Thierry Henry picked the best time of the year to be most productive. With only three games in the next three weeks of regular season left to play before the MLS playoffs, the former France international practically hauled his third-place New York Red Bulls (15-8-8, 53 pts.) team into a second-place tie with the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference standings with a 4-1 defeat of Toronto FC last Saturday at Red Bull Arena. New York trails Conference leader Sporting Kansas City (17-7-7, 58 pts.), which has officially clinched a playoff berth, by five points. New York’s enhanced play-off position was aided by Kansas City’s 2-0 defeat of Chicago on Thursday night.
Henry assisted on the first three Red Bulls goals and scored the fourth as he rallied the Red Bulls from an early 1-0 deficit. In front of the sell-out crowd of 25,017 on a cool Saturday night in Harrison (NJ), the last-place Toronto FC (5-19-7, 22 pts.) took a surprisingly early 1-0 lead when Jamaican international Ryan Johnson unleashed a 30-yard left-footed shot in the sixth minute, but the visitors’ lead lasted a mere seven minutes as Henry‘s lofted corner kick was headed home by defender Markus Holgersson in the 13th minute to tie the contest. New York dominated the contest to end, as Toronto FC offered no formidable resistance.
New York took the lead in the 27th minute when Henry went to work again, this time he dribbled towards the right goal line and played the ball back for an unmarked Kenny Cooper to tap into the goal. The Red Bulls’ third goal and Henry’s third assist was déjà vu: Henry dribbled inside the 18 yard area, towards the right goal line and drew two players toward him, he then played the ball back and across the goal for Cooper again to slot home, in the 88th minute. The former Arsenal FC (England, Premier League) player completed his best performance as a Red Bull when he received a pass from Cooper at the 30-yard line on the left flank and one-timed the shot into the far right corner of the goal in stoppage time to the cheers of the sell-out crowd.
All told, Henry got his 14th goal and 12th assist of the season, Cooper registered his 15th and 16th goals, American Luis Robles made his Red Bulls debut in goal for the injured Bill Gaudette and winger Lloyd Sam, who was extremely penetrative throughout the game, got his first start as a Red Bull since joining the team about three weeks ago from England.
There are five playoff berths at stake, but Kansas City has one wrapped up, the other four are pretty much decided, except for the position in which the teams will finish in the standings, which would determine first round matchups. The rest of the Eastern Conference shapes up with Chicago Fire (16-9-5, 53 pts.) in the second place tie with the Red Bulls, fourth place DC United (15-10-6, 51 pts.) and the last berth will go to the Houston Dynamo (13-8-10, 49 pts.). The regular season ends Oct. 27.
In the Western Conference, four of the five play-off berths have been decided. Conference leader San Jose Earthquakes (18-6-7, 61 pts.), Real Salt Lake (16-11-4, 52 pts.), defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy (15-11-5, 50 pts.) and the Seattle Sounders (13-7-10, 49 pts.) have clinched playoffs berths, but the final positions in the Conference are still to be decided with three weeks of the regular season still to be played. The Vancouver Whitecaps (10-12-9, 39 pts.) is expected to be the fifth play-off team.
In other MLS games last weekend, the Columbus Crew over the Philadelphia Union, 3-2; Houston Dynamo topped New England Revolution, 2-0; the Whitecaps and the Sounders played to a scoreless draw; San Jose Earthquake and FC Dallas tied, 3-3; Real Salt Lake knocked off Chivas USA, 4-0; and Portland Timbers and DC United tied, 1-1. The Los Angeles Galaxy and Colorado also played to a draw.
The field for the second round of qualifying for the 2012 Digicel Caribbean Championship is nearing completion. Haiti and Puerto Rico have qualified from Group One, Martinique and Suriname from Group Three are assured and last weekend, the Dominican Republic clinched a berth after finishing atop Group Four, with second place and host Barbados in second and still in with a chance to move to the second round as one of two best second-place teams.
Group Two in St. Lucia gets under way in mid-October and includes Curacao, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the hosts. Group Five with hosts St. Kitts/Nevis, Anguilla, Trinidad and Tobago and French Guyana will play from October 10-14, 2012. Winners of Groups Two and Five, along with the two best second-place finishers and Grenada, Cuba and Guadeloupe will complete a second-round field of 12 teams to play in late October.
Six from the 12 second-round teams, along with defending champion Jamaica and hosts Antigua/Barbuda will advance to the Final Eight Championship in mid-December. The top four teams will qualify for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup to be played in the USA in June.
The English Football (Soccer) Association last week found former England captain John Terry guilty of using racist language towards defender Anton Ferdinand, the brother of England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand. The 31-year-old Terry was banned for four games and fined 220,000 pounds.