend and earning respect.
“Listen, Thierry, for me, is an icon on and off the park,” said teammate Tim Cahill. “Someone I look up to. To have two amazing years with him at New York Red Bulls, it’s been a great learning experience for me as a footballer. Every day I learn something. We spend a lot of time together off the park as well as on it. He will be amazing in whatever he does. The four years that he’s been here, whether he decides to retire or not is still a question to be answered, but overall it’s just great that American can get the best out of him for four years. I’m just proud to know him and, obviously, be his mate.”