Managing Henry: Petke looks to preserve Red Bulls captain for 2014

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Magical moments like his chested, one-time, game tying curler in the Red Bulls season finale against the Chicago Fire certainly help to make Thierry Henry look ageless.

But father time waits for no man.

While head coach Mike Petke admits Henry will remain the focal point of the team’s attack next season, his soon-to-be 37 year old striker will have to be carefully managed through what will be a congested 2014 schedule.

“He definitely falls into a category of somebody I need to sit down with and figure things out for all the competitions we have next year and all that travel that’s going to entail,” Petke told reporters this week.

Conserving their captain is nothing new to the Red Bulls. After all, he has played in all of two matches on turf since arriving in MLS – both against the Portland Timbers. He was even held off in a crucial Supporters’ Shield confrontation against the Seattle Sounders late in the season.

Next season will bring with it new challenges. Thanks to the team’s stellar regular season performance, the Red Bulls will be taking part in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time since 2009. The U.S. Open Cup will also be up for contention while players like Roy Miller and Tim Cahill may thin the team’s roster into the World Cup dates.

For Petke and the Red Bulls, keeping Henry healthy and happy is far better than the alternative, not just for his dynamic play, but for the presence he commands on the field.

“This year was very tough for me to take him off the field, because of what he brings,” Petke admits. “I remember two games we had, conference games actually this year, and after the game chatting with the other coach who I know and just comments they would make like, ‘It’s unbelievable just having a Thierry Henry on your team.’ You could see in my guy’s eyes it’s a little bit of fear.

“Thierry is our captain and he’s by far one of the, if not the best, players in this league in his best moments. We have him next year, he’s still under contract, we’re thrilled to have him back. He’s been re-energized and refocused and I think that Thierry is and perhaps will be until he’s gone the focal point of this team because what he can bring at any given moment.”