Henry returns as huge I-95 rivalry looms at RBA

Thierry Henry

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UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – If the New York Red Bulls need any kind of boost for their game with D.C. United, Thierry Henry’s return should suffice.

Henry has recovered from the calf strain he picked up during the international break and is set to make his way back into to the Red Bulls’ lineup on Sunday when they host rivals D.C. United in a pivotal Eastern Conference match at Red Bull Arena (7 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com).

Henry spoke to media about the injury and several other topics relating to the team following practice on Saturday morning, including how he has pushed himself in recent weeks when perhaps he should not have.

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“Maybe I shouldn’t have run the other day, during the week we had off, but I wanted to stay fit because I didn’t play before that and I triggered my calf,” Henry told reporters. “I’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to have another setback. I think against Chivas [USA] I wasn’t supposed to play and I played and I think I did compensate with my body and that’s why I wanted to stay during the weeks we had off and train.”

One of the best around the league in terms of knowing all the intricate details and statistics, Henry also touched on the Red Bulls’ most recent meeting with D.C. United, a thorough 4-1 defeat at RFK Stadium in April. Henry was noticeably frustrated following that painful loss that included a Chris Pontius hat trick, but he now thinks it may have been a blessing in disguise.

“They gave us a good game and maybe we needed that, because after that we went on a good run,” Henry said.

A chunk of that good run came without Henry, who suffered a hamstring injury in late April that lasted through almost all of May.

Henry would have undoubtedly preferred to be on the field during that stretch. But he admitted he is pleased and not surprised with his team’s continued ability to grind out results without him, even pointing to the recently-crowned NBA Champions Miami Heat as an example of how role players stepping up when needed is crucial to any championship aspirations.

“We all know that LeBron James is going to do what he did, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, but the role players let them win the title,” Henry said. “[Mario] Chalmers 25 points, [Mike] Miller 23 points, [Shane] Battier 17 points. … That’s where you win the title and that’s why I’m happy that we were missing a lot of players but we’re still [three points short of first place in the Eastern Conference]. That means that this year the team has more quality in it.”

That quality will be put to the test against D.C. United on Sunday, as Dwayne De Rosario, Bill Hamid and the rest of the Eastern Conference leaders look to build on their advantage in the standings while also handing the Red Bulls another loss.

“D.C. are first because they deserve to be,” Henry said. “They have some good strikers that can score, [Hamdi] Salihi, Maicon [Santos], DeRo and also Pontius. Above all, they defend well. They can create. It’s going to be a difficult game.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.