Here it is—New York midfielder Joel Lindpere skins Tottenham right back Alan Hutton and sets up Thierry Henry for his first goal in a Red Bulls shirt:
(We enjoyed Henry’s “That’s right–I’m here! I’m here!” post-goal gestures to the crowd.)
Even though it wasn’t quite a sellout last night, the atmosphere was buzzing, and the number of Red Bull “Henry 14” jerseys in the house was surprising and impressive (ditto the Arsenal, Barcelona, and France “Henry” shirts all over the place).
The fans roared when Henry’s face appeared on the Jumbotron before the pregame introductions, again when he was introduced, and again just about every time he touched the ball.
He acknowledged before the game that he’s a week or two away from full fitness, and he was definitely playing in a low gear, but every time he got the ball he was effective and looked full of potential to make something happen.
He nearly opened the scoring just seven minutes in with a great anticipating run in the box, but Spurs keeper Carlo Cudicini stifled his scuffed shot. That would have been an even more storybook debut, but his 25th minute opener will do just fine.
When Henry came off at halftime, Tottenham’s Croatian central midfielder Luka Modric (the checkerboard Croatia shirt was well represented in the house last night) asked to exchange jerseys with him.
Tottenham won the game 2-1, but the Red Bulls outplayed the Champions League entrants—even the Spurs fans sitting behind us acknowledged that. The visitors’ goals came about only by a pair of gaffes from RBNY.
On the first, New York midfielder Tony Tchani skimmed a corner kick with his head just as backup keeper (and Keith Van Horn lookalike) Greg Sutton came out to claim it. The deflection threw Sutton, the ball went through his hands, and Robbie Keane slammed it in at the back post.
The second goal came as a result of a poor header by substitute right back Jeremy Hall. He was trying to head the ball back to Sutton, but didn’t get enough on it, and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (who we’re pretty sure hails from the Shire) swooped in for an easy finish.
Other than those two mistakes—which, admittedly, were big, and could cost a team an MLS game as easily as an international friendly—the Red Bulls were the better team on the night.
During a long sequence of Red Bull possession in the second half, one of our Tottenham-supporting neighbors said, “These guys know how to keep the ball. I’m surprised. Henry’s got to be happy to see this. If they do this in league games, he’s going to score a lot of goals.”
Another fan who watched on TV told us, “MLS players are better than I thought. As long as the league can survive, the gap between them and the European leagues will continue to shrink.”
We’ve said it all along: if U.S.-based fans of European ball actually watched MLS games, they would, more often than not, see that the level of play is much better than they imagined.
We’re not getting carried away—it was only a friendly against a team in preseason form, and without some of its top players—but the atmosphere and the action last night marked another small step forward for the league and the sport in this country.
Sidenote: Henry took the PATH train to the stadium last night. Gotta love it. We’re pretty sure David Beckham did not take mass transit to his MLS debut back in 2007.