UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — New York Red Bulls teammates Stéphane Auvray and Thierry Henry first became friends by watching one other on TV.
Recently acquired Red Bulls midfielder Auvray and Henry have been close for the better part of a year, despite the Guadeloupe captain only joining the club on Aug. 12.
Though they met for the first time last October when New York beat Kansas City, 1-0, at Red Bull Arena, Henry—who was also born in Guadeloupe—was familiar with Auvray from having watched the midfielder captain the tiny nation.
Auvray, of course, had seen Henry play for Arsenal and Barcelona, but he had no idea the former French international knew who he was.
“We never met, but when we saw each other, we talked as if we knew each other,” Auvray said of their first meeting.
From there, they stayed in contact and developed a bond after regular chats on the phone.
Three weeks ago, when Auvray was traded to New York, their friendship grew. Since then they’ve gone out for dinner in New York City, eating Caribbean food, speaking their native Creole and sharing a common love for music.
Their friendship provides a little taste of home for Auvray, and while he’s flattered that Henry followed his career with the Guadeloupe national team, he doesn’t read too much more into it.
“He’s Guadeloupian and he’s backing Guadeloupe,” Auvray said. “If it was the other way around, I’d probably do the same thing.”
But the acquisition of Auvray has brought more than just a new buddy for Henry to hang out with. The trade was all about improving a Red Bulls team currently fifth in the Eastern Conference and with a tenuous hold on the 10th and final wildcard playoff berth.
Auvray provides cover for the New York midfield while veteran Teemu Tainio deals with a nagging groin injury and midsummer acquisition Dax McCarty struggles with inconsistent play since being acquired from D.C. United in July.
The addition of Auvray was designed to lessen the load on these two players and give the Red Bulls some much-needed depth for the stretch run, and he could very well make his first start for New York in Sunday's high-profile, nationally televised home game against the LA Galaxy (7 pm ET; ESPN2/Deportes) as Tainio will be serving a one-game suspension following his ejection last week.
But if the Guadeloupe international feels any pressure about facing the league's first-place team, he isn’t letting on.
“I’m sorry, I really don’t focus on the other team,” Auvray said. “It’s all about how I have to perform. At the end of the day, it’s all about us.”
Watching Auvray in training with his new teammates, it is clear he's a player who likes to get stuck-in. He’s a physical presence in the center who seems to enjoy contact and winning the ball. In many ways, his style and play is similar to Tainio, a former Finnish international, in that both like to clog the passing lanes and be disruptive.
“We needed a guy that could complement our Finnish boy,” RBNY sporting director Erik Solér said. “We just needed security for times when Teemu couldn’t play.”
Auvray doesn’t think that the Red Bulls need to be overly wary of the Galaxy midfield or change their approach just because they’re hosting a team favored to win MLS Cup. In his eyes, the secret to the Red Bulls' success lies in their approach to the game—and not falling behind early as they did in New England last week.
“We have to focus on ourselves, especially our defending,” Auvray said. “We have to start playing at the beginning of the game, not just the second half.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer