UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Make no mistake about it, Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls are aiming for third place in the Eastern Conference and the Knockout Round bye that comes with it this weekend.
Henry, however, does see some incentive if New York fail to do so.
The Designated Player striker confessed to MLSsoccer.com following Thursday morning’s practice session that the Red Bulls might benefit from having to play in the Knockout Round game on Oct. 31 if they do not claim third place after their game against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday (1:30 pm ET, NBC).
The reason? It would provide more minutes to players who have been limited this season because of injury.
“Obviously, the best would be to finish third, but sometimes some of the players in our team didn’t play too much this season.” Henry told MLSsoccer.com. “At the end of the day, maybe if we don’t make it to third, it won’t be too bad if Rafa [Márquez] can get some minutes, if Teemu [Taino] can get some minutes, if some other players can get some minutes.
“Apart from [the LA Galaxy in 2011], the two teams before that won the MLS Cup went through the wild card game, so it is possible,” he added. “But yeah, the only thing if we finish fourth or fifth, if we can go through after that is some of the guys that didn’t play a lot this season can have some minutes, but I guess everybody wants to finish third.”
Henry also acknowledged the Red Bulls need to build on last Saturday’s scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. New York put forth one of their best games of the year in that match despite not scoring a goal, and though they know that replicating that feat against their rivals at PPL Park on Saturday won’t be easy, they will need to do so in order to earn a top-three seed and build momentum entering the postseason.
“We looked solid, so let’s try to see, especially because we’re going to play at Philly – we all know it’s not easy to play there – if we can also be solid again and get a win,” Henry said. “It won’t be easy, but we’ll have to try and now build from that because the playoffs are around the corner and see what we can do.”
The other topic Henry touched on was the loss of midfielder Lloyd Sam, who was declared out for the season with a knee injury earlier this week. Henry lamented the news, saying the Red Bulls will now be without a dynamic player who looked capable of contributing to the team’s quest for their first MLS Cup.
“I think we’re all overall sad and I guess the fans also because every time, they got a bit of Lloyd Sam, he was doing extremely well,” said Henry. “He played well against Toronto, he played well against Kansas City and he got injured. It’s definitely a blow for us because you could see that he would’ve been able to help us.
”But what can you do? Sometimes when your body doesn’t respond, there is nothing you can do. You can only wish him luck and hopefully he can come back stronger next year and help us even [more]. But I’m a bit disappointed because I know how hard he was working to try and make sure that he could help us.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.