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.

Kei Kamara is the Al MacInnis of MLS, and His Team Is On the Rise

They don’t have a skills competition at the MLS All-Star Game, but if they did, we’d put money on 26-year-old Sierra Leone international Kei Kamara to win the Hardest Shot contest. His shot is anvil-heavy, and all he needs is a sliver of space to get it off. Case in point, versus DC United on Sunday:

That was Kamara’s seventh goal of the year (in 22 appearances) and he and his team are peaking at the right time. After a miserable 1-6-9 road trip to start the season, Sporting Kansas City opened their state-of-the-art new stadium, Livestrong Park, on June 9, and reeled off a 14-game unbeaten streak. That run was broken by a stomach-punch loss to Seattle on Aug 6, but SKC has bounced back with two wins in a row since then, cruising past Portland 3-1 two weeks ago and dropping DC this past Sunday on Kamara’s strike. They’re currently 9-7-9 and in second place in the East.

In addition to the 6-3, 185-pound Kamara, SKC lines up Mexican star Omar Bravo, U.S. international Teal Bunbury, and our pick for 2011 Rookie of the Year, CJ Sapong (who has a U.S. national team call-up in his future if he keeps progressing).

Coach Peter Vermes threw all four of them at DC on Sunday, and despite the presence of (essentially) four strikers, and attacking midfielder Graham Zusi (five goals, four assists this year, and, according to Mrs. BP, not unpleasant to look at), his team was still solid defensively: they got a shutout, and they surrendered just a couple of clear chances. (Kansas City lines up the pedigreed Julio Cesar at centerback, with solid Americans Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, and Chance Myers following his lead on the backline.)

SKC also has more home games remaining (7 out of 9) than any other team in the league. You have to like their chances heading down the stretch. Judging by this clip from after the DC game, they do too: