‘That’s why he’s on the field’: Thierry Henry’s bicycle kick wins it
There weren't many fans at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, to watch Wednesday night's match between the New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact.
The Red Bulls had entered winning three in a row, finding themsleves in a first-place tie atop the Eastern Conference. Tim Cahill, last summer's import from English Premier League club Everton, had finally unlocked how to score in Major League Soccer, with three goals over his past two games.
No matter: the Red Bulls, whose ability to draw fans has never lived up to expectations, announced a crowd of just 11,892.
Those happy few fans were right to go, though, witnessing what turned out to be a 2-1 victory for the home team, giving the Red Bulls their fourth win in a row and sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. They're now just one point out of the lead for the league's Supporters' Shield.
In particular, those fans were there to see a goal by Thierry Henry that ought to make its way onto highlight packages for years to come.
It was the 88th minute. The Red Bulls had played an excellent game, leading 1-0 on a Henry goal just before halftime. The defense had bent, but hadn't broken. Juninho, brought in for his set-piece mastery, nearly added a goal on a free kick in the 42nd minute, and lined up for a corner. A second goal would likely put the game away.
Juninho's free kick flew dangerously toward the head of tall defender Markus Holgersson, who redirected it toward Henry. Henry leaned back for a bicycle kick, and then the ball was in the back of the net.
"I think that's the greatest goal I've seen," M.S.G. color commentator Shep Messing said. Messing played with some other decent goal scorers in his time, such as, you know, Pele.
"Well I tried it so many times since I’ve been in the league and it was always like inches away," Henry told M.S.G.'s Tina Cervasio after the game. "And tonight it went in. At the end of the day it’s not about the goal, it’s about how important the goal was because at the end of the day we would have drawn that game if the ball didn’t go in the back of the net."
Henry was right; the dreaded late goal, this time from Montreal substitute Marco Di Vaio, the Italian Serie A veteran, only made the score interesting. Without Henry's heroics, the result would have been another late lapse and dropped points for the Red Bulls.
And that's really the difference between the early Red Bulls' struggles and where they are now. The team has some areas of strength, but can only enjoy middling success on the play of its defense, goalkeeper and other midfielders alone.
It is Cahill's emergence, Juninho finding health and form, and most of all Henry who will determine whether the Red Bulls can finally add some hardware to their bereft trophy case this season.
"That’s why he’s on the field, you know," Red Bulls coach Mike Petke said at his postgame press conference. "I mean he still has all that quality. It just takes a moment of magic from him and he had two tonight. That’s why he’s on the field."
And here's why M.L.S. brought him in: on a night with multiple N.B.A. and N.H.L. playoff games, Henry's goal was the Sportscenter top play.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
It sure looks like Amar'e Stoudemire will return for Game 3, Saturday in Indiana.
Jeremy Hefner could not follow Matt Harvey (though who could?), as the Mets lost to the White Sox, 6-3.
Outfielders playing third base, rookie relievers in a tie game, but it's the Yankees, so also a 3-2 win over the Rockies.
Tim Smith, Sean Brennan and Dick Weiss were all let go as part of the Daily News layoffs.