MLS has Striker Force

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:44 AM ET

TORONTO - It has the potential to be the most lethal striking partnership MLS has ever seen.

Juan Pablo Angel, the most successful Designated Player in league history, a man who has scored more goals over the last four seasons than anyone else in MLS, teaming up top with Thierry Henry, the greatest striker to ever play for Arsenal — a man whose skill and grace dominated the Premiership for a decade before spending the autumn of his European career with Barcelona.

Henry scored 226 times with Arsenal, many of them filed on YouTube under headings like “greatest goals ever” or “ridiculous goals.”

Angel, who can score by out-leaping a defender to a cross or with a volley from outside the box, is the thunder. Henry, despite celebrating his 33rd birthday this week, is still a magician with the ball at his feet, and still has the track-star pace to blow around defenders. He’s the lightning.

The duo will be front and centre when Toronto FC plays host to the New York Red Bulls this Saturday. But, so far, the duo have yet to really settle in and get comfortable with each other. It started off well — when Henry made his MLS debut July 31 in Houston, he set up both of Angel’s goals. But a groin problem has limited Henry’s minutes for most of his time in North America. Last weekend, Angel and Henry got to play a full match together again, but were held off the scoresheet in a loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“I’ve only played two full games with him,” Henry said during a conference call on Thursday. “The game against Houston was promising.”

Henry admitted he still is struggling with the idea of playing club-level soccer in the middle of the summer. His internal clock had a hard time adjusting to arriving in New York in July and being thrown right into competitive games.

And it’s not like he got a lot of work at the World Cup. Raymond Domenech, France’s coach at the time, kept Henry stapled to the bench for almost the entirety of Les Bleus’ brief yet embarrassing stay in South Africa. (The Red Bulls asked media to refrain from asking Henry any questions about the World Cup.)

“For me, as you can imagine, it’s preseason. Playing games without a proper preseason, it’s kind of weird.

“It’s not an ideal preparation.”

Henry has won the World Cup, Euro 2000, English Premier League titles and, with Barcelona, a Champions League. He isn’t coming to New York to collect a $5.6 million US salary in a state of semi-retirement. He wants more trophies.

“Since I was seven, I always wanted to win,” he said. “Through my career, the thing that mattered to me is to finish first.”

As a boy in Paris, he used to play for pizza, and he hated to lose. According to Henry: “Second doesn’t exist.”

Henry has made it clear that he thinks North American soccer fans have to stop apologizing about MLS. In road trips to Houston, Columbus and Chicago, he has been impressed with the passion and knowledge of the fans. But he is expecting Saturday’s date in Toronto to be something special. TFC’s fans will no doubt be preparing a less-than-hospitable welcome for Henry. On the Red Patch Boys’ website, fans have been circulating a couple of hilarious but off-colour animated shorts about what would happen when Henry meets TFC fan-favourite Dan Gargan.

And Angel already has received his share of beer showers in Toronto.

Former TFC ’keeper Greg Sutton, who got his first win as a Red Bull against his former club last week, has told Henry what to expect.

“Well, I think it’s going to be a tough one,” Henry said. “Hopefully we can do better than what we have done against the Galaxy. They are just below us in the league.

“Greg told me for sure the atmosphere is going to be amazing, and to expect a tough game.”

THE RICH LIST

2010 salaries for MLS designated players

Player Team Salary (US)

David Beckham LA Galaxy $6,500,000.00

Thierry Henry New York $5,600,000.00

Rafa Marquez New York $5,540,000.00

Landon Donovan LA Galaxy $2,127,777.78

Juan Pablo Angel New York $1,918,000.00

Nery Castillo Chicago $1,788,060.50

Julian de Guzman Toronto FC $1,717,546.00

Freddie Ljungberg Chicago $1,314,000.00

Mista Toronto FC $987,337.50

Branko Boskovic DC United $560,000.00

Blaise Nkufo Seattle $480,000.00

Alvaro Fernandez Seattle $300,000.00


Videos

Photos