MLS Designated Player Dissection: Thierry Henry, The MVP Frontrunner

Thierry Henry is starting to make a mark on MLS, and could soon be the frontrunner for the league's highest individual honor.
Three matches of Thierry Henry’s second campaign in the United States had elapsed and the Frenchman’s MLS legacy was cemented. The trio of goalless games indicated that Henry’s disappointing 2010 was not an aberration. Injuries and a required adjustment period were no longer valid excuses. The striker who scorched the pitches of Europe’s most fabled grounds was considered disinterested or shockingly not good enough to threaten American back lines. He was the augmented version of Mista or Nery Castillo: a bust at an exorbitant cost.
The barbate Henry was incapable of slotting one meager finish past goalkeepers, a task had been as simple as lacing his Reeboks while in London. Even when the frustrated Designated Player managed to score against the San Jose Earthquakes on April 16th, the long-awaited goal arrived after a series of tentative, telegraphed, and errant efforts. When Henry finally headed in the elusive breakthrough, MSG commentator Steve Cangialosi announced, “The drought is over."

The proclamation was prophetic – the moment crucial.
Fortune turned that evening. Henry has harnessed a monsoon of goals in order to emerge as the forefront of the MLS Most Valuable Player race.
There is nothing misleading in this stat: Henry has netted eight goals (including the one against the ‘Quakes) and four assists in the last nine matches. The eye-popping numbers are indicative of how supremely the former Arsenal rifleman has performed during the two months since he broke his scoring duck. The going has been difficult for the New York Red Bulls while they’ve attempted to navigate a grueling slate of matches with five vital members away at the Gold Cup. Steering June’s course would have been unthinkable without their urbane captain.
For the majority of his time in MLS, Henry has appeared, at various times, lethargic, petulant, and usually an amalgamation of both. Perturbed with MLS’s notoriously terribly officiating and less adept teammates, the Gaul struggled to conceal his frustration with his predicament. While Henry’s aloof moments have subsided, the anger has seemingly been channeled, motivating him during this searing run of form.
This Sunday’s thriller against the Portland Timbers showcased the focus of the revived Henry. The Red Bulls commenced the proceedings in the Pacific Northwest with an early lead – primarily due to the vision of the torrid star. Henry pinged a perfect one-touch pass to Dwayne De Rosario on the wing before “dummying” the Canadian’s grounded cross. Diego Chará was befuddled as the ball reached the feet of Austin da Luz who controlled before firing home his first MLS goal and an early Red Bull lead.
During his first season in the States, Titi acted as a facilitator to the perpetual annoyance of Red Bull supporters. The fleet-footed Henry that could terrorize a flank had transformed into a player content to drop into the mire of the midfield. Two goals and three assists in 11 matches was an offensive return for a salary that only David Beckham’s could overshadow. With De Rosario operating as a striker in the place of the injured Luke Rodgers this weekend, New York, however, required a playmaker to fill its creative deficiencies. His string of scoring enabled Henry to function in this role without drawing any ire.
When preposterous defending allowed the lead to morph into a two-goal deficit, the lethal Henry emerged. Vexed by New York’s disadvantage, the DP collected the ball 35-yards from goal, feinted past two defenders, found Joel Lindpere, accelerated into the Timber penalty area, received a Mehdi Ballouchy pass, and walloped a left-footed strike to pull the Red Bulls within one. The breath of the sentence does not do the goal justice, but it shows the impressive initiative that Henry displayed.
New York’s skipper placed his club in a position to equalize at the death, which De Rosario managed when he converted a penalty kick in stoppage time. Henry also validated why he’s currently MLS’s top performer, dominating arguably the season’s most compelling match.
We’re in the midst of the fifth season since David Beckham (and the luminaries that have followed) first arrived on American shores. None of the transplanted Designated Players have garnered the award for MLS’s most essential player – Luciano Emilio, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and David Ferriera all parlayed fantastic play into DP contracts while Landon Donovan was grandfathered into the special status. Henry, tied for first in the league in goals scored and sixth in assists, has forged a path to MLS’s MVP award and could capture the prize if he continues to enchant the league. 

Juan Pablo Ángel (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids.

There’s a bit of a farfetched rumor milling about the Internet that Francesco Totti could migrate to Los Angeles. If this move did bizarrely occur, Juan Pablo Ángel could vacate his spot for Er Purpone. What am I saying? There’s no chance that Totti is leaving the Eternal City.

David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Was not a member of the Galaxy squad in 3-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids due to back spasms.

Promoting the 2012 Olympics in London, Beckham’s back flamed up and he was unable to make it to Colorado for the Galaxy’s tilt against the Rapids. The decision was indefensible, but the gallivanting star did his best to conjure an excuse: "It's not ideal to be flying over there on the other side of the world," Beckham told MLSSOCCER. "Physically it doesn't really affect me as long as I look after myself, I get my training in, get my massage in and get my rest. It's not affected me for a while."

Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Was not a member of the Galaxy squad in 3-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids due to international duty.

Donovan’s jaunt to his sister’s wedding before the U.S.A.’s match with Jamaica makes Beckham’s trip slightly less ridiculous. But only slightly.

Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers, scored in the 73rd minute, assisted on da Luz’s goal in the 5th minute, and received a red card for violent conduct in the 93rd minute.

Henry’s red card was an outrageous decision. He may have made contact with Moffat’s head, but innocuous moments like that occur all over the pitch during the course of a match. Seattle Sounders’ fans will now be deprived of viewing the phenomenal striker on Thursday.

Rafael Márquez (New York Red Bulls)

Was not a member of the Red Bull squad in 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers due to international duty.

Dropping deep behind the central defense, Márquez beautifully distributes the ball to El Tri’s host of exciting attackers. New York desperately misses the Mexican’s passing as well as his organizational skills.

Álvaro Fernández (Seattle Sounders)

Did not start, played final 21 minutes in 1-0 victory against Toronto FC.

The Uruguayan, recovering from an injured hamstring, finally got a run-out against Toronto. His return affords Sigi Schmid further flexibility as he attempts to guide the Sounders into MLS’s upper echelon.

Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-0 victory against Toronto FC, and scored in the 90th minute.

Montero has struggled since obtaining this season’s elevated contract. His stunning free kick goal that snatched two points for Seattle, though, was the type of moment expected of the Colombian when the Sounders splurged on him.

Andrés Mendoza (Columbus Crew)

Started, played 64 minutes in 2-0 victory against the Houston Dynamo, and scored in the 41st minute.

Mendoza, with another well-placed finish, now has four goals in the last three weeks. The Crew has impressed recently and the Peruvian, in particular, has excelled after a substandard opening segment to the season. 

Branko Bošković (D.C. United)

Was not a member of the D.C. squad in 1-1 draw against the Real Salt Lake due to an injured ACL.

There was finally an update on Bošković as the Montenegrin returned to the practice field during the week. "He's doing great," D.C.’s Head Athletic trainer Brian Goodstein said of the playmaker "He's a hard worker. He's a little bit ahead of where he should be as far as functional exercises. He's got a bright future."

Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas)

Started, played 72 minutes in 2-1 victory against Chivas USA.

The 18-year-old has quieted statistically, but Dallas, even without Ferreira, has vaulted the Western Conference standings, the Texan club landing only six points off of Los Angeles with two matches in hand. 

Alvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake)

Was not a member of the RSL squad in 1-1 draw against D.C. United due to international duty.

Saborío undoubtedly experienced the worst week of any DP. Costa Rica exited the Gold Cup after the striker missed a penalty in regulation and, then, rattled his second attempt off the crossbar in the quarterfinals’ shoot-out against Honduras. 

Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City)

Started, played 86 minutes in 1-0 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes.

The Mexican’s work rate has been the most notable aspect of his game. Employed on the left flank of Peter Vermes’ 4-5-1/4-3-3, Bravo, through his effort, helped propel Sporting to an crucial victory. 

Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC)

Was not a member of TFC squads in 0-0 draw against the New England Revolution or 1-0 defeat against the Seattle Sounders due to international duty.

De Guzman seems to move from one bad situation to another. The midfielder departed Toronto for Canada’s disappointing Gold Cup and must now return to his embattled club.

Eric Hassli (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Started, played 90 minutes in 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union.

Conversation concerning Hassli’s wonder-goal from last weekend won’t subside. When the Seattle Times asked Kasey Keller about the strike, the veteran keeper responded, “That was something special. I haven't played 700, 800 games and not had a few special goals scored against me, so that is definitely up with there with some of the best.”

Diego Chará (Portland Timbers)

Started, played 90 minutes in 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls.

The slight holding midfielder sometimes discards the balls rashly, but Chará compensates for any turnovers by incessantly buzzing around the pitch.

For wry non sequiturs follow correspondent Avery Raimondo on Twitter @averyraimondo