On a conference call ahead of his team's matchup with Nashville on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada), Henry praised Nashville for their defensive moxie and fighting spirit, comparing them to an "old school Premier League, old school Championship team." He highlighted NSC's ability to compete throughout a season that has seen them endure plenty of adversity.
"It's going to very difficult against Nashville because they impose that battle with you," Henry said. "They can also play, too, don't get me wrong, but they have guys that are physical, quick, and aggressive in the right way, in the right manner. I have a lot of respect because it's a new franchise and they had to deal with a lot of stuff during MLS is Back and they are more than surviving."
Henry pointed out two Nashville players in particular: Nashville center back Walker Zimmerman ("He attracts the ball: his headers, his goals, the trouble he causes on set pieces") and Randall Leal ("A player like Leal can be a difference maker with the ball"), and he also had compliments for their head coach Gary Smith: "I congratulate their coach and what he's been able to do. It's really extraordinary," Henry said.
With all that in mind, Henry made it clear that his team needs to prepare accordingly, with their playoff lives on the line in their final three games of the regular season. The Impact are currently above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference in the No. 9 spot, but precariously so with just two points separating them from 11th-place Chicago Fire FC. Only the top 10 teams in the East will make the playoffs.
That means every point is crucial, starting with Tuesday's bout against a Nashville side that, as Henry mentioned, has proven notoriously tough to break down. A win on Tuesday would allow the Impact (23 points) to surpass Nashville (25 points) in the standings.
Watch: Henry on Impact's playoff hopes
"We are where we are because we deserve to be where we are," Henry said. "We concentrate always on the next game. It's going to be a must-win against Nashville, if you don't win, it's going to be a must-win against Orlando, and if you don't it's going to be a must-win against D.C. It depends how it goes with other results. But you have eight teams in the same boat as us. So we're going to try and make sure we stay on it."
It's certainly a logjam among a lengthy list of teams battling for the final playoff spots in the East. With his Impact among that group, Henry said his message to the team is simple: If they take care of their own business, they should find themselves in the postseason.
And at that point, anything can happen.
"The aim is to make the playoffs," Henry said. "You have seven to eight teams that are in that bracket. Nine points to play. Obviously if you're in the position we are in, we get the nine points, we go in. That's the aim, trying to make the playoffs and concentrate on what's next. What's next [right now] is Nashville, a good team at what they do, very aggressive, difficult to break them down, they don't concede a lot. So that's basically the message: We have to make the playoffs, obviously."