Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
PORTLAND, Ore. — The 2014 MLS All-Star Game may have been Landon Donovan’s last one, but the sense most observers had was that it was another player who was possibly playing in one of the final matches of his career.
That player was Thierry Henry.
With speculation running rampant in recent weeks with regards to the legendary striker’s future, Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star Game vs. Bayern Munich had the feel of a swan song on the national stage for Henry. He was not quietly removed at halftime of the 2-1 MLS All-Stars’ victory like the rest of the starts on his side, leaving the field instead by his lonesome in the 48th minute to a loud ovation from the crowd at Providence Park. Henry took his time coming off the field, raising his arms and clapping a whole lot before being replaced by another MLS icon in Donovan.
The ceremonious exit was predetermined, with MLS All-Star head coach Caleb Porter electing to honor Henry for all that the forward has done before and after joining the New York Red Bulls in 2010.
“None of us know his future right, but I thought he deserved that tribute to start the second half no matter what his future is,” said Porter. “He’s been great for the league, he’s done a lot for the sport in this country and obviously had a wonderful career. I just felt that he deserved that tribute.”
For his performance in the game alone, Henry was quite worthy of that classy departure. He was arguably the best MLS player in the first 45 minutes while playing as an advanced left midfielder, spraying passes, combining with teammates, tracking back to defend, and dropping very deep – at one point all the way to the back line – to try and receive the ball when the All Stars had a tough time building out of the back due to Bayern’s high pressure.
“It was an honor for me to train, to be his trainer,” said Bayern manager Pep Guardiola. “He helped me a lot in my first year or two years together, and in my first year in Barcelona he helped me a lot, and he was important part to help us win the treble. He’s a very, very good guy. I’m so happy for him that he’s still playing because he deserves the best. I trained one of the best players in the world.”
Two sequences on the offensive end that really stood out and showcased his brilliance during that first half were when he rifled a shot from distance inches over the crossbar and executed a nifty passing sequence with Clint Dempsey that almost led to a quality chance on goal for Obafemi Martins.
The former happened after a corner kick was cleared out, as Henry delicately and seemingly effortlessly trapped a ball with his right thigh before unleashing a buzzing volley. The latter came on a play up the middle that saw Henry and Dempsey combine a number of times with one another with one- and two-touch passing before the final through ball to Henry was intercepted.
“On that play, he just moved, I gave him the ball, I moved, he gave me the ball back and he moved and I gave him the ball back,” said Henry, who insisted after the match that he has not made up his mind yet regarding his future. “That’s just football at the end of the day, but it was a good one, yeah.”
That play was a moment of beauty on a night that may have marked one of the last games for not only one MLS legend, but for two.
“For him to play in a game like this with that sort of intensity and that sort of commitment says a lot about who he is as a player and a person because he could have easily played this game and not cared and he absolutely cared,” said Donovan. “He was tackling, he was running, he was chasing guys. I told him it’s an honor to be subbed in for him. It’s an honor. He’s had an unbelievable career and I was proud to come on for him.”