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.

Dax McCarty has 'fingers crossed' in hopes of playing in Gold Cup

Dax McCarty has 'fingers crossed' in hopes of playing in Gold Cup

Since Bruce Arena took over as national team coach, Dax McCarty has been regularly called in to join the Americans.

The Chicago Fire's 30-year-old midfielder was recently with the U.S. for a pair of World Cup qualifiers. He didn't play in either game, a 2-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago and a 1-1 draw at Mexico, but got to enjoy the experience of the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

“Awesome experience. Definitely a game that doesn’t matter if you play or don’t play," McCarty said. "Definitely a game you’ll never forget. I think it’s probably one of the most historic stadiums in the world. A lot of history there. A lot of bad memories for the U.S., but I’d say the reason you go down there is to try to make good, new memories."

Michael Bradley scored a jaw-dropping goal with a chip from just inside the halfway line before Mexico answered later in the half. The U.S. has never won at the Azteca, but this was a second straight draw in World Cup qualifying there.

McCarty hasn't played in a qualifier yet, but has been included on each of the three rosters Arena has been able to call in since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann. The U.S. is 2-0-2 in qualifiers under Arena and appears back on track to make the 2018 World Cup.

"Win your home games, you draw on the road, that’s a recipe for qualifying," McCarty said. "We’re back on track now and I think everyone has really good spirits heading into the next round of qualifiers and the Gold Cup.”

The Gold Cup is a chance for McCarty to not only be on the team, but get some playing time with the national team. In early June, he was included on the 40-player preliminary roster for the Gold Cup (along with Fire teammate Matt Polster). That group will be cut down to 23 for the final roster, but does not feature many of the European-based national team regulars, meaning players like McCarty could see bigger roles.

McCarty said he doesn't yet know if he will be included in the final Gold Cup roster, which is expected to be announced this weekend.

“The coaches gave me great feedback, but until a final roster comes out or until I’m notified that I’m part of the roster you never know for sure," McCarty said. "Fingers crossed. I’m hoping to be there and I guess we’ll find out in the next week.”

Training camp for the Gold Cup will begin on June 25 with a friendly against David Accam's Ghana on July 1 before the tournament opener takes place July 8.

Bastian Schweinsteiger talks about playing sweeper in the Fire's win at New England

Bastian Schweinsteiger talks about playing sweeper in the Fire's win at New England

The Chicago Fire keep winning and Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to be at the heart of the team’s success.

The German played a new role in the Fire 2-1 win Saturday at the New England Revolution. Instead of his typical central midfield spot, Schweinsteiger lined up between the two central defenders, Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira, as a sweeper or libero.

At its base, a sweeper was initially known as a last line of defense, someone who would clean up any attacks that got past other defenders. However, as the position evolved it started to be used more as a tool to create possession and attack play.

Schweinsteiger played this role for most of the match on Saturday. He had defensive responsibilities, largely marking New England striker Kei Kamara, but also started most of the Fire’s build up play. He became the point man who started and controlled things when the Fire were in possession.

In the Wikipedia entry for sweeper, the first player named is Franz Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer, who finished his career with the New York Cosmos in 1983, helped Germany win the 1974 World Cup and is widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation. He was one of the key players in changing the sweeper position from a solely defensive role into one that has attacking responsibilities as well.


Beckenbauer retired before Schweinsteiger was born so Schweinsteiger never got to see him play live, but has seen some old videos of him on TV. When asked about playing Beckenbauer’s position, Schweinsteiger said it’s a “big honor,” but hadn’t thought about that previously.

“I can’t really speak about it because I didn’t know exactly,” Schweinsteiger said. “I knew that he was also playing in the center sometimes as a libero or a midfield player, but I think a lot of teams are actually playing this system. I think Juventus, Chelsea, there are some teams, even Bayern Munich, that are playing it. It’s just a different playing style. Some more defenders, some more midfield players so it depends a little, but I like it.”

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said the decision to go with the move was based on a few factors, mostly New England’s narrow attack with Kamara, Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez as the primary attackers.

“Three guys that play very narrow,” Paunovic said. “We thought that could be a good solution. Obviously he has qualities to play (as a sweeper). The experience, the vision as a midfielder and I spoke with him and he did play in the past that position. He agreed also that he could play it because we also needed it for this game.”

Paunovic said the plan was in place in advance of the game and he liked how it looked in practice. He called it “another weapon” that the Fire can use in the future.

“We played out of the back,” Paunovic said. “We could see clearly that he is our man that created superiority for the build up. Everything went well.”

It doesn’t sound like utilizing Schweinsteiger in this way is something the Fire will use regularly, but it could be used again.

“Sometimes you have to play different,” Schweinsteiger said. “We always try to make it difficult for the opponent obviously. That’s the goal in every match. It always changes. It depends. Sometimes we play like this, sometimes we play different. Let’s see what’s next.”