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Timbers plot strategy for defending NY's Thierry Henry

by: COURTESY OF NEW YORK RED BULLS THIERRY HENRY

This week, the Portland Timbers were asked to play a little game. When they heard the name of New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry, what was the first thing that popped into their minds?

Defender Eric Brunner: ''Just a world-class player. A guy that's won everything that you can possibly win and just a great player.'

Defender Jeremy Hall: 'Goal-scorer. When he was in his prime, he was probably one of the best in the world. He's won a World Cup, he's won championships, he's definitely decorated. But we've just got to play hard and come out.'

• Hall's attitude is exactly what coach John Spencer wants to see from his club when the Timbers take the Jeld-Wen Field pitch at 7 p.m. Sunday against Henry and the Red Bulls.

'When (Henry) steps on the field, it's important that we respect him for what he's done in the game but don't respect him to an extent where we step off him and let him do what he wants to do,' Spencer says. 'We still have to realize he's a human being. He can have a bad game, he can have a great game.

'We've got to make sure that we stop the supply to him and make him not have such an effective game. Sometimes you can look at big stars and guys like Henry and get caught in the headlines. But, for us, we know what we're capable of doing.'

•• Henry realizes that the Red Bulls will be traveling into a hostile environment Sunday.

'I know it's going to be a very difficult game,' he says. 'I saw a lot of games of Portland. And they are a very difficult team and very good at their place. So we know what we're going to deal with. I know it's going to be a difficult game. The crowd is amazing there. So, we're going to have to go through that and make sure we're going to battle and see what the outcome is going to be of the game.'

••• It is doubtful that Henry will be fazed by the loud songs and chants of the Timbers Army. Playing in some of Europe's most storied leagues and in World Cups, Henry has reached a place where he barely notices the crowd.

'Usually when I play, from experience in the past I don't actually hear people,' the 33-year-old Frenchman says. 'You kind of focus on the game and you try to play and compete. You know they're there, you kind of hear them, but I don't hear. You kind of go in the zone.'

•••• For Spencer, the striking tandem of Henry and Luke Rodgers is one of the most pressing issues the Timbers must address if they want to come out of the match with three points.

'Good partnership,' Spencer says, of the New York duo. 'Henry is still on his day as a world-class player. And Luke Rodgers is having so far a great first half of the season in Major League Soccer, so we need to be careful of them every time they have the ball. We need to be aware of where they are on the field every moment. But if we perform the way we did last week, we won't be far away from winning the game.'

••••• The Red Bulls will travel to Portland without several starting players who are competing in the Gold Cup, including midfielder/forward Juan Agudelo, defender/midfielder Rafa Marquez and midfielder/forward Dane Richards.

Trevor James, who will coach the Timbers on Sunday in place of the suspended Spencer, says that the new lineup may force the Red Bulls to make adjustments. He does not quite call the subtraction of starters a weakness, though.

'Obviously, they're a mixture of a squad because they have players missing. That's a weakness … they're going to have to make changes,' James says. 'But you can't really call (those) weaknesses because those (reserve) players come in and they want to play, because everybody thinks they should be playing. It's an opportunity for their players who maybe weren't going to start to make a claim to (stay) on the team.'