Henry to start slow with Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. -- Thierry Henry's weeklong publicity tour is over. He's ready to hit the soccer pitch.

The Red Bulls' star acquisition will make his debut Thursday night against Tottenham in the Barclays New York Challenge at Red Bull Arena.

He says he's ready to go, but rust might be an issue for Henry in his first game in Harrison.

He played a minimal role as a reserve for the French team in the 2010 World Cup and fell out of favor with Barcelona -- his former club team, for which he sat as an unused substitute in three of his last six games and which released him last month.

The 32-year-old forward has participated in just four Red Bulls practices since the team announced his arrival July 14. He admitted -- understandably -- that he won't be 100 percent fit for Thursday night's match.

"The training session has been like any preseason sessions," he said Wednesday at Red Bull Arena. "I'm trying to get back into shape. I'm trying to work out. I've only like four training session so I'm not like 100 percent, as you can imagine. But I'm trying to work out and be as fit as I can as quick as possible."

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said Henry will play 30 to 45 minutes against Tottenham. Backe added that Henry won't play more than 45 minutes Sunday afternoon against Manchester City.

"It would be stupid to force it now when he's doing so much training work after every day. He's doing like two hours a day," Backe said. "So it would be stupid to get a hamstring [injury] or something."

The coach predicted Henry, who agreed to a 4½-year deal with the Red Bulls last week, would be 100 percent fit for Houston on July 31.

One question that won't be answered before the Bulls hit the pitch Thursday night: How quickly can the team adjust to Henry and his gigantic presence? Will the other players be too deferential to the former World Cup champ?

Backe noticed some Red Bulls forcing passes to Henry during recent scrimmages. Henry, of course, was calling for the ball, and his teammates were force-feeding him. But he won't be open every time they look for him against Tottenham.

"I told them, 'Henry, in a way, will always shout for the ball. But you have to do the decision-making,'" Backe said.

The coach added that players have been seeking advice from Henry, who has won a European Championship and World Cup with France.

"I don't know if they listen to me. But they definitely listen to what Henry says about the game," Backe joked.

For his part, Henry says he isn't worried about being an ambassador of the game in the United States, as many have suggested his role will be in MLS. He also isn't concerned with growing the game's popularity in the Tri-State area. He just wants to win soccer games.

"I'm here obviously to try to win and compete with my team and win a title," Henry said. "That's the only way you can make this game progress."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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