How Do We Know It Was a Big Game for RBNY Last Night? The Team Came Out Flat, and Henry Lost His S***

Sporting Kansas City came to Red Bull Arena last night, and the stakes were high: Six games to play, and just two points separating the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference table.

The winner of the game would be posting a direct message to the other team’s feed: 14o ALL CAPS characters of we-want-the-conference-title-and-the-playoff-homefield-advantage-that-goes-with-it.

The Red Bulls were coming off a solid 3-1 win over the streaking Columbus Crew, they were riding a five-game unbeaten run, and they were playing at home, where they hadn’t lost all season (10-0-3).

So naturally, they gave up two early goals and produced a sloppy performance en route to a 2-0 defeat. And at the end of the frustrating night, superstar Thierry Henry pulled one of his unhinged, poorly-disguised cheap-shot moves that might (should) get him suspended for Saturday’s important game at New England.

It’s not in the highlights below (c’mon MLS), so continue reading after the clip to find out what happened:

The Henry Incident

Late in the game, as the teams lined up for a free kick, Henry came charging through the top of the box and clipped Kei Kamara’s head with his own, sending the KC big man down, and then—and here was where it got rich—clutching his own head as if he’d been gonged by the “accidental” collision as well.

There were two flaws in the Frenchman’s charade, though: First, he was holding the top/back of his head in “pain,” but the replays showed he made contact with his forehead (the proper place to head the ball, and—if that’s how you roll—to head butt someone, because your forehead is hard and heading with it doesn’t hurt).

Second, the incident itself is just not plausible. You came running through a not-all-that-crowded part of the field and conked heads with an opponent? It wasn’t avoidable? You didn’t see the biggest man on the field directly in front of you? For real?

The incident is also strikingly similar to Henry’s 2010 kick of FC Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman (which happened two years ago to the day; see it here), and his 2011 knee to the back of the head of Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (click here).

Henry suffered no repercussions for the Hartman incident (even though Hartman missed several weeks with an MCL sprain), but he did see a straight red for the Espinoza knock, as the ref judged (correctly, we’d say) that Henry could have avoided the contact and instead engaged in it deliberately.

What will happen in the wake of this one? Fortunately, Kamara was unharmed. Fair or not, if Henry had opened up a cut on the KC striker’s head (head wounds bleed a lot, remember), a suspension would’ve probably been a lock. As it happened, there was some grey area—a hallmark of all three incidents—that could produce enough doubt for him to benefit from. Or not. We shall see when the MLS Disciplinary Committee releases its report.

Some more thoughts on the Red Bulls’ biggest game of the year so far:

Dax McCarty has been one of New York’s best players all season, but he had a stinker last night. Loads of giveaways, overwhelmed by KC midfield.

This team is probably better without Rafa Marquez in the lineup. The high-priced former Barcelona man lends a touch of class on the ball, and he had a good game against Columbus last week, but last night, he was back to his lackadaisical, turnover-prone  ways.

New York’s tendency to concede early goals is alarming (and oddly reminiscent of the U.S. national team under Bob Bradley). They’ve surrendered 11 goals in the first 15 minutes of games this year. Yikes.

Kenny Cooper gets in good spots, but usually muffs his plays from those spots. He was part of several promising moves last night, but came away with nothing to show for them. He should have scored on a header from Henry’s brilliant cross, and he played an inexplicable ball directly to KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen when he had wide-open spaces in front of him, and Joel Lindpere streaking down the middle toward goal.

Hey, Lloyd Sam looked pretty good. The speedy former Charlton Athletic winger livened up the Red Bulls’ attack as a second-half sub. A bright spot for New York.

Gonzalez, Cameron, Sapong Called to Klinsmann’s January Camp

U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann invited 20 players to his first training camp of 2012, which will take place in Glendale, Ariz., and Carson, Calif., from Jan 3 to Jan 26.

The group will compete in friendlies against Venezuela on Jan 21 in Glendale and against Panama on Jan 25 in Panama City.

The roster is heavy with MLS players, including such first-time call-ups as Graham Zusi and CJ Sapong of Sporting Kansas City, Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles and George John of FC Dallas.

Here’s the full group:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), George John (FC Dallas), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA)

MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

In comments published on the US Soccer website, Klinsmann essentially said this was a roster of backups and second-stringers, but the selection includes players such as Beckerman and Shea, both of whom have been regular starters in the early Klinsmann era. “Ultimately, it will create more depth for us, which you need at this level,” said the U.S. coach. “I’m very curious and excited to see this group.”

We’d wager that at least two from this roster—Cameron and Sapong—will edge into the starting-XI picture before too long. Klinsmann has shown a desire to have at least one centerback (in addition to the physically imposing Oguchi Onyewu, presumably) who can pass the ball out of the back skillfully.

He’s tried Tim Ream there for that purpose, with mixed to negative results. Cameron, a converted central midfielder, looks to be a much better option: He is equal to or better than Ream in the foot-skills department and he’s superior both physically (6-3) and athletically. If he shows well in this camp, we’d love to see Klinsmann try an Onyewu–Cameron pairing in the middle of defense sometime soon.

Sapong is a player we’ve been bullish on since we got our first long glimpse of him last spring, and we can’t wait to see him in a U.S. shirt. He’s incredibly athletic, highly skilled and poised on the ball, and he can play with his back to goal, holding possession until his teammates get involved. He’s also got a nose for goal. Check out this clip here for an idea of his potential.

There hasn’t been a striker with his skill set in the U.S. pool since Brian McBride, and Sapong is slightly more athletic than the Fulham legend.

Another player who could challenge for the centerback spot—and who, at 6-5, could offer a Twin Towers pairing alongside Onyewu—is the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 Defender of the Year in Major League Soccer.

Whatever shakes out, it’ll be interesting to watch. The Jan 21 Venezuela match kicks off at 9:00 pm ET; kickoff time for the Jan 25 Panama game is TBD.