By RYAN TOLMICH
HARRISON, N.J. — Despite all of the rumors surrounding the potential futures for both him and his team, Thierry Henry demonstrated once again just how important he is to the New York Red Bulls in the here and now.
Henry led the way as the Red Bulls topped the Houston Dynamo, 1-0, Saturday at Red Bull Arena behind a 47th-minute strike from their captain. The victory sees the Red Bulls maintain their fifth-place standing in the Eastern Conference with just three games remaining in the regular season.
After a wasteful first half, the hosts finally broke through the Dynamo defense via Henry, who tapped home a rebound from close range to give the Red Bulls the 1-0 advantage.
The sequence was instigated by Lloyd Sam, who capitalized on a DaMarcus Beasley turnover on his way down the right sideline. The midfielder cut in and crossed, resulting in a deflection that trickled straight into the path of Henry, who calmly placed the ball in the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season.
“We knew it was going to be difficult against them,” Henry said. “We battled, and we scored one that we needed to score, actually, on a goal where it didn’t look like it was going to be a goal right form the start… I will say the way we battled was the most important thing.”
“I remember thinking at halftime that I was told that, when crossing the ball, just put it on the ground, because they’ve got big guys in there and we don’t really have a header of the ball,” Sam said. “I just rolled it on the ground and it went past Brad into Titi, so I was happy to see that.”
Despite being tasked with breaking down a Dynamo side focusing mainly on defense, the Red Bulls had a pair of first half goals erased by the crossbar.
The hosts’ first real chance of the day came via Wright-Phillips, who cracked the crossbar on a rebound in the 23rd minute. Just 15 minutes later, Henry took hit the post himself on a free kick, as the game headed to a scoreless halftime.
“We were all over them at the time and we just kept thinking that it will come,” Sam said of the missed opportunities. “Just keeping and it will come. And it came and I’m really happy.”
Henry’s finish notwithstanding, the Red Bulls struggled in front of goal continued into the second half, with league-leading goalscorer Wright-Phillips serving as the main culprit.
The Red Bulls forward, whose pursuit of the league record of 27 goals was severely dented by the scoreless outing, remains on 24 goals despite having six shots on the night.
Regardless, the Red Bulls escaped the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena with three points as the defense, featuring the inclusions of seldom-used Richard Eckersley and Armando, kept a clean sheet to preserve the 1-0 scoreline.
“Armando did very well,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “Eckersley did very well. The backline, I thought, was very solid tonight…Especially playing somebody like Omar Cummings, (pace) was a bit of a concern, but they did well. I’m happy for them.”
However, the Red Bulls triumph was not without its missteps, as substitute Tim Cahill, who made headlines this week due to his international commitments, was sent off in the 88th minute for a tackle on the Dynamo’s Boniek Garcia. Cahill will now likely miss the Red Bulls’ Oct. 18 matchup with the Columbus Crew as a player cannot serve a suspension during international duty.
With the victory, the Red Bulls pick up their 44th point of the season, while the Dynamo remain on just 36 points with four games remaining.
“Every game is a playoff game now,” Sam said. “Every game is so important. These next three games, we’ve seen them on the schedule and we know we’ve got to go in there and try and get three points from start.”
The Red Bulls face yet another must-win situation next time out, as Henry and co. play host to Toronto FC on, who sit just behind the Red Bulls in the standings with a game in hand, on Oct. 11.
“I’ve been in this league for a little while and you have to take it game by game,” Henry said. “I’ve been here for years and the guys that have been with me for a while know that it always is a must-win game. Every game we play is a must-win game because we had some difficulties with some consistency earlier in the year, but thankfully we’re on a good run now, so we have to keep on going.”
Meanwhile, the Dynamo have a chance to play spoiler against that very same TFC team just three days earlier at BMO Field.
Watch the match highlights: