HARRISON, N.J. -- New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe stood at the podium during his postgame press conference with a smile on his face. He had just been asked a question that he did not know how to answer.
That question was about Thierry Henry's "olimpico" goal, the jaw-dropping, stoppage-time strike that capped a heroic performance for the star striker in the Red Bulls' 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night.
Backe eventually responded, but his words could not do justice to Henry's contributions. The Red Bulls captain carried his side by scoring twice and delivering the assist on the game-winner in what may have been his finest outing of the season.
"He's been training very well," Backe said. "He's getting fitter and fitter after his injury and I think that as close as you're coming to the playoffs, that's a big thing for these guys. They get so much more motivated. ... But when he's sharp and motivated, it's very difficult to stop him."
That much was true for the Crew. Henry made an impact early, getting on the end of a diagonal ball from Rafa Márquez before slotting home a cool equalizing finish past Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in the ninth minute. That was a sign of things to come.
Henry played an active role in helping the Red Bulls create a slew of chances and while he was the clear Man of the Match in a game that put New York two points shy of Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, he gave partial credit for his success to someone else.
"When Rafa plays, I have another option: I can go behind the defense and you saw it tonight," Henry said. "How many times you saw me dropping tonight? None. How many times you saw me going behind the defense? Every single time. It’s another dimension for me when Rafa plays."
That may be true, but Henry's most important contribution came after Marquez was subbed off. Henry delivered the decisive assist in the 79th minute on a corner kick that he earned just seconds prior with a potent shot that Gruenebaum tipped off the crossbar and out.
Still, Henry did more than just create for himself and his teammates.
"When we were winning 2-1, he just shows how strong he is in a 50-50 tackle," Backe said. "Just kept the ball, calmed down the play in the middle of the park and that's what you want to see from players llke this."
And that goes without mentioning his highlight-reel goal directly off a corner kick, one that Henry reveals was intentional after he noticed that back-up goalkeeper Matt Lampson was cheating off his line.
"I scored some okay goals in my career," said Henry, "but I have to say this one is not a bad one."