The New York Red Bulls host the Philadelphia Union in their final game of the MLS season Thursday night, a game the Red Bulls must win to guarantee that they will participate in the MLS playoffs. If you are a Red Bulls' fan, you know by now that they will do so without the services of their best player, star French striker Thierry Henry.
Henry, of course, received a straight red card in the first half of Saturday's match against Sporting KC for a collision with Sporting's Roger Espinoza. That meant that the Red Bulls played the rest of their 2-0 loss to KC a man down, and that Henry is automatically suspended for Thursday's season finale against Philadelphia.
It was an unfortunate occurrence for New York, and one that was completely unnecessary. Also one that is symbolic of all that has gone wrong for the Red Bulls this season in a year where they were expected to dominate and contend for a title but instead find themselves clinging desperately to a playoff position.
The Red Bulls, seemingly, have been a fractured, incomplete team almost from the beginning. Poor goaltending hurt them early on, before Frank Rost was acquired. Poor defense has hurt them all season. Injuries and international call-ups have left them short-handed for long stretches.
Through it all, though, there has been the sense that there is another problem. The Red Bulls seem to be a collection of egotistical stars who made their names -- and fortunes -- elsewhere, and often seem to play for themselves rather than play as a team.
Rafa Marquez calling out his team a few weeks back, basically saying none of the other Red Bull defenders was on his level. was one example. Henry's childishness is another.
The French striker was often brilliant this season and is second in the league with 14 goals. Watch any Red Bulls game in which Henry participates, though, and you see more than his brilliance. You see his petulance.
Henry has apparently long had a reputation for taking cheap shots when he believes the referee isn't looking, something you can see while watching games on TV. What you can also clearly see is Henry's frustration with teammates who don't see what he sees, or don't get him the ball when and where he wants it. Flailing arms, a look of disgust.
How does all of that stuff, which is obvious showing up of one's teammates, help the Red Bulls? It really doesn't.
Henry protested vehemently Saturday when he was red-carded, and initially I thought he had a point. There is no way, though, that a player of Henry's caliber did not know Espinoza, a player with whom he had had a couple of physical confrontations moments earlier, was not laying on the ground in his path.
After the game, referee Kevin Stott wrote this in explaining the red card:
"In my opinion, (Henry) did intentionally move to make contact with Espinoza. I can only state that in my opinion the act was intentional. I cannot decide on whether harm was intended."
Henry never should have put himself in such jeopardy. Clearly, though, he cared more about himself and his personal score to settle with Espinoza than he did about his teammates.
Sadly, that says a lot about all that has happened to the Red Bulls this season.