Henry crosses the pond, on his way to the Big Apple

Henry crosses the pond, on his way to the Big Apple

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
5:10 PM
By Justin O'Neil
CSNChicago.com

Los Angeles got their star in 2007. New York appears to have their star in 2010.

When David Beckham signed a five-year deal to move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, it made international headlines and shocked soccer insiders around the world. According to reports, the Empire State is getting their own world-class star, with French striker Thierry officially signing with the Red Bulls on Wednesday.

Beckham is a better-known name around the world, but true soccer fans will be more excited to see Henry moving across the pond. Henry is will simply be the best player in the U.S. since Brazilian legend Pele was with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s.

While it can be seen as fashionable to rag on Beckham, few would put the Englishman as the same class as Henry. Henry is one of the greatest players in soccer history: he led the 1998 World Cup Champions with three goals in the tournament, led the English Premier League in scoring four times, the Champions League in scoring twice, and was runner-up for the FIFA Player of the Year Award on two occasions while playing for Arsenal.

Henry was not great at the 2010 World Cup, but neither was any other Frenchman. The team imploded with the outgoing coach Crazy Ray Raymond Domenech feuding with captain Patrick Viera and sending striker Nicolas Anelka home after a locker room spat. Henry was one of the few members of the French team to come out with no blame, even meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the meltdown.

While the results of the Beckham move have been mixed, including Beckham and teammate Landon Donovan trading barbs in the press, the move trained the international eye on the MLS like never before. When Beckham received a straight red card for a two-footed tackle last season, the league earned begrudging respect from the English press for not coddling Beckham and giving him special treatment.

Beckham and Donovan put the feud to bed since their rocky first season, and advanced to the MLS Cup Final last season, losing on penalties to Real Salt Lake.

Only Henry knows the true reasons for the move, but having won everything a footballer can hope to win, he is at a different stage of his life. He is no longer the captain of France after being reduced to coming off the bench for both his country and at FC Barcelona. At Barcelona, he is forced to play a more complimentary role because of the sheer class of the players around him.

He has for a long time been an admirer of the U.S. and New York, and is good friends with fellow Frenchman Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. The move to the U.S. has been rumored for years.

Fans would be wrong to think the move is a cash grab by an aging star. Henrys salary and endorsements in Europe already make him one of the best-paid athletes in the world.

Henry turns 33 in August, the same age that Beckham made his move to the MLS. Henry should be reenergized by the move, and bring a winning mentality to the Red Bulls. Barcelona won its second consecutive Spanish League, and was knocked out in the semi-finals of the Champions League last month, a year after winning the competition.

Henry will be the main attraction at the brand-new Red Bull Arena, and be an integral part of the resurgent Red Bulls. He is the third European superstar to make the move to the MLS in the past three years. In addition to the Beckham move, Henrys former Arsenal teammate Freddie Ljungberg signed with the expansion Seattle Sounders last year.

The Fire made a big splash in 2007 when they signed Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The midfielder was a good move both on the field and off it, drawing additional followers from the Mexican-American community, but Blanco left the Fire at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

The MLS allows teams to go above the salary cap with the designated player rule, which is how teams on relatively small wage budgets are able to sign international stars. With Blanco gone, the Fire are without a designated player, and seem to be the most logical destination for the next international star that wants to jump to this side of the pond. Both the Galaxy and Red Bulls now have two designated players, while the Fire has none.

Chicago is still searching for their identity, as they are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 4-5-5 record. The team has talent and could make a playoff push, but without true star quality or an impressive breakthrough from the team academy, looks unlikely to compete for a title in the near future.

The Fire can and should be the next team to snatch a big-name. Whether it happens will come down to money, effort by the team, and the sheer luck of a star looking for a fresh start in a new place.

Fire try to regroup after season's most lopsided loss

Fire try to regroup after season's most lopsided loss

Momentum is something Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic talks about frequently.

When the Fire beat Montreal on the road for the team’s first road victory in more than two years Paunovic talked about the need to capitalize on that momentum. After a home draw against the LA Galaxy and more recently a resounding 6-2 road loss to D.C. United, it’s clear that the Fire were unable to keep the momentum going from that streak-busting road win.

“You can just go back and see how the mood changed after we won the game in Montreal, how positive everything was,” Paunovic said. “Then you can see the same thing or the opposite thing when you lose the game against D.C.

“Momentum is very important and at least we have some control of how we can react and how we can respond to the momentum that we are leading now. We have to understand that the next game will give us another boost.”

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Khaly Thiam’s red card in the first half at RFK Stadium changed the match just a few minutes after Michael de Leeuw tied it with his second MLS goal. Paunovic said he talked with Thiam about the red card.

“He is aware that he made a mistake and we have to understand that he is a young player still adjusting to our league,” Paunovic said. “My most important thing that I could share with you from our conversation is that he learned. He learned that he has to control his emotions, he has to control his competitiveness and of course he has to know that every action we make on and off the field represents our team so he learned from all this and he also addressed the locker room and we move forward. That’s very important for us to learn from our mistakes, but for sure don’t forget them and don’t repeat them again.”

The loss at D.C. was a killer blow to the Fire’s playoff hopes. D.C. is in the all-important sixth spot in the Eastern Conference and is now nine points ahead of the Fire. Chicago has nine matches to make up that ground, which would be a tough task for any team, let alone one currently with the worst record in the league.

Despite this, Paunovic still brought up the playoffs during Tuesday’s conference call with reporters.

“We have games to play and we are not abandoning and we are not giving away our goals to reach the playoffs,” Paunovic said.

The Fire’s next three matches are all at home against Eastern Conference teams currently in playoff positions. In order to maintain this playoff chase, the Fire likely need to win all three considering a three-game road trip follows.

Defensive mistakes, red card cost Fire in ugly loss at D.C.

Defensive mistakes, red card cost Fire in ugly loss at D.C.

RFK Stadium hosted one of the stranger games of the Chicago Fire’s season on Saturday.

It also may end up being a killer blow to the Fire’s playoff hopes.

The Fire lost 6-2 to the host D.C. United, falling nine points out of the playoffs with nine matches remaining.

Patrick Mullins had a hat trick and former Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko played a role in three of D.C.’s goals. The six goals were the most the Fire have allowed this season.

Fire midfielder Khaly Thiam received a red card in the 34th minute in a match-changing moment. Thiam fouled Nyarko then argued with the ref and dropped the ball on Nyarko’s face while Nyarko was still on the ground.

Nyarko keyed the opening goal in the 25th minute with a backheel in the box to Marcelo, whose low cross was finished off by Mullins.

Michael de Leeuw answered for the Fire (5-12-8, 23 points) by tucking away a big rebound from goalkeeper Bill Hamid after Matt Polster hit a half-volley at Hamid. The relief was short-lived for the Fire because Thiam was sent off a few minutes later.

Nyarko set up Mullins for a goal in the 40th minute and then Luciano Acosta did the same for Mullins in first half added time to make it 3-1 D.C. (7-8-11, 32 points). Razvan Cocis got the Fire back within one on the final kick of the half with a long shot that took a big deflection, lofting the ball perfectly over Hamid and into the net.

However, Nyarko quickly restored D.C.’s two-goal lead out of halftime with a goal in the 51st minute. Mullins finished off his hat trick in the 76th minute and Nick DeLeon finished the scoring in the 89th.

David Accam, who was favoring and icing his left leg after Wednesday’s draw with LA, did not start the match. He subbed on at halftime. He and David Arshakyan, who made his Fire debut off the bench, will both leave for international duty and miss next weekend’s match against Philadelphia.

Fire look for another road win at D.C. United on CSN+

Fire look for another road win at D.C. United on CSN+

The Chicago Fire are back on the road and have a new face joining the team on the trip.

The Fire play at D.C. United on Saturday. The match will be televised on CSN+ at 6 p.m. with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The new face joining the team is Armenian forward David Arshakyan. The Fire signed the 6-foot-4 Arshakyan from FK Trakai in the Lithuanian league on Aug. 3, but he didn’t get his visa and arrive in the country until Wednesday night. He was then shuttled to Toyota Park during the match against the LA Galaxy.

Arshakyan’s first training with the team was Thursday and he made the trip with the team to D.C. He could make his debut, but would likely have to do so off the bench. Arshakyan is also set to leave for international duty with the Armenian national team. He and David Accam of Ghana will leave for their national teams after the D.C. match.

Accam missed a chance to join Ghana in late March when he was injured and missed six MLS matches with that injury, but is excited to get another chance to represent his country.

“I’m really excited to be in the team again because I’ve worked really hard to come back into the team," Accam said. "We (Ghana) have a lot of good players and for me of course I’m doing something good here and that’s why the coach keeps calling me.”

Accam is actually battling an injury again. He is listed as questionable due to left quad injury. After Wednesday's match against LA, he was favoring his left leg a bit and had ice around his thigh. Accam said it was an issue he had before the game and he didn’t think it was a major injury. Arturo Alvarez is also listed as questionable (groin).

Beyond Arshakyan’s potential debut, Saturday is a big match in terms of keeping the Fire’s playoff hopes alive. D.C. United (6-8-11, 29 points) is currently in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Fire (5-11-7, 23 points) are six points back. A road win, which would be the Fire’s second straight, would bring the Men in Red within three points of D.C. with a game in hand.

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The Fire are undefeated in eight straight MLS home matches (3-0-5) and won the previous road match. The additions and integrations of Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac have boosted what had been a struggling attack and fewer injuries have helped create needed stability in the lineup.

“We finally feel like a team that can win (against) anyone in this league,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We always believe, we always said that, but finally you can see it. You can see it coming and you can see that this team is growing.”

D.C. features a pair of notable former Fire players in Patrick Nyarko, who scored when D.C. drew the Fire 1-1 in April, and Kennedy Igboananike, who made his first start for D.C. on Wednesday. Igboananike is yet to score for D.C. in four appearances since being traded from the Fire. Defender Kofi Opare will be suspended after earning a red card late in the match against Montreal on Aug. 24.

Chicago Fire at D.C. United

When: Saturday 6 p.m. (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

Where: RFK Stadium