It’s not clear yet what Thierry Henry is planning to do next season but there’s plenty life in the old dog, suggests John Riordan.
In spite of the fact that he is now in his 38th year, the legendary French forward is enjoying a central role in a title push with the New York Red Bulls.
By the time this international break runs its course, the domestic league in the United States will be gearing up for a fairly significant finale and the PR-savvy head office of Major League Soccer is hoping beyond hope this will be the season that pairs up LA and New York in the decider at long last.
The respective two-legged semi-finals — or to be more exact, the conference finals on either coast — will begin a few days after the US national team flies back from Dublin and with Henry playing out the last year of his contract in style on one side of the country and Landon Donovan definitely rounding out his career on the other, it would be a huge story if they faced each other on the first Sunday in December.
It’s not a guarantee, however.
The Seattle Sounders — who secured a Western Conference final against their rivals from California — have the edge over the LA Galaxy this year and carry with them their own mystique thanks to a proud tradition of football in the Pacific Northwest that has been spurred on by huge crowds at their home games and big name players like Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.
Then there’s World Cup standout DeAndre Yedlin who will head to Spurs after whatever proves to be Seattle’s last game of the season thanks to his impressive displays for Jurgen Klinsmann.
But should the soccer gods allow it, there will be a potency to the farewells accorded to Donovan and Henry, especially if the latter decides to call it a day.
Henry arrived halfway through the 2010 season and has been a mainstay in a club that has underachieved.
The Red Bulls have talked a big game but only now do they look like they’re putting on a charge at the right time. Henry has been to the forefront, pulling the strings in key areas of the pitch and finally looking like he’s enjoying the standard of football he’s surrounded by. No matter what happens, the Western Conference winners will host the MLS Cup final in just over three weeks by virtue of the fact that both LA and Seattle accumulated more regular season points than any of the teams in the east. So when New England Revolution visit the outskirts of New York City on Sunday week, it will be the last game of the season at the Red Bull Arena.
Which of course means that Henry will possibly be waving goodbye to his fans in New Jersey and New York with a little bit of uncertainty. There will be unfinished business to complete and future plans to discuss.
The previous four times he and the Red Bulls have made it through to the play-offs, he has failed to make any impact as each time the New Jersey-based outfit found themselves knocked out, unable to put up much of a fight.
It’s a different situation this year. Although the regular season was anything but straightforward, Henry has come alive at the right time, dominating the inside and outside left areas of the forward line while also dropping back into midfield to unlock tight games, a true veteran confident in what he can offer to the lesser mortals around him.
He has gone five games without a goal but he has proven pivotal as a provider in the post-season. On Saturday at DC United, a sudden burst of pace through the inside left channel, belied his years and allowed him send across an impossible-to-defend cross that paved the way for a vital away goal.
In the first leg of that eastern semi-final, he grabbed the headlines with the sort of backheel only players of his class would be brazen enough to attempt 12 yards from goal when he dinked a low cross onto Bradley Wright-Phillips who rifled home his 30th of the season.
With Wright-Phillips and Tim Cahill doing their bit, the goalscoring pressure is off Henry and yet he has managed 10 of his own.
Of course there is the obligatory caveat that this country is ideal for old men like Thierry Henry but if this is the end of a storied career and if there’s any true justice, he will steal the limelight from Landon Donovan and the MLS will be all the healthier for that.
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