New York Red Bull's main attraction, Thierry Henry, has been ruled out of Friday's match in Los Angeles, according to Tuesday's reports. Henry's sprained medial collateral ligament will sideline the French striker for two weeks.
For Red Bull fans looking for their team to push toward the top of the East, this injury may be a blessing in disguise. The recent acquisition of midfielder Medhi Ballouchy saw coach Hans Backe go to a one striker formation last Thursday in Dallas, with Red Bulls' leading goal scorer Juan Pablo Ángel pushed to the bench. If Henry's reputation was set to further cost Ángel playing time, with Backe using five midfielders more often, this two week rest for Henry could give Ángel a chance to reiterate his value.
Whether Backe really considers Henry a superior option to Ángel is uncertain. For one match, Henry was started over Ángel, and while there has been speculation that decision could be repeated going forward, until it happens, it's difficult to say whether Ángle's playing time will be compromised. Still, the effects of that decision are with considering.
With Henry having done his best work dropping back from the defensive live, promoting link-up play from midfield while setting-up Ángel, electing to use the Frenchman at the expense of the Columbian was a curious decision. Perhaps Hans Backe had visions fo Henry drawing the Dallas line high, allowing Dane Richards to get behind the defense, when Rafa Marquez could play his majestic long passes to the sprinting winger. But that vision would have overlooked left back Jair Benitez's quality as well as Daniel Hernández's ability to break-up play in front of the line. While there is a tactical logic to that vision, those potential rewards don't outweigh the risks Backe took when he benched his leading scorer.
This week, it's been debated amongst those who write about New York. Was Backe's formation change for Dallas a permanent move? Acquiring Ballouchy to put him in the middle of a five midfielder formation that would sacrifice Ángel? Or was it just a formation selected to play Dallas on the road, conveniently giving a veteran forward a day off?
Since last Thursday, I've considered the selection of Henry above Ángel. While it could be said Ángel needed the rest, New York was playing in Pizza Hut Park ahead of a eight day lay-off. Ángel was going to get his rest, and if he was in such a need of a break that he couldn't have started the Dallas match, he shouldn't have been on the bench. He shouldn't have even come in as a substitute. Given how Ángel was used, it seems more likely his benching was tactical, not physical.
If Ángel's benching was tactical - allowing New York to play a more defensively-sound formation on the road, against one of the league's best teams - it's possible Backe would have used gone with Henry and five midfielders on Friday at Home Depot Center. Juan Pablo Ángel, with 12 goals in 25 games, could again be benched for Henry, who's scored two goals in nine. The coach's logic says Henry's the pure better player - a player that's stared for Arsenal and Barcelona, ignoring the possibility that Henry's a memory. The real Henry is one that is still highly skilled, capable of using his creativity and experience to serve as a playmaker, but one that's starting to lack precision in the final third - one whose goal rate reflects a player nearing the end of his career.
None of this would bear mentioning if the Henry and Ángel partnership were allowed to persist. While having Mehdi Ballouchy in the middle of midfield could improve New York, it fails to do so if his inclusion costs the team Ángel. Henry, Ángel and Marquez are the team's best players. Backe needs to find a way to use them all. Formations should be built around, not in spite of them.
Given that New York has only sacrificed Ángel for one match, we don't know that the Henry-Ángel partnership's been broken-up. If it has, Backe would best to use Ángel as his sole striker. Henry's greatest asset at this point of his career is in creating for others. Without Ángel beside him, the value of that asset is diminished while putting Henry in a position he's failed to effectively play since he left London. Ángel, on the other had, was scoring before Henry came along. He provides Backe his best sole striking option.
If Henry's knee injury forces Ángel into the striker's role, it could prove a minor blessing for Red Bull. While the idea ofThierry Herny regaining past glory has adorned his move to Major League Soccer, based one what we've seen over the last sixteen months, he may not New York's best goal scorer. Henry needs to play with, not in spite of, Juan Pablo Ángel.