UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. —When asked to describe the New York Red Bulls following training on Friday afternoon, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena offered a concise statement.
“I think as [Thierry] Henry goes, the Red Bulls go,” Arena told reporters. “That’s always a pretty much a common denominator.”
Once you look at the numbers, Arena’s assertion about the legendary French striker couldn’t be more accurate. The Red Bulls are a perfect 4-0-0 when Henry has scored this season and when you look at his nearly four-year tenure in MLS, they are an impressive 19-4-6 when he finds the back of the net.
There’s little surprise why the Red Bulls are so successful when Henry scores as the Frenchman is one of the most clinical finishers in the history of the game and he’s continued his form this season with five goals in 11 games.
One Galaxy player, who is innately familiar with Henry, is captain Robbie Keane who dueled with the Frenchman for years in Premier League. When Henry was a fixture at English giant Arsenal, Keane led the likes of Leeds United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur against the Frenchman’s sides.
But no match between the pair was more memorable—or infamous from an Irish standpoint—then the meeting between France and Italy at the Stade de France in November 2009 with a berth in the World Cup on the line. Keane’s goal in the first half of that game evened the two-leg playoff series at 1-1, forcing extra time. Just before the end of the first half of extra time came to an end, a clear handball from Henry set up William Gallas for the series winning goal, sending France to South Africa at the expense of the Irish.
Although that match understandably left Keane fuming, the Irishman is eager to face off against his old foe again on Sunday.
“It’s good to play against players that you’re familiar with and players that you’ve played against for years,” Keane said. “Over the years with Arsenal and Tottenham, we had plenty of rivalries, so I played against Thierry on numerous occasions and with the [Irish] national team as well, but we won’t talk about that.”
But the task of shutting down Henry will fall to LA center back Omar Gonzalez and the rest of the Galaxy back four. Gonzalez, in particular, will need a strong game to silence Henry as well as the Red Bulls’ arsenal of attacking options, which include former Everton star Tim Cahill and Fabian Espindola, who has given the Galaxy fits over the years during his time with Real Salt Lake and has four goals in his last four games against the club.
“When Espindola played for Real Salt Lake, he always caused problems and now he’s with New York and they have Tim Cahill and Henry, who can feed him balls,” said Gonzalez. “If we go mark Espindola then Henry is open so there are a lot of threats that they pose. We just have to do well and always keep an eye on them and if we do then we should be alright.”
As for Gonzalez’s plan to shut down Henry and the Red Bulls attack, it’s nearly as simple as his head coaches’ assertion, but a little bit more complicated.
“Just keep them in front of you and definitely be aware of the space behind [you] because those guys are quick and can beat you behind,” said Gonzalez. “We just want to keep them in front of us and keep an eye on them.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com