New England Soccer Today

Friday Crossfire: Should MLS have suspended Thierry Henry for his actions vs. FC Dallas?

Every Friday, New England Soccer Today will tackle a pressing issue in the world of soccer. Each topic will be argued by a different writer each week,  with guest writers periodically appearing to add some flavor to the mix.

This week, our writers debate the following question: “Should MLS have suspended Thierry Henry for his actions vs. FC Dallas?” Arguing in the affirm.ative is Sean Donahue, while Brian O’Connell presents the dissenting view. View the incident below the debate.

YES. What Thierry Henry did after Mehdi Ballouchy’s goal was reckless and completely unnecessary. It isn’t uncommon for a player to blast the ball into the net after a teammate scores, but Henry came in well after the goal while Kevin Hartman was trying to get the ball back up field.

No one can be sure of what his intent was. It certainly may have been completely accidental, but the result was Kevin Hartman, with his league leading 0.62 goals against average could be out for the rest of the season with a strained MCL.  This was no freak accident in which a player ends up hurt from a fair challenge, the play was dead and what Henry did was completely reckless. He needs to be held responsible for his actions and a $2,000 fine for someone making over $5million a year is not enough.

Look how many players are red card or retroactively suspended for hitting someone with their elbows challenging for a header. Many of those are certainly unintentional, but the league has made it clear players are responsible for avoiding even such natural movements that could injure another player. Why should this case be different?

It seems clear there was preferential treatment in this case. The league did not want to suspend Henry for potentially the biggest match-up of the season: New York vs. Los Angeles, Friday night on national television. Hypothetically, let’s say Petr Cech was a designated player for New York and Dallas’ Milton Rodriguez did the same thing to him that Henry did to Hartman, forcing him to potentially miss the rest of the season. Would he have been suspended? I’d be shocked if he wasn’t and I doubt few, if anyone, would argue against it. Designated players need to be treated the same as anyone else in the league or the league risks further resentment from the rest of the players being paid a fraction of these high priced aging stars to do the same job.

NO. Henry, who was obviously “caught in the heat of the battle” when he thumped the ball from and through Kevin Hartman’s right leg, does not deserve a suspension, even though Hartman suffered what could prove to be a season-ending injury to his knee.

Now, the league did fine Henry for this gross error in judgment. Two g’s may be pocket change to the former Arsenal/Barca player and Gillette spokesman, but in terms of MLS player fines, it’s a rather hefty one. And it’s deserved. No doubt. But given the circumstances – play had been stopped – it obviously wasn’t malicious or mean-spirited action. How many of us who have played the game, whether professionally or in the neighborhood park, have made a boneheaded play (or five) in their soccer-playing days?

Do I think that MLS employed a smidgen of preferential treatment to one of it’s biggest players? Of course! I don’t live under a rock. This is the same MLS that “adjusted” the draft six years ago in order to ensure that Freddy Adu would go to DC rather than a smaller market. Let’s face it – this league isn’t shy when it comes to operating behind closed doors. Does anyone know exactly how the weighted draft worked when Lee Nguyen returned Stateside? Wasn’t the introduction of the designated player allocation rule just impeccably timed once David Beckham was ready to exit Real Madrid?

Sometimes, you have to treat your superstars with the kiddie gloves. The NBA did it with Michael Jordan’s incessant urge to travel in the lane. Same thing with LeBron. MLS is only applying the same methods used in other professional sports leagues right here in the U.S.  It may not be fair, but it’s smart business. And had Henry been healthy for tonight’s titanic Galaxy-Red Bulls match a.k.a. “The Game of the Season” –  the call for his suspension would have been quickly forgotten shortly thereafter.

Leave a Reply