On Wednesday, the city of Houston played host to the Major League Soccer All-Stars.
Tonight, the Houston Dynamo will host the biggest star in the MLS today, who was ineligible for the “showcase” against Manchester United days earlier. Thierry Henry, the French International, will make his New York Red Bulls and MLS regular season debut.
On the heels of a World Cup that received a lot of attention, Henry has attracted a lot of focus to the Red Bulls and the league. Much like David Beckham in 2007, the high-profile star Henry will bring in a lot of money from jersey sales and extra fans to the games. He’ll also make a big difference on the field.
Henry played in two Red Bulls exhibition matches last week against English Premier League sides Tottenham and Manchester City and he impressed. He scored in the 25th minute of his debut against Tottenham and in both matches, showed creativity and a great vision with dangerous passes that sprung forth a strong attack.
In both those games, Henry only played the first 45 minutes. Against Houston, however, he will see increased time.
But what makes his MLS debut more special is that it will be the first pairing of him and New York captain Juan Pablo Angel.
Angel, another Designated Player with EPL experience, is the Red Bull’s all-time career goals leader (even though he has only played in three and a half seasons with the club). He is a quality finisher who the team has heavily depended on.
However, they have yet to find a strike-partner for him. The team has paired him with ten different players—Jozy Altidore, John Wolyniec, Salou Ibrahim, Macoumba Kandji, Dominic Oduro, Dane Richards, Francis Doe, Oscar Echeverry, Mike Magee, and Clint Mathis—before landing Henry.
The pairing could easily be the most potent in all of MLS. Henry played on the wing for much of the beginning of his career which has helped him become a great passer and crosser.
They are both dangerous scorers so defenses will not be able to key on one and double him. They will have to respect both forwards which should create more space than either is used to as well as open the field for their teammates, especially the wings like Richards, Jeremy Hall, and Danleigh Borman, who all have good speed.
Henry also has good pace and is able to get behind the defense. All of those skills should help the two players find each other and wreck havoc on their opposition. The opponent in their first game together could help expedite the process.
Houston—in seventh place in the eight-team Western Conference—has given up 25 goals, tied for most in the Western Conference, and will be further weakened.
Veteran goalkeeper Pat Onstad missed practice on Thursday and is not expected to start. Central defender Bobby Boswell will also miss the game due to a suspension he must serve for receiving a red card in the Dynamo’s previous game against Columbus.
If Henry and Angel can capitalize on the opportunity of playing together and against a vulnerable defense, the team can gain some much-needed momentum as they head into the end of the season pushing for a playoff spot.
Not only will a successful Henry/Angel tandem generate plenty of buzz for the league and the team off the field, but it may also finally bring home a trophy.
What once was a dream—not only landing Henry, but also winning the championship—becomes, at least partly, a reality tonight.