MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- If the New York Red Bulls are going to make a run at winning their first MLS Cup, leading scorer Thierry Henry says they better start playing better.
The Red Bulls are the lowest-seeded team heading into their playoff opener Wednesday night at FC Dallas, barely making the playoffs with a 1-0 win over Philadelphia in their final regular-season game.
This was supposed to be a season most expected them to be fighting for the league's best record.
"I've been saying the whole time, it's not about me raising my game," the 34-year-old team captain said. "We win when the whole team plays well. You saw in the last game that the team is playing way better. It's not one or two, or three or four guys playing well. It's not about thinking one guy is going to save you now."
But advancing past a slumping seventh-seeded Dallas squad in the one-game play-in might be easier with Henry and his 14 goals in the lineup. The French international missed the clincher against the Union after serving a one-game suspension for a red card for violent play in the Red Bulls' penultimate game against Sporting KC.
Dallas (15-12-7) comes into the game after posting a 2-5-0 record in its final seven games to fall short of an automatic trip to the quarterfinals. However, it will have leading scorer Brek Shea and his 11 goals back in the lineup after he sat out the final loss to San Jose on Saturday.
"Brek Shea has played so many games and traveled so far with the national team," Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman told the team's official website. "If we're going to find any success in the playoffs, we want Brek to be lively."
Dallas, in fact, rested numerous starters over the last month.
"We just need to regroup as a team," defender George John said. "We'll be more than prepared for Wednesday."
The Red Bulls may do some shuffling on their front line. Midfielder Dane Richard, who scored the goal in the game against Philadelphia, may remain up front with Henry if some swelling in forward Luke Rodgers' knee does not subside by game time.
Rodgers, who claimed the injury happened when he was kicked in the knee early against the Union, stayed in the trainers' room Monday receiving ice and compression treatment, and was not expected to practice Tuesday. Coach Hans Backe said his second-leading goal-scorer (9) is only "50-50" for the game.
Still, the Red Bulls have done well while missing some of their stars. In addition to beating the Union, they also won at Dallas, 1-0, on Sept. 17 as Henry nursed an inflamed Achilles' tendon.
Having Henry back on the front line will provide a mental boost for a team that is 9-15-5 in its playoff history.
"Yeah, there's a little bit of a boost," defender Tim Ream said. "But at the same time, we've shown we can win without him and key guys who may be missing. Whether it's Thierry, or Rafa Marquez is out, we have guys who can step in and win. But having him back is definitely a good boost for us, and we're looking to go in firing on all cylinders."
The Red Bulls (10-8-16) head in with a 4-2-1 mark in their last seven, and may be getting hot at the right time. A win in Dallas means a trip to the home-and-home quarterfinal, where they would host the top-seeded LA Galaxy on Sunday at Red Bull Arena.
If Dallas wins, it would host Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Backe said he expects Henry to raise his game.
"We know that a player like Thierry, when he sniffs playoffs," he said, "he gets more and more mentally into the game."
After playing just six minutes in his first playoff appearance last year due to a knee injury, Henry could make an impact in this win-and-advance game.
But he said it's up to everybody to make that happen.
Not just him.
"We have nothing to lose," Henry said. "We have to go there and it's a rough place to win. Even though they had a poor run at the end, I still think they're one of the best teams.
"We're going to have to do something amazing. But it is doable."