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 score five goals for fourth preseason win

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Preseason wins don't necessarily translate to regular season wins, but the Chicago Fire haven't had much trouble racking up February wins in Florida.

The Fire made it 4-for-4 in the preseason with a 5-2 win against North American Soccer League foe Miami FC from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on Sunday.

The game featured some aesthetically pleasing goals, but the opener was a reminder that it's preseason and the players aren't in midseason form yet. A back pass from a Miami defender turned into a through ball for Luis Solignac. Solignac took the gift and scored uncontested with a slotted shot in the box in the third minute.

Miami evened things up in the 38th minute when Dylan Mares was left open on the left side of the box and scored with a low shot.

The Fire regained the lead with a penalty kick a few minutes later. A Brandon Vincent cross resulted in a handball in the box and John Goossens rifled the penalty into the upper 90.

Trialist Taylor Peay got the start at right back, his first appearance of the preseason. Three draft picks, Daniel Johnson, Brandt Bronico and Matej Dekovic, also started.

In the second half the Fire went with an entirely different lineup and the attack livened up. Arturo Alvarez kicked things off by cutting in to his left foot and scoring with a shot into the side netting in the 49th minute. A few minutes later the Fire piled on the pressure with David Accam getting free from his man and then setting up Nemanja Nikolic, whose shot was saved onto the post and back into play. The Fire came right back with a long shot from Juninho that forced a rebound that David Arshakyan tucked away.

The fifth goal was the best of the bunch. A 10-pass sequence with mostly one-touch passing and Drew Conner at the heart of the buildup led to Nemanja Nikolic centering a ball to David Accam, who scored into an open net.

Nikolic, Accam and Alvarez provided an immediate spark to the attack after a first half in which the Fire struggled to create chances from the run of play.

The game also featured the usage of the video replay system the league is using in select preseason matches in preparation for the system's use in the regular season. In the 71st minute the referee used the replay system to go back and call a penalty kick on a Michael Harrington foul. Goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, drafted by the Fire in the second round in January, saved the penalty kick, but Ariel Pedro Martinez was able to score on the rebound.

In other news, goalkeeper Matt Lampson has a sprained MCL. A spokesman for the Fire said he could return for the season opener. Jorge Bava got the start on Sunday and appears to be in line to begin the season at the Fire's No. 1 keeper.

On the live stream of the match former Fire TV analyst Kevin Egan said former Newcastle United right back Ryan Taylor, 32, is expected to join the Fire in camp as a trialist shortly.

The Fire's next preseason match is against USL side FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.

See gifs of the first two Fire goals and Arshakyan's second half rebound below:

Eric Gehrig officially joins Fire's staff an assistant coach

Eric Gehrig officially joins Fire's staff an assistant coach

The Chicago Fire filled out the rest of the soccer operations staff on Wednesday and a familiar name is an assistant coach.

Eric Gehrig filled the assistant coach vacancy opened by Logan Pause's departure. Gehrig, 29, played the last two seasons with the Fire as a defender.

Gehrig had his option declined by the Fire this offseason, but resurfaced as an assistant coach at the start of preseason training. He was technically on trial as a coach until today.

Yesterday Gehrig announced his retirement as a player on Instagram, which led the way for his move into coaching. Gehrig played four seasons with the Columbus Crew before joining the Fire.

Six years ago to the day I signed my first professional contract. It was one of the greatest days of my life. I still can remember anxiously waiting to get out of what felt like the longest team meeting in my life. I just couldn’t run upstairs fast enough to call Greg. Competing in the playoffs for the Columbus Crew, in front of some of the most passionate fans, are memories I'll cherish forever. And then being traded to my hometown Chicago Fire, the first soccer team I ever loved, and being voted Chicago Fire Defender of the Year. Literally backyard dreams becoming a reality. Thank you to my brother @ggehrig09 for sharing his genuine joy and unwavering support. To my parents, there’s just no words. Car rides, soccer jerseys, nachos at Fire games, every Adidas Predator shoes released, you name it. I LOVE you 3 so much, and here's to many more memories at soccer stadiums 😉. Thank you to all my coaches over the years for relentlessly pushing me, even when it was hard for me to see why at the time. You guys hardened me, toughened me, and without those experiences there's no way I would have made it to Major League Soccer. Thank you to the fans, for giving a no-name kid from Loyola a chance to earn your trust and support. Both to the people of Columbus, who became family, and to my brothers and sisters in Chicago, THANK YOU. Lastly, I want to thank my teammates. To me being with you all, and getting to know you, is what was the best part. Sure, I'll miss competing in sold out stadiums, wrestling with superstar forwards, or hitting 60 yard lasers to a teammates foot 😁. But I WILL undoubtedly miss those times spent with the boys the most, and I've been lucky to make some amazing friends for life. You all made me a better player, but more importantly a better man. Thank you so much guys. I’ll always be here for you! ….and with that I announce my retirement from playing professional soccer. It’s bittersweet for sure, but I am at peace, and more than anything, I’m beyond grateful. The game has meant too much to me over the last 20 years for this to be the end... EG ❤️ p.s. Happy Valentines Day @natalieput. You’re so pretty. Love you.

A post shared by Eric Gehrig (@egehrig6) on

Gehrigh is younger than six players on the Fire's roster: Jorge Bava, Arturo Alvarez, Michael Harrington, Michael de Leeuw, Dax McCarty and Joao Meira.

In two other moves to the soccer operations staff, Steven Purcell got moved up to head athletic trainer after being an assistant athletic trainer last year. Reade Whitney was hired to fill Purcell's vacated spot.