Effect of Henry, man of the people, shows in his buzzworthy debut

Publish date:

The script that, because of his 232 goals in 17 club seasons, made him the most anticipated international recruit to the MLS since David Beckham three years ago. The script that led him to the highest profile of places -- New York. And the script that had him facing a longtime rival in his first match with New York, as his Arsenal squad frequently matched up with Tottenham during Henry's eight seasons there.

"What a script to come here," Henry said.

Henry took that script and wrote a new chapter, scoring a goal in the 25th minute and giving the Red Bulls a brief lead before Tottenham would come back in the second half and win 2-1. Henry played only the first half of the match, handing his No. 14 jersey to Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric as he walked off the field at halftime.

The goal was Henry's first in nearly three months, after he was used sparingly as a substitute for the French national team in the World Cup and with club team Barcelona as of late. On July 13, Henry signed a four-and-a-half year contract with the Red Bulls, and almost immediately he displayed the effect he could have on his new club, along with the ripple effect that could spread through MLS.

"He's going to have a massive, massive impact for us," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said after the match. "But to be realistic, too, one player can't in a way change the team totally. He needs his teammates around him to feed him with the right killer passes."

One of those killer passes came in the 25th minute, as Henry put the exclamation point on his debut. It ignited the crowd of 20,312, about 4,000 more than the average for Red Bulls games this season. After a couple of missed chances, Henry broke through off a well-placed low cross from midfielder Joel Lindpere. Henry lunged and stuck his right foot in the ball's path, knocking it into the net to the left of Tottenham goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.

"The young guy up front there," Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp said. "Henry? Looks like he's got a good future.

"He was fantastic. He's a different class. He's still a world-class player."

After the goal, Henry looked as if he almost expected it, jogging to the corner of the field while nodding his head. As he walked back to midfield, he blew a kiss to each side of the crowd.

"Actually, he's a lot taller than I thought," Lindpere said of Henry's lunge. "He's quite tall, and he has long legs. So thankfully, he scored."

The Henry effect was everywhere, from his pregame warmups to his in-game theatrics. Henry led the Red Bulls out of the tunnel to a huge roar from the crowd. He was the last to be introduced, resulting in another rousing ovation. Each time he had a chance to touch the ball, the crowd began to buzz in anticipation of what could follow.

It even started before the match, when Henry decided to ride the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train to the game. Public transportation was the choice for the biggest star in the MLS right now, far from the celebrity frenzy that surrounded Beckham's first game in 2007 with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"It was amazing to see the fans and walk with them to the stadium," Henry said. "Just amazing. I'd say the reception was tremendous -- every time I touched the ball, when I came out and when I scored."

And the buzz was for good reason. There were worries about his playing shape because of his lack of time on the field recently (He said after the game he's about "10 or 15 days" away from getting back to being in full shape.), but Henry wiped out those concerns.

He had his first chance in the match's seventh minute, when Red Bulls forward Macoumba Kandji fed him a pass that found him all alone in front of the net, one-on-one with Cudicini. But Henry slipped, and Cudicini was able to get his right foot on the ball to block its path to the net.

Just five minutes later, Henry's attempt to push the ball forward with the back of his foot went off the head of Tottenham defender Kyle Walker, and Henry again found himself with the ball. Again, though, he was a bit overanxious, blasting a shot from just outside the penalty area wide right.

"I think hopefully the goals are going to come," Henry said. "But it's not about goals. It's about helping the team, and I'm trying to work to be as fit as soon as I can."

The Henry effect was also seen in his new teammates, who, despite being somewhat in awe of playing with Henry, found his presence to be invigorating. For Tim Ream, a Red Bulls defender, it brought to life childhood memories of watching Henry.

"I grew up watching Henry play," Ream said. "It's fun to hear the 'oohs' and 'aahs,' and you definitely enjoy it."

Added defender Carlos Mendes, "You've got to step up your game. When you're playing with a guy like Thierry, you want to step up your game. I think it's going to help everybody. We're looking to move forward and hopefully do well this year in the league."

The pinnacle and the climax of the buzz, though, would be the goal. The goal that sent the crowd into a roar, while his teammates rushed to the corner, grinning, to greet him and celebrate.

Henry, though, just pointed to the ground repeatedly. It was him announcing his arrival to the MLS. It was the script -- continued.

"I'm here, that's what I was saying," Henry said. "I'm here."