[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] Occasionally Houston did manage to stop Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls in their 2-2 tie on Saturday night, but more often he either glided past challengers or slid balls between them or so preoccupied them that space opened up for New York to exploit.
Henry went the full 90 and played in several different positions, all of them effective. He started up top, playing five to 10 yards closer to Houston’s goal than Juan Pablo Angel while occasionally ranging wide. A wonderful move past defender Adrian Serioux got him to the end line on the left side, from whence he cut back a ball that Angel smashed into the net after defender Eddie Robinson – who claimed he’d been pushed – fell to the ground trying to clear. Henry and Angel also played closer together and deeper at times, floating between the central defenders and holding midfielders to cause considerable confusion.
In the second half, when Macoumba Kandji shifted to the left side of midfield from the right, where substitute Dean Richards took over, Henry played more in the left channel of midfield. Joel Lindpere and defender Tim Ream aimed balls along the ground in his direction that he either knocked back to teammates, flicked wide to Kandji, or collected himself on the turn. So concerned were his opponents that he usually had at least five yards of space to work with, though substitute Richard Mulrooney did strip him of the ball. Once teams figure out the passive approach won’t work, he’ll draw his share of hard challenges and fouls.
The cohesion between Henry and Angel enabled New York to control the center of midfield and also opened up space on the flanks. Kandji and Richards repeatedly found the ball at their feet with just one opponent to beat, and Lindpere got up the left side – as he had done to set up Henry’s goal in a friendly against Tottenham – to cause further problems for an already confused team. New York went up a man just before halftime on a terribly harsh red card given to midfielder Lovel Palmer yet failed to punch in a third goal that would have rendered Brian Mullan’s late equalizer meaningless.
The left side of Houston’s defense completely disappeared when Angel scored his second; he looped around an inside run by Richards that cleared out space, and ran onto Henry’s perfect feed to line up a point-blank shot that gave Dynamo keeper Tally Hall no chance. Henry and the Red Bulls narrowly missed connections several times on a final ball that could have provided that third goal.
About the only thing Henry didn’t do well was finish, though one of his shots – from a Kandji cross -- forced a good save from Hall. On a clean breakaway set up by a ball nodded on by Angel, he shot narrowly wide, and on another ball cut back from the end line by Angel he hit a weak shot that Adrian Hainault easily blocked and cleared. He shot wide again the second half after collecting a ball and turning in midfield.
While playing up high in the first half, Henry put moderate pressure on Hall and his defenders so Houston couldn’t play the ball easily out of the back. In a midfield role he won a few balls, charged down a couple of attempted passes, and knocked down Danny Cruz with a tackle that Houston players felt was a foul.
Henry broke through a few times in the final 15 minutes but couldn’t produce a clinching goal. Played into space again on the left side, he easily evaded Hainault to center a ball cleared by Corey Ashe, and two other possessions broke apart at the edge of the Houston penalty area.
In his first match he did nothing to refute speculation he might be the best player – in terms of past accomplishments and current ability – ever signed by MLS.