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Ref says Henry intentionally collided with Espinoza

KANSAS CITY, Kan. –Sporting Kansas City may have clinched a place in the MLS playoffs Saturday afternoon at Livestrong Sporting Park, but Thierry Henry grabbed all the headlines.

Referee Kevin Stott showed Henry a straight red card in the 28th minute of New York’s 2-0 defeat after Henry collided with Roger Espinoza while Espinoza was on the ground.

After the two players battled for the ball in midfield and briefly clashed, Espinoza gained possession momentarily before putting in a slide tackle on Teemu Tainio. Before the Sporting midfielder could get up off the ground, Henry ran into Espinoza, striking him in the back and shoulder with his right knee in direct view of Stott.

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Henry protested but the referee didn’t hesitate, reaching immediately for his back pocket and making a decision that had far reaching consequences on the game at hand and potentially New York’s playoff chances.

In Stott’s words gathered in writing after the game, he said Henry “kicked an opposing player on the ground and the ball was not in playing distance,” resulting in what was judged to be violent conduct and meriting ejection.

“In my opinion, (Henry) did intentionally move to make contact with Espinoza,” Stott wrote. “I can only state that in my opinion the act was intentional. I cannot decide on whether harm was intended.”

As a result of the red card, his second of the season, Henry will now miss New York’s season finale against Philadelphia on Thursday, a game that Red Bulls’ manager Hans Backe called a must win in his post-match press conference. Henry could also miss additional games should the MLS Discipline Committee decide his actions warrant further suspension.

For his part, Espinoza said he wasn’t sure exactly what happened, just that he was struck while he was down.

“I remember we were fighting for the ball and it went to my right a little bit so I slide tackled and played it,” he said. “All of a sudden, I just felt a knee in my shoulder. I thought someone just ran through me.”

Despite Stott’s opinion, Espinoza wasn’t willing to speculate on intent, saying he didn’t see the blow coming and hadn’t had a chance to see a replay.

Backe also took a pass on explaining the foul, emphasizing that he had neither talked to Henry nor seen the replay. No matter the circumstances, though, he admitted losing Henry would be hard to deal with, especially with New York’s playoff fate in the balance.

“It is definitely a blow,” Backe said. “That is why we also subbed Luke Rodgers, because he’s on four yellows and if he had picked up his fifth we would be without both strikers for the last game.”