Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

The playing is the thing for NY star

Red Bulls striker Henry still scores, ages nicely in MLS
by: COURTESY OF NY RED BULLS Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls visit the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry is more than just one of the finest footballers to ever step onto a Major League Soccer pitch. When his playing career is over, he will go down as one of the best ever.

But while Henry is a soccer star, in America, at least, he is not revered in the same light as many other star athletes. And, if given a choice between performance and celebrity, that would be just fine with Henry.

'Is that even a question?' the Frenchman asks, on the subject of results versus fame. 'That's the only thing that does matter, the field. The rest is just whatever.'

Henry, 33, admits it is a little different playing soccer now than when he was in his 20s.

'The technical ability, it doesn't matter if you're 19 or 34,' Henry says. 'With the body, I remember back in the day when I was 20, you finish a game and you feel like you can play another game the day after. When you reach 33 or 34 and you averaged 60 games per year, you need to recover a bit more.'

Timbers coach John Spencer knows that when Henry and the Red Bulls (5-2-7, 22 points) come to Portland (5-6-2, 17 points) for a 7 p.m. Sunday game, age will be just a number for Henry and the team trying to contain him.

'He brings that history of being a world-class player,' Spencer says. 'And he's a world-class player who can still perform at a world-class level.'

Henry found it difficult to keep up his fitness last season, when he was traded to New York in the middle of the MLS season and just after his season ended with Barcelona. He scored two goals and had three assists in 11 MLS matches.

Henry is back to full fitness and form this year. He has scored seven goals this season -second-best in the league.

Henry does not call himself a natural goal scorer.

'I'm not a box player,' he says. 'I don't stay in front of the goal waiting for a ball to pass in front of the goal. I'm a goal-scorer, but a different type of goal-scorer. If I have to pass the ball, you see me pass the ball if the guy is in a better position. I've scored a lot of goals in my career. But right from the start, I'm not a natural goal scorer.'

It is fair to wonder how much winning an MLS Cup matters to a man who has won the World Cup and titles in the most storied leagues in the world. Henry has the competitive fire of a true champion and winner, though.

'Every time I do something or I play on a team, the aim is to try to win something,' Henry says. 'Now, are you going to win it or not? That's another story. But I always try to compete and win. I've always had that in me.'

Someday, though, when he hangs up his legendary boots, the thing Henry says he will look back on is not so much the wins and loses. And it certainly is not the fame and celebrity. Henry will look back on simply being able to step onto a soccer pitch.

'Being able to play the game is the most important thing,' he says, 'and the best feeling ever for me.'