Thierry Henry's MLS debut may get all the ink. But there are some pretty good European clubs joining his Red Bulls in the inaugural Barclays New York Challenge, which kicks off this week at Red Bull Arena. English Premier League squads Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, as well as Portuguese powerhouse Sporting Clube de Portugal are no slouches.
The tournament opens Thursday, when New York take on Tottenham in what will be Henry’s much-anticipated debut with his new team. Henry is no stranger to Tottenham, as the Frenchman spent years in North London with Spurs’ rivals Arsenal, where he established himself as one of the world’s best strikers.
While the Red Bulls seek to reverse their recent string of bad results since the World Cup break, the European squads will be looking to get fit for their upcoming campaigns in their domestic leagues as well as in the UEFA Champions League (Tottenham) or in the UEFA Europa League (Manchester City and Sporting).
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls head into the Barclays New York Challenge on the heels of a somewhat disappointing run. Including a US Open Cup match and an international friendly, Backe’s club is 1-3-2 since emerging from the World Cup break. That’s a complete 180 from the form they took into the interlude: 4-1-0, including a win over Italian club Juventus.
This run, though, gives Henry the perfect stage to make a spectacular debut for New York. Red Bulls fans – and soccer fans in general – will tune in to watch the Frenchman display his great touch and nose for goal that have made him one of the most prolific strikers throughout his career.
Henry has already made an impact on the players off the field, and all that remains is for him is to do the same on the field. He and MLS All-Star Juan Pablo Angel should play off each other tremendously well, so the partnership will be truly fun to watch.
Still in the beginning of their preseason, Spurs, who tied the San Jose Earthquakes in a scoreless but entertaining affair last weekend, will be looking to find their rhythm with their season looming ahead.
Spurs are coming off a remarkable season. Manager Harry Redknapp led his team to a fourth-place finish in the EPL, displacing Liverpool as one of the Big Four, as well as earning the club’s first-ever European Champions League appearance.
While the players who participated in the World Cup are still resting back home, Tottenham have more than enough talent to cause some waves. Spurs are bolstered by the return of Ireland international Robbie Keane, who was on loan to Scottish giants Celtic FC for the second half of last season. On top of that, the team counts with some young and impressive players like Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Tom Huddlestone.
The Blues kicked off their US tour with a 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers last Saturday, as the team gets ready to improve upon last season’s fifth-place finish in the EPL.
The club strengthened itself in the offseason with the signings World Cup veterans David Silva, Jérôme Boateng and Yaya Touré. Though the first two didn’t accompany the team, Touré did. He joins his brother, Kolo, as well as Emmanuel Adebayor, Jô, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Craig Bellamy as some of the more noticeable names on the roster.
The squad, led by Italian head coach Roberto Mancini, lines itself up to battle crosstown rivals Manchester United and last year’s champion Chelsea for the top spot in England, and wins against the Red Bulls and Sporting Lisbon are just what the squad needs to build momentum.
Sporting Clube de Portugal
The Lions kicked off their preseason with a 2-0 over French club Lyon. The impressive thing about that match was that Sporting used two formations – a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 – quite effectively, which, coupled with the victory, instilled the team and head coach Paulo Sérgio with a large dose of confidence.
Sporting, who finished fourth last season in their domestic league, have a wealth of a talent. Portuguese World Cup veterans Miguel Veloso and Pedro Mendes join Chilean star Matías Fernández and French attacker Florent Sinama Pongolle as just some of the standouts on the team.
Before the club marches into the Barclays New York Challenge, they will take on Celtic FC at Boston’s Fenway Park, and a win there could spell trouble for the rest of the Challenge teams.
July 22: New York vs. Tottenham, 8 p.m. ET
July 23: Manchester City vs. Sporting, 8 p.m. ET
July 25: Tottenham vs. Sporting, 1 p.m. ET
July 25: New York vs. Manchester City, 3:30 p.m. ET