First, lest we take it for granted, let it be acknowledged that merely sticking around to play 100 regular season games for New York Red Bulls is an achievement. This club has changed its name, changed its stadium, even changed its habit of never winning anything of significance, but it has only just got round to deviating from the near-annual tradition of overhauling the squad.
Thierry Henry played his 100th regular season MLS game for RBNY against FC Dallas on May 4, 2014. He became just the 15th man to reach that milestone for this team. It didn't have to be this way. This club has long had a hankering for a big name, but - for one reason or another - Roberto Donadoni, Youri Djorkaeff, Rafa Marquez and Lothar Matthaus didn't last too long.
Henry has not only stuck with us, he's given us a trophy and a boatload of special memories. We didn't get him at his very best, but his tenure at RBNY has coincided with the club's very best period of sustained winning. This may not be a coincidence.
So it is appropriate to commemorate the man's contributions to RBNY. This site has already recently applauded his goals - both their quality and quantity. To mark his 100th appearance, we now offer Thierry Henry's best games. Not necessarily his most important - can any game match the significance of last year's Shield-winning regular season finale at Red Bull Arena? Not yet.
By way of appreciation of the great man's work in a Red Bulls shirt, and in the hope he continues to delight and deliver for several more (even another season or two? C'mon Titi...you know you want to), Once A Metro's writers present their favorites from Titi's 100 MLS regular season performances.
Let us know what we overlooked (cos there are plenty) in the comments.
April 7, 2012: Columbus Crew 1-4 New York Red Bulls
This early season match against the Crew is a perfect representation of Henry. In 2012, Henry was partnered up top with Kenny Cooper. While comments were made about Cooper, he accounted for 18 goals, a team high in 2012, and two of his goals were scored in this game. What does that have to do with Henry? He assisted Cooper on the first goal of the match, in the 3rd minute.
Henry's day wasn't limited to assisting Cooper. He also scored two goals of his own. His first came in the 40th minute (3:00 mark of of the highlights), off of a sequence of precise passing: Roy Miller freeing Henry on the left with a perfectly weighted through ball. Henry curled a shot along the ground, past Andy Gruenebaum, putting the Red Bulls up by a score of 3-0.
The 2nd half of that game was pretty uneventful for the most part, but it looked like Ryan Meara was going to secure his first shutout as a professional. Instead, he would end up having to wait another 3 matches. In the 89th minute, Chad Marshall got by Dax McCarty and Markus Holgersson on a corner kick and put away an easy header.
Henry followed it up less than a minute later with his second goal of the night (6:53 in the video). Joel Lindpere beat two defenders, and crossed it into a streaking Henry, who took one touch to settle the ball, then blasted a shot trough the legs of defender Shaun Francis to restore the three goal lead for New York.
The important part about that goal wasn't that Henry scored it, but his reaction, which was nonexistent.
It was clear that he didn't care about scoring the goal, and it was due to the fact that they gave up the shutout so late in the match. On that day (and I would suspect on most days this is true), Henry cared more about the team performance than his own.
April 28, 2012: New York Red Bulls 1-0 New England Revolution
Just over two years ago, on April 28th, the New York Red Bulls took to the pitch inside Red Bull Arena, just six days after suffering a humiliating 4-1 defeat at the hands of long time rivals, DC United. The team that New York would be using to bounce back? The New England Revolution.
On its surface, the match, which New York would go on to win 1-0 thanks to a masterful goal by Henry, was unremarkable....but when we go back for a closer look, it demonstrated everything that is completely remarkable about Thierry Henry.
While the beautifully controlled touch of the lob shot that Henry placed delicately over the head of Matt Reis to score the only goal of the match was surely something to marvel at, what struck me as the most "Henry" thing about the game was the way he chose to celebrate. Instead of group hugging his teammates, Henry decided to make a beeline for the corner flag in order to give it a swift kick in the arse.
Henry never once smiled and the poor flag never stood a chance.
Henry was forced out of the game early on: in the 28th minute due to a strained hamstring. But in that short amount of time, our captain managed to show exactly what it is that makes the French legend just that, a legend.
The aging hero once again proved that he has a burning rage inside him that can only be quenched by his own excellence.
September 29, 2012: New York Red Bulls 4-1 Toronto FC
I think the reason so many of the games selected for this piece are from 2012 is because that was the season Thierry Henry really carried RBNY. He didn't contribute much in 2010 - following the traditional pattern of the mid-season signing settling in to MLS. In 2011, we saw how good he could be, but the weight of the team was too much for him, and RBNY struggled into the playoffs on the back of 16 draws.
And last year was more balanced: Tim Cahill carried the team as much as Henry; Peguy Luyindula hit his stride at just the right time; the team came together to find ways to win with and without Titi. This is often the case with a trophy-winning side.
But in 2012, Henry seemed to put together game after game after game in which he simply ran the show. We've had two mentioned already (and he was only on the pitch for 28 minutes of one of them); here is a third.
TFC was a terrible team in 2012, and RBNY was focused on building form and confidence for the playoffs - not yet a certainty, but very much a probability. The Red Bulls were flat coming into this match: they had won just one of their previous five (the 3-1 win over Columbus Crew in which Henry scored his "Olimpico").
It had become clear this was a season likely to succeed or fail based on whether or not Henry could pretty much single-handedly dominate for 90 minutes, like he did in this game.
It was Luis Robles's RBNY debut - and his welcome was a 6th minute Ryan Johnson bullet to open the scoring for Toronto. It took a while for Luis to learn the Red Bulls will let an opponent shoot from pretty much anywhere.
And then Titi took over. He found Markus Holgersson for the equalizer from a corner.
The second goal was all about Henry's running off the ball: a flick-on to Lloyd Sam, a quick turn into space to split the defenders, and then a very slight check to his stride to draw the last defender toward him before sliding the ball over to Kenny Cooper for a tap-in after Richard Eckersley haplessly took out his own 'keeper. Richard Eckersley - it's time to put together some more positive highlights, sir.
The third saw Thierry juggle, weave and pass his way out of a thicket of Toronto defenders to find Cooper unmarked at the far post.
And then, having set up three goals in three entirely different ways, Henry scored one of his best for RBNY. The game was already won. RBNY was 3-1 up in the last minute of added time.
I watched this game on TV. I saw Kenny Cooper's cross-field pass, saw Henry running on to it - and then the ball was in the net. As I remember it, the camera moved to the space it could be assumed Henry would run into, but he one-touched a shot from outside the penalty area to the far side of goal. It wasn't clear to me Henry had actually kicked it until the replay.
Nor does it do it justice to call it a shot. This wasn't a last-minute hit-and-hope effort. It was a pass, a gently placed chip into the space between the 'keeper and his far post. It wasn't effortless, but he made it look that way.
When the team is in a slump, when the wins and the goals aren't coming, it's games like this one remembers: as long as we have Henry, we have a chance.
April 23, 2014: New York Red Bulls 4-0 Houston Dynamo
It's no secret that Thierry Henry's legendary career is winding down. Ignoring that he no longer plays for the world's most famous teams in the most prestigious leagues -- sorry, guys I know it's sacrilege to insinuate MLS is a retirement home -- is to ignore the fact the man is 36 years old. He can't do it forever.
And MLS, with its physical play and athleticism, probably isn't doing him any favors in extending that twilight. Plus, with his contract up at the end of the year, plenty are wondering if it's worth keeping him around. MLS is a young man's league, they say; structured for young men who can handle the rough play and rigors of cross-continent travel.
But if Henry's performance against the Houston Dynamo a week and a half ago is any indication, he's still got it and can make those young men, the same ones built for MLS success, look like children.
The game might go down in the books as the game Bradley Wright-Phillips found his form in MLS, scoring a hat trick (surprisingly, the first from an English player in MLS), but this wasn't the Bradley Wright-Phillips show. For every goal BWP scored, Henry was pulling the strings from somewhere.
On his first, Henry slid a pass across the box to a waiting Wright-Phillips. On the second, Henry makes a Dynamo defender look foolish before spraying a pass from midfield to Roy Miller, who found BWP in front of the net. On the third Henry gets dragged down in the box trying to pounce on a loose ball, drawing a penalty -- Wright-Phillips would slot home.
Add a goal of Henry's own between BWP's second and third -- one that sees Henry drop all the way back to the center line to facilitate the attack -- and you see the full depth of everything the man can still do, even at 36.