HARRISON – Thierry Henry hadn’t scored a single goal since late April. He was beginning to question his usefulness to the New York Red Bulls and actually wondered if he had lost a step because of all the stops and starts this season.
“I needed to get back into a rhythm, because I haven’t been playing much lately,” said Henry, who has missed six games this season with hamstring and calf injuries. “I’m getting better, but to get better, I need minutes. I hadn’t scored in a while, so I needed to do something to win the game.”
Playing in temperatures that registered a sweltering 106 degrees during the game _ the highest temperature ever recorded on a July 18 in New Jersey _ Henry didn’t want to sit out the game, even after head coach Hans Backe had given Henry the opportunity to back out if he so chose to.
“The boss asked me if I wanted to play,” Henry said. “I told him that I needed to play.”
With that in mind, Henry took it upon himself to get himself out of a scoring funk and deliverr his team a huge victory.
Henry broke a scoreless deadlock in the 71st minute, leading the Red Bulls to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in a rare Wednesday afternoon contest.
It was Henry’s 10th goal of the season, but his first since April 28, when he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over New England.
The Red Bulls improved to 10-5-5 overall. The team’s 35 points is good enough for second place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings, trailing front-running Sporting Kansas City by just one point.
With the win, the Red Bulls remain the only team in MLS that has not lost at home, improving to 6-0-3 at Red Bull Arena.
The Fire, which has dominated the Red Bulls franchise over the years and owned a 6-1-3 record over the Red Bulls since 2008 and a 29-11-4 mark all-time, fell to 9-7-4 overall and remained in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 31 points.
With the game being played at a snail’s pace due to the oppressive conditions, Henry finally got the Red Bulls on the board late in the second half.
Rookie Connor Lade, who entered the match only a few minutes prior, made a fine play at midfield to move the ball up the field.
“I’m a big Connor Lade fan,” Henry said. “He’s a big energy guy. As soon as he came on, the game changed. He was twisting, turning, jumping, getting into their faces. He always gives us a big lift.”
Lade fed newcomer Sebastian Le Toux, who made a perfect 35-yard cross to Henry. The French superstar settled the ball with his chest, then put it to his left foot. The shot was from a tough angle, but Henry managed to get it high off the post and past Sean Johnson for the game’s lone goal.
“We wanted to win this game,” Henry said. “I got a great pass from Seb and it was striker’s instinct. It was one of those things. Sometimes, they go in. Sometimes, they don’t.”
Le Toux, playing in just his second game with New York, saw Henry make the move to goal.
“A forward like him knows how to score,” said Le Toux, acquired last week in a trade with Vancouver. “He knows what to do in space. He made a great touch with his chest and it was a beautiful goal.”
Lade appreciated hearing the kind words from the soccer legend.
“That’s a huge compliment coming from Thierry,” Lade said. “It’s not something you hear every day. He’s a great leader and a great talent. I want to be able to please him, because when he’s happy, the team does well.”
After Henry’s goal, the Red Bulls held control, but their collective hearts skipped a beat in the 84th minute, when a header from Gonzalo Segares was apparently headed past Red Bulls goalie Bill Gaudette, but an alert Brandon Barklage was at the goal line and headed the ball away to keep the Fire off the scoreboard.
The heat was so intense that Red Bull defender Wilman Conde had to change his cleats in the middle of the first half.
The heat and humidity certainly was the reason that the game was played to a crawl, with many of the players standing around instead of making any long distance runs with the ball.
“In the 25th minute or so, there was this wave of heat that came,” said Le Toux, who said he never played in such conditions before. “Everyone just stopped on the field for like two minutes.”
“It was amazing,” Henry said. “I never played in anything like this. It’s the kind of day where you want to stay in the air conditioning and drink lots of water. You just do whatever you can.”
Backe thought his team handled the adversity of the heat pretty well.
“They were difficult conditions to play in, but it would have been more difficult if we were to lose,” Backe said. “The players had to know how to handle the heat. They could go forward when we had the opportunity, but you can never tell in conditions like this. We made the most of our chances.”
Gaudette, playing in just his second game with the Red Bulls, registered the shutout, but did not have to make a save. There were 15,815 fans who braved the triple digit temperatures to watch the game.
Chicago did not offer much of an offensive threat throughout the game, due in part to the horrific conditions.
“It was extremely hot, but we weren’t the only ones playing in it,” said Fire forward Dominic Oduro, a former Red Bulls player. “You can’t run 100 percent of the time on a day like this. The heat was really a factor. Unfortunately, they were the ones who got the goal and we couldn’t do anything.”
“It’s hard to get anything going in this kind of weather,” said Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa. “They had one nice shot from Henry and that was it. Our shape and fitness wasn’t the best for a day like this.”
Chicago head coach Frank Klopas was not pleased after the match.
“Did you enjoy the game sitting out there? Well, there’s your answer,” Klopas said. “So how difficult is it for the players running around for 90 minutes? It is what it us. You deal with it. Ideally, would you like to play later on (in the day)? Yeah, for sure.”
The Red Bulls have another afternoon game scheduled for Saturday against Philadelphia.
“I’ve never dealt with anything like this, not three in a row,” Henry said. “Hopefully, we can keep some energy for the Philly game.”
VIDEO: Thierry Henry Amazing Goal Vs Chicago Fire 1-0