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from Left field:

Va-va-voom. Vintage Henry scores on Arsenal return.

The clock said 68 minutes, and no one at the Emirates Stadium in north London was looking at the action on the pitch as the fourth official held aloft his lit-up board to signal the re-introduction of Thierry Henry to English football.

Ten minutes later and he'd scored the game's eventual winner. Comebacks don't get this good this often.

14 to replace 15 shone the bright numbers before the goal, but alas Henry's former number has since been taken by young English talent Theo Walcott, who idolises the French great.

Now, for six weeks and six weeks only after which he will return to the United States with the New York Red Bulls, Henry can be seen wearing an Arsenal shirt with the number 12, the same as his France days during which he won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship.

Ten things to watch for in the new MLS season

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BECKHAM DONOVAN

YOUNG AMERICANS
MLS’s foreign imports have grabbed most of the headlines over the past few years, understandably given the name recognition of players such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this season will be the progress of a new generation of American players on the fringe of the national team. Sporting KC striker Teal Bunbury and New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo are fancied by many as a future pairing for Bob Bradley’s team but they will need to deliver week-in-week-out in MLS. Red Bulls defender Tim Ream had an excellent first year and will likely be scouted heavily by European clubs this season. Portland Timbers attacker Darlington Nagbe was born in Liberia but is seeking naturalization and there is a lot of buzz about his potential.

DIG THE NEW BREED
The Pacific North-West should provide plenty of lively derby action this year with the Seattle Sounders, the best-supported team in the league, joined by two new teams — local rivals Portland Timbers and Northern neighbours Vancouver Whitecaps. Both clubs are technically ‘expansion franchises’ but don’t confuse them with recent creations such as the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake who started from scratch. Both the Timbers and the Whitecaps existed in the old NASL and continued in second tier soccer up until last season. Both have good fan-bases who expect an instant impact. Both were able to build upon their backroom and on-field staff from the second tier. In short – both are more like typical promoted teams in European leagues – they have to step up to a new level on the field and can expect some fresh impetus off the field. It should be fascinating to watch how they fare in their first season with the big boys. Who will make the bigger impact?

SHINY, HAPPY PEOPLE?

The Kansas City Wizards were not one of MLS’s big success stories having averaged crowds of around 10,000 for most of their existence – initially playing at the 80,000 capacity Arrowhead Stadium, home to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and then at a cozier but not-very soccer friendly minor-league baseball park. This season all that changes. The rather silly-sounding Wizards name has been dropped in favour of Sporting Kansas City – mocked by some as being a pretentious Euro-wannabe name (Sporting Club being a historic team in Lisbon, Portugal) but surely an upgrade on the Wizards? This season the team also move into their own, shiny new, purpose built 18,500 venue – Livestrong Sporting Park. The venue isn’t quite ready so the first eight games of the season for Sporting will be on the road but it will be interesting to see if the rebrand and the new home manage to attract more fans. That certainly helped New York Red Bulls last year – when they moved into Red Bull Arena their average home gate rose from 12,229 to 18,441.

Thierry Henry interview

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/


Former Arsenal, Barcelona and France striker Thierry Henry is loving life in the United States and wants to see New York Red Bulls develop identity as an attractive passing football team but he also hankers after an eventual return to Arsenal in some role in the future.

The following is the full transcript of interview by Simon Evans with Henry after pre-season training with the Red Bulls in Fort Lauderdale this weekend. Shortly before the interview began at the team’s hotel Henry was approached by an American guest who recognised him from a documentary film about racism in sport but who then asked the Frenchman for his name.

Why Henry’s move might not kickstart transfer window

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Barcelona’s Thierry Henry is heading to New York Red Bulls in a widely expected move but don’t think the first big post-World Cup transfer means the window will suddenly be awash with deals.

An event before the World Cup is a major reason why Henry has decided to follow David Beckham’s lead and try out MLS. David Villa’s early move to Barca from Valencia meant there was no room for Henry at the Nou Camp and after France’s flop in South Africa there were few other interested parties.

With technology binned, maybe players should just stop cheating

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Players and coaches are going to have to grin (or rather whinge) and bear it after football’s rule-makers decided that preserving the game’s essence and traditions are more important than the grievances of a few unlucky losers.

Controversies such as Geoff Hurst’s third goal for England in the 1966 World Cup final, Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal at the 1986 World Cup and, more recently, Thierry Henry’s ball-juggling effort against Ireland, are etched into football’s history.

Are Henry’s days at Barcelona numbered?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Thierry Henry has cut a forlorn figure sitting on the bench during Barcelona’s last three La Liga matches, raising questions over the French striker’s future in Spain.

The 32-year-old struggled in his first year at the Nou Camp but was a key figure in their treble-winning campaign last season scoring 26 goals in all competitions.

UPDATE: Ireland plead for World Cup slot as the 33rd team

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Sepp Blatter revealed this morning that Ireland have appealed to FIFA to be allowed to compete as a 33rd team in next year’s World Cup.

“I will bring it to the attention of the Executive Committee,” Blatter told (stunned) journos. “I cannot confirm what will happen, but I will report it.”

UPDATE: No replay hopes here … the score predictions are back

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Monday morning update 2: Mike Collett claims, with some justification it must be said, to have altered his predictions on Friday afternoon. I do indeed have an email from Mike asking me to change them, so I guess we’ll have to give him credit for getting Liverpool v Man City, the double pointer, bang on at 2-2. OK, Mike … but next time, one shot please.

I also decided to give Mitch a one-point bonus for his 5-0 prediction in the Spurs game (closer than anyone else), making him one of the week’s big winners with 18 points. Martyn Herman would have got 20, including a two-point bonus for being the only person to predict an Arsenal defeat, but I docked him two for trying to sneak in a 2-2 prediction on the Anfield game … after the final whistle.

10 good reasons to love Raymond Domenech

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Overseeing qualification for the World Cup via a blatant handball is unlikely to do much for the popularity of French coach Raymond Domenech, either at home or abroad (his Wikipedia page is currently saying some very nasty things about him, but it will doubtless be put back to its less offensive version soon).

The 57-year-old former defender, whose name is booed at every match, has never made any effort to make himself popular, but here are 10 reasons (or nearly 10) why football fans may want to reconsider their view:

Hand of Henry goal makes strong case for video evidence

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France’s decisive goal against Ireland in their World Cup play-off will only add further weight to the case for using a video ref, or extra goal-line officials, at least in the biggest matches.

The controversial extra-time strike from William Gallas took France through to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while leaving the Irish barely able to contain a sense of frustration and injustice.

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