12:07 pm Oct. 2, 2012
On Saturday night, the New York Red Bulls needed a win over Toronto F.C. at Red Bull Arena.
A victory meant a legitimate chance to chase an Eastern Conference regular season title, and the home field in the playoffs that went with it. A loss would have relegated the Red Bulls to simply holding off several other teams to make the playoffs at all.
The Red Bulls duly won, 4-1, and the man primarily responsible for the result was Thierry Henry.
The team captain had a goal and three spectacular assists, and the night earned him M.L.S. Player of the Week honors for a fifth time this season. No one else has won the honor more than three times this year.
Chris Wondolowski, and an emphasis on goals, is the ostensible reason. And it isn't like the Red Bulls need a reminder of who Wondolowski is.
Wondolowski plays for the San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose is running away with the Western Conference, and Wondolowski's goal-scoring performance is a primary reason why. With four matches remaining, Wondolowski has 22 goals, and has an outside shot at setting the M.L.S. single-season record for goals in a season, currently held by Roy Lassiter at 27.
But consider that along with 22 goals, Wondolowki has seven assists. Henry has 14 goals, but he also has 12 assists. As a total of team offense, Henry is actually ahead of Wondolowski. Henry's goals and assists have contributed to 48.1 percent of the Red Bulls' goals this season, while Wondolowski has been part of 44.6 percent of San Jose's goals. (Henry has played in just 23 of New York's 30 games.)
But the statistics don't begin to illustrate what Henry has done for the Red Bulls.
It's fair to say he's made them a destination club, and not just for aging international stars looking for a soft berth in America's biggest media market. Other current players, notably Tim Cahill, stated that a primary reason for joining the Red Bulls was to play with Henry.
Henry has raised the level of play of the whole team, leading by example and demanding more of his teammates.
His signing was a watershed moment for the franchise, whose previous superstar imports—going back to the Metrostars and Roberto Donadoni—came and went without lifting the club from mediocrity.
To the extent the Red Bulls have improved since 2010, it has happened overwhelmingly because of Thierry Henry.
And they are having perhaps their best season yet. Not coincidentally, Thierry Henry is, too.