By DAVE MARTINEZ
Grabbing the bull by the horns. It is a common American colloquialism used to describe a person who tackles a situation or problem head on, with little regard to their own personal well being or standing. Since returning from a loan stint with his beloved Arsenal, Thierry Henry has certainly embodied the expression.
The Red Bulls captain has earned back-to-back MLS Player of the Week honors thanks to his three goal, one assist performance against the Montreal Impact this weekend. His statistics over the past two games are staggering, as he has scored five of the team’s nine goals while assisting on two others.
His penchant for creating and scoring goals aside, though, perhaps Henry’s most important contribution to the fortunes of this team have come in his role as a leader.
“Henry is something else,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara said. “From the day he got back here, when he met us in Arizona in preseason, everyday in training – he’s world class. To be on the same team with him is an honor. Both by example, and also in the locker room, in the huddle – he is the captain. Where he goes, we go. And when he scores a hat trick like that, he’s hard to beat.”
Both Henry and Red Bulls coach Hans Backe acknowledged a halftime pep talk helped spur momentum for the team in their explosive second half against Montreal.
“Thierry always has something to say,” Backe noted.
Added Henry: “Yeah, I had something to say. It was the same thing in Dallas and the same thing in Salt Lake. We said to each other we are going to make sure that if a team beats us at home, they are going to have to work on it.
“I’m not the happiest camper when I’m upset, that’s the way I am. I’m a competitor; you either like it or you don’t. We all have to go in the same direction. I couldn’t care less about scoring goals or not. Obviously, it’s way better when you do, but I just want to win. It’s hard sometimes when you lose, you get upset, you get moody. Sometimes you have to push people forward; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Whatever Henry said worked, as the Red Bulls clamped down on the Impact after conceding two goals in the first half of the 5-2 victory. New York put on a dominating showing over the final 45 minutes, with contributions from the defense and midfield increasing while Henry capped off the game with two goals and a slick back-heel assist to Mehdi Ballouchy in the second half.
“We had a very constructive, direct pep talk at the halftime,” defender Jan Gunnar Solli said. “I would say Titi was very direct with what he said. It wasn’t any yelling; it was more like 'Let’s talk to each other, let’s give each other the direct message or the way to communicate so we make it easy for each other.' No matter how boring it may sound in media, it’s the little things like that that really counts, like how the effort you put down, the communication you do.”
Clearly Henry backed up his words with his performance, providing leadership both on and off the field for his teammates to follow.
“The guy is an animal,” midfielder Dax McCarty noted. “He is literally the closest to unstoppable as it comes in this league, especially the way he is playing now. When you see how motivated he is, especially now that he realizes how difficult this league is, he is taking it to a whole other level. We are going to be really difficult (to beat) if he keeps playing like this. It seems every time he shoots the ball, it goes in.”
This is Henry’s third year with the New York Red Bulls, and only his second complete season with the team. When he arrived in 2010, he was far from game shape, as he could not find time on the pitch with either Barcelona or the French national team during the World Cup to work on his form. In 2011, a nagging achilles strain slowed the team captain down early. This year, Henry is proving what he can accomplish when he is in top form, and his impact has been undeniable.