With Nine Games Still Remaining in the Round, the MLS Goal of the Week Competition Is Over

Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry shut down the balloting for the week (and maybe the year) with this stunner:

The 88th-minute golazo put New York up 2-0 on Montreal, but of course, these being the Red Bulls, they gave up a goal to Marco Di Vaio in stoppage time, and then nearly blew Henry’s masterpiece a minute later, when Di Vaio hit both posts with a shot inside the box.

The former Serie A goal poacher was ruled offside, dubiously, and the ball just stayed out, enabling the Red Bulls (6-4-2) to hold on for a 2-1 win that lifted them into a tie with Houston atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Let’s Revisit Thierry Henry’s Player-of-the-Week Performance

Granted, it came against last-place Toronto FC, but Thierry Henry put on quite a show for a sold-out Red Bull Arena on Saturday night, setting up three goals and scoring the fourth in New York’s 4-1 victory.

We enjoyed Shep Messing’s comment after Henry created the second of the two easiest goals Kenny Cooper will ever score in his career, drawing the entire Toronto defense–goalkeeper included—to himself before laying it off for Cooper in front of an empty net:

“I mean, how much more greatness do you want to see?”

Answer: Juuust a tad more—and Henry obliged with a sensational lob in stoppage time.

Take a look:

New York kept pace in the crowded Eastern Conference with the win, but they’ve got a tougher task ahead on Saturday, when they take on Chicago, who’ll be trying to knock the Red Bulls out of second place.

That one is at 3:30, on NBC—the flagship, network channel, not its cable offshoot.

MLS Hedges, Suspends Henry One Game for Kamara Incident

The MLS Disciplinary Committee announced today that it has suspended Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry for one game and fined the French Designated Player an undisclosed amount “for violent conduct which endangered the safety of Kansas City forward Kei Kamara” during stoppage time of Wednesday night’s pivotal Eastern Conference game at Red Bull Arena.

This action is dubious for (at least) two reasons:

1. If they’ve decided that Henry intentionally head-butted Kamara—which they must have, or else why suspend him—then doesn’t a head butt warrant more than a one-game suspension?

2. The Red Bulls’ next match is on Saturday night at New England, where the field is artificial turf. Henry is well-known for not liking to play on artificial surfaces—he’s done it just once in his MLS career so far—and chances are he would have skipped Saturday’s game anyway.

Did MLS just compromise with one of its biggest superstars? How much longer would the suspension have been if Kamara had been cut by Henry’s fake accident?

The league hasn’t posted video of the incident to YouTube, but you can see a clip of it here.

Several things to note:

• The first thing Henry does after collapsing melodramatically is to grab the back of his head. Pretty flimsy: the video clearly shows that he hit Kamara with his forehead.

• Check the reverse-angle replay of the incident. Why is Henry even starting his run at this point? Teammate Sebastien Le Toux is going to take a corner kick, but he’s not ready to do it yet—he’s not even close.

• There have to be better, and more subtle, ways to get a dig in at an opponent, right? This is just weird, and, his ludicrous pantomime aside, Henry did run the risk of hurting himself as much as Kamara.

Sigh. He’s a great player, but an odd duck.

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.

MLS All Stars 3, Chelsea 2: Highlights

As we said the other day, the MLS All-Star Game is a different animal when Alex Ferguson and mighty Man U are involved. The Red Devils manager pointed his side’s summer U.S. tour toward the game for two years running, and the results reflected that.

Enter Chelsea (or reenter; they played the ASG in 2006), the reigning UEFA Champions League titlists, who took a less single-minded approach to the event, and add a well-balanced, talented team of MLS stars, and you get an entertaining night of soccer.

Take a look:

How about Jay DeMerit’s tackle at about the 1:50 mark? He was a beast all game, and as Martin Rennie, his coach in Vancouver, said recently, “If Jay DeMerit can’t make the U.S. team, then they must be very strong indeed at centerback.” The Rise and Shine star is back in form, and he deserves a look from Jurgen Klinsmann.

DC United midfielder Chris Pontius also had a good night, scoring the tying goal and winning the game MVP award, and San Jose wingbacks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow—aka the $44,100-men—didn’t look the least bit out of place facing Chelsea’s millionaires.

All in all, a fun 90 minutes in Philly, and a solid night for the league. Here’s a bonus clip of Thierry Henry talking to Jimmy Conrad, postgame:

Is this the Best Goal Thierry Henry Has Ever Scored for New York?

Backpost reader and prolific yellow card collector RefBaiter says no way, but we are giving the Frenchman’s strike in yesterday’s 1-0 win over Chicago some serious consideration. The first touch off the chest that creates space for the shot, the clutch factor (it was a game-winner) and the incredible volley in off the far post. Take a look:

That’s a pretty damn good goal. We can think of a few others that rival it in Henry’s short MLS career, and have included them below. Let us know in the comments if you think any of them is better than yesterday’s strike.

September 11, 2010, vs Colorado. The set-up is what makes this one brilliant. He backheels the ball to Joel Lindpere to keep the play alive, then lulls Colorado defender Kosuke Kimura before baiting him into a lunge and absolutely exploding by him on the give-and-go. Magic:

July 23, 2011, vs FC Dallas. A great piece of individual skill that was also clutch: It lifted to New York into a tie in the waning moments:

October 1, 2011, vs Toronto FC. The touch to turn away from TFC defender Andy Iro = so skillful. The finish = deadly. Also: an 88th-minute equalizer = clutch:

Those were the Henry golazos we could recall. Did we miss one? Which do you think is the best? Let us know in the comments.

And whatever you think, one thing is clear: Henry may have had some discipline issues in his Red Bulls career, but he has delivered the goods as a player.

UK’s Pardon the Interruption, with Curly Neal’s British Cousin Co-Hosting, Gives Props to MLS

From the MLS Insider comes this clip of the English version of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, in which the hosts discuss the Premier League returns of Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan—and show a welcome level of respect for Major League Soccer:

We kept waiting for the guy on the right to drop a “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.”

Henry and Arsenal will look to halt a two-game league losing streak this Sunday in a huge game against Manchester United. Keane and Villa travel to Wolves on Saturday, the same day that Everton, Donovan and Tim Howard host Blackburn.

MLS Exports Ruled the World this Week

With his fairytale goal against Leeds yesterday, Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry capped a tremendous week for Major League Soccer products playing abroad.

Over the weekend, former New England Revolution star and 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick against Charlton in the FA Cup, and current LA Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan set up a goal and hit the post with a 25-yard rocket during Everton’s 2-0 win over Tamworth in the FA Cup.

There were other players with MLS ties who stood out this week, but before we get to those, here are the highlights, via The FA Cup, of Henry’s triumphant return to Arsenal, the club where he forged his legend—and where they’ve erected a statue in his likeness. He entered the third-round match in the 67th minute with the score 0-0:

On first viewing, Henry appears to be offside, but subsequent replays clearly showed that the defender on the far side, at the top of the screen, kept him onside. Here’s a screen grab for proof:

Definitely onside, and definitely an indelible moment in global soccer, year 2012.

Former Revolution man Dempsey created his own career landmark against Charlton on Saturday, bagging his first hat-trick to power Fulham to a 4-0 win. Highlights below, also courtesy of The FA Cup. Note Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is involved in three of the four goals:

After the game, Fulham coach Martin Jol , speaking to The Sun, had this to say about the kid from Nacogdoches: “He is an American boy so he wants to win every training session. He has the eye of the tiger.”

The MLS-export heroics were not limited to Henry, Donovan, and Dempsey.

Five days earlier, former New York goalkeeper Tim Howard made history by becoming just the fourth goalkeeper (and second Yank, after Brad Friedel) to score in the Premier League when his clearance from the top of his own area got caught in the wind and bounced high over the head of Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan.

In Italy, former MetroStars midfielder Michael Bradley earned raves for his play with Serie A side Chievo. He has nailed down a starting spot, and the team is on track for a solid mid-table finish this season. Bradley has also already mastered enough Italian to conduct his press interviews in the local tongue.

Henry Set for Winter Loan to Arsenal

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham may be undecided about his immediate future, but his fellow designated player Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls has confirmed his plans for the next seven weeks: He’ll be going on loan to his former team, Arsenal, until the MLS preseason begins.

Henry will be eligible to play in the Gunners’ Jan 2 game against Fulham and former MLSer Clint Dempsey, and he’ll return to the U.S. on Feb 20 to join the Red Bulls for the opening of their preseason camp in Phoenix.

If it’s good for Landon Donovan, it should also benefit Henry, right? Well, New York fans certainly hope so, but when you consider that Henry is 34 to Donovan’s 29, and the fact that the Frenchman battled a series of niggling injuries in 2011, you could have misgivings.

In any case, it will be something to see the reception the club legend receives on his homecoming, and of course, if he does well on loan, it will reflect positively on MLS and boost the Red Bulls heading into 2012, as they’ll get a fit, in-form (and hopefully not too physically taxed) player upon his return.

For more on this story, click here, and while you’re over there, please check out our piece on the Best three “Fantastic Finishes” of the 2011 MLS season.

New York 2, Los Angeles 0: Red Bulls Pick Up “Massive” Three Points, Boost Playoff Hopes

The LA Galaxy came to New York without Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Sean Franklin, and with a playoff spot already assured (not to mention the Supporters’ Shield just about in the bag), but that shouldn’t detract (not too much) from New York’s gut-check 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena last night.

After all, the Galaxy visited New York’s fellow Eastern Conference contenders Columbus on Sept 24 with a similarly depleted lineup and left with a 1-0 victory. Throw in New York’s shaky form since early summer, and the recent outbreak of Rafagate, and you had a setting ripe for a season-imploding loss in front of a sellout crowd.

Fortunately for New York fans, that didn’t happen, and the Red Bulls produced one of their best performances of the season in a game that Backe had described as “massive.” Designated player Thierry Henry and English Bulldog Luke Rodgers led the way, each scoring a goal and hitting the post. See here:

The Red Bulls are now 29-0-13 under Backe when scoring first. Their 9-7-16 record and 43 points have them tied with Houston in the 10th and final playoff spot. They have two games remaining, at first-place Sporting Kansas City (11-9-12) on Oct 15 and home to second-place Philadelphia (10-7-14) on Oct 20.

With just eight points separating first place in the East from seventh, New York could win the conference title or miss the playoffs entirely.