The best soccer game Saturday night in Southern California will feature one of the game's most celebrated figures playing for a team looking to quickly find itself before things truly begin to matter in the coming weeks.
More attention will be paid to what's going on 12 miles up the road, where Real Madrid meets up with the Galaxy in a Coliseum friendly, but Chivas USA's clash with Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls matters more.
It's a critical contest for both sides.
Chivas is, as it has seemed to be at several junctures this season, on the verge of something special, although it might require a transfer-window move for a frontline finisher to bring it to fruition.
The Red Bulls, with more talent than anybody else in the league -- and not just Henry -- is playing like anything but title favorites, with just two wins in their last 13 matches, both over Major League Soccer bottom-feeders.
Inconsistent form, poor finishing and missing personnel (through injury and international duty) has produced a lot of groans in the Red Bulls locker room, with head coach Hans Backe noting after one defeat that he expected -- and desired -- a locker-room fight, and winger Joel Lindpere moaning that he wasn't having fun anymore.
The Red Bulls haven't beaten Chivas USA in Carson since 2005, not at all since June 2008, and were outslugged, 3-2, back in New Jersey two months ago, thanks to Justin Braun's hat trick. As Lindpere told the league's website this week: “We seem to struggle when we play them.”
What does it all mean? Nothing, says Robin Fraser.
“I think they're very dangerous because they have five or six players that can hurt you at any single time in the game,” Chivas' coach said this week. “Whether they're getting results or not has nothing to do with what's happening on the day.”
The consensus is that New York (6-4-10), with its quality, should be getting better results. They're even with Philadelphia on points but sit second in the Eastern Conference on head-to-head results. Backe and Sporting director Erik Soler have been adamant that they expect to win the conference and play for the league title.
The key to that, and to Saturday's game, is Henry, a French forward who starred at Arsenal and Barcelona and played in four World Cups (with a title in 1998) before coming to MLS last summer. He has been exceptional this year, scoring nine goals (tied with Galaxy captain Landon Donovan for most in the league), an uncommon percentage of them highest quality.
“He's got pace and experience and quality in front of the goal, doesn't waste too many chances,” Fraser said. “He's a difficult player to deal with individually because he's got such a great change of pace. Knows where to be and when to be and that sort of thing.
“He's the kind of guy who changes games in three, four seconds. Can be doing nothing and turn that into a 35-yard run by three people and score. You have to be very aware of him.”
Chivas (5-7-7) is unbeaten in its last three games, with Nick LaBrocca scoring in all three of them, but it has won just twice since beating the Red Bulls on May 15 and is 3-4-3 at home.
WORTH NOTING: New York this week signed 38-year-old German goalkeeper Frank Rost, most recently with Hamburger SV, as a Designated Player. He's expected to debut Saturday. The Red Bulls must make a roster move but haven't announced one. Goalkeeper Greg Sutton was missing from training Friday in Upper Montclair, N.J. ... The Goats have lost points after conceding after the 80th minute in three of the past five games, including last weekend's 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City. ... Chivas is 4-2-4 when tied at halftime. New York is 1-3-7. ...
Midfielder Francisco Mendoza, who has come off the bench the last two games after missing the previous five, will tie former Goats captain Jonathan Bornstein's club record for league regular-season appearances, with 123, the next time he steps onto the field. “Panchito” returned to Chivas this season on loan from Guadalajara after playing for the club in 2005-08. ... No. 2 goalkeeper Zach Thornton started his career in 1996 with the MetroStars -- what the Red Bulls were called before Red Bull bought them -- and had a short stint with the Bulls in 2008.
MISSING: Alejandro Moreno is away with Venezuela's national team at Copa America, South America's nations championship. The Vinotinto went 1-0-2 in group play and face Chile in a quarterfinal Sunday. ... Center back Jimmy Conrad (concussion) remains “doubtful,” but he's not practicing with the Goats. ... Left back Ante Jazic (calf strain) is doubtful, and midfielder Paulo Nagamura (quad strain) is probable.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Swede Backe has followed an undistinguished playing career with three decades as a coach in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Greece, England and as an assistant coach with Mexico's national team. He took charge of New York last year, with Red Bull's dime built a formidable lineup and won the Eastern Conference regular-season title with a 15-9-6 record before falling to San Jose in the first round of the playoffs.
Three key players
Henry is among the globe's finest attacking players of the last 20 years, a wing-forward with a superb scoring touch and a knack for creating chances for teammates.
Estonian winger Lindpere was a revelation when he arrived in MLS last season, and he's heating up with summer, with four goals and three assists in the last five league games and a four-game scoring streak before last weekend's loss to D.C.
Colombian-born striker Juan Agudelo, just 18, is a burgeoning star with the U.S. national team, and his knack in front of the net has been a weapon off the bench for the Red Bulls.
Nobody else in MLS has the kind of talent the Red Bulls possess, but they're not getting nearly enough from that talent, even with Henry enjoying a MVP-like campaign. They've won only once in their last six league games (5-0 over Toronto on July 6) and just twice in their last 13 (2-1 over New England on June 10). It has been 2½ months since they strung together successive wins, and the problems are myriad: injuries, international call-ups, inconsistent performances, troubles finishing chances, and finding an answer in central midfield, with Dwayne De Rosario failing to fill the role before he was discarded to D.C. (He paid the Red Bulls back by scoring the only goal in United's 1-0 win last weekend.) Rost's addition will help, even if New York overpaid for him.
Reserve right back Chris Albright played in 130 MLS games (and won two MLS Cup titles) with the Galaxy from 2002 to 2007.
Defender Rafa Marquez (hamstring strain) and midfielder Carl Robinson (bruised knee) are out. Forward Luke Rodgers (plantar fasciitis) is questionable.
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket and Galavision
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)
Referee: Mark Kadlecik