By DAVE MARTINEZ
New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry sympathizes with Rafa Marquez. Having had his own battles with injuries, absences and recoveries, the veteran striker knows what it is like to desperately find one’s form in game action.
“It is annoying,” Henry said. “On a personal point of view, I was on a great form and then I got injured. Rafa the other day also. It’s never easy when you don’t play. You train, you start to play again and you don’t train and you play again and your always exposed to getting injured again. (For Rafa) I don’t think it’s a big one – so well see if he can get involved against Toronto. If not, let’s not, be stupid like I always say.”
Last week, Marquez returned to action against D.C. United after another extended absence. Putting in what head coach Hans Backe labeled his “best performance” as a Red Bull, the former Mexican captain (who played in his natural centerback position) picked up a knock to his calf that may keep him out against Toronto. Regardless of his condition, Henry believes that his former Barcelona teammate’s recent performance shows just how invaluable Marquez can be.
"Something that people didn’t mention after the game against D.C. – When Rafa plays at the back, it’s another story," Henry said. "I know a lot of the guys (fans and media) don’t like him too much, but watch the game. Rafa is the boss for me – he’s showed it. You have to respect it. Things happen on the field sometime, to me, to a lot of players. I invite people to watch the game that he played on Sunday. People didn’t talk a lot about it; he calms everyone down at the back.
“Always when there is chaos, he puts the ball down, passes it on the ground instead of kicking it in the stands and give it back to D.C. We were going on the counter or keeping the ball again in their half. That’s another story. In basketball, they call that a rebound. You have the ball again, and 10 times per half it’s another story than kicking it in the stands and losing it. For me, that’s a big deal. We know he played (centerback) because some people were missing, but Rafa, for me, I think people misunderstand Rafa sometimes.”
Often accused of being overly surly himself, Henry chalks up Rafa’s demeanor to the same competitive spirit that drives him.
“He’s a great person, he’s a competitor like I can be sometimes," Henry said. "You can go over the edge, but he’s a great guy. Overall, I hope people understood how valuable he is for us. Having said that, Connor Lade, (Brandon) Barklage, Dax (McCarty), Kenny (Cooper) – all those guys have been doing something amazing since the beginning of the season. (But) If you want to go all the way, we have to all be involved in it and Rafa is definitely a key in it.”
HOLGERSSON OUT, CONDE DOUBTFUL FOR TFC
New York now looks towards Toronto FC this weekend, who will be playing host for the encounter. Much like other times throughout the season, the Red Bulls will be without a plethora of key players.
"The most annoying thing at the moment is that we can’t play the same team two games in a row," Backe lamented. "We always have to get another guy in if there’s an injury; Rafa for example, or Conde, even Thierry picking up a calf, so it’s a little bit annoying, but it’s still early in the league, up to 15, 16 games. You just have to be smart to have these guys fresh for the last two months when everything will be decided."
Centerback Markus Holgersson is out for the encounter while fellow starting centerback Wilman Conde remains doubtful after missing most of this week’s training sessions.
"Conde’s physical strength – sometimes you play physical teams and you need that kind of centerback," Backe said. "(He’s hampered by) a soft groin, some fluid in his groin. He’s picking up both (legs) left side, right side, and it’s not surprising because of the less number of games the last one-and-a-half years. Thirteen games last year with Atlas in Mexico and then in and out picking up injuries here. That’s quite normal until you get a full preseason."
Mehdi Ballouchy will once again be unavailable due to his ongoing green card/visa issues that prevent him from playing in Canada, while Teemu Tainio and Jose Angulo remain weeks from a return with their respective injuries.
As for a silver lining, Henry finally looks to be up to form.
"I’m feeling great," Henry said after Thursday’s training session. "I think it was the right thing to do on Sunday (coming off the bench). I was a bit stupid to come back against Chivas early. (I) had a little setback. I’ve felt good in training and ready for Toronto."
Henry played 21 minutes off the bench against D.C., helping close down the 3-2 victory.
“He should be able to do almost 90 I think,” Backe said. “Definitely up to 70, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s up to 90 minutes.”
Another postitive for the Red Bulls will be the return of Dane Richards, who has been away with the Jamaican national team and was serving a one-game suspension for card accumulation.
“You got another dimension (with Dane Richards)," Backe explained. "You definitely got the pace you need in this league; one guy who can be a runner or a late runner from midfield in your attacking game, but also Dane is a very hard working guy. I think the balance at midfield will be better when you have that kind of pace.”
Even so, working through injuries is nothing new to Backe; he has been mixing and matching pieces all year, hoping to keep the team competitive. With Richards out, Jan Gunnar Solli has picked up the slack at right midfield, and the various absences throughout the season have created a domino effect to get other players more meaningful minutes that have served the Red Bulls' depth quite well.
“We’ve definitely seen something. It’s not only that (Jan Gunnar) Solli picked up an injury and Barklage got that chance, because even Connor (Lade) has played instead of Roy (Miller) when Roy is away in the international. He’s still improving and just getting better and better. He can play both wide midfield and as a left back. It’s good for the salary cap because it is two cheap fullbacks, so that is good. It helps with the depth we have now."