The Red Bulls open up the MLS season on Saturday against the Seattle Sounders. But with internationally renowned scorer Thierry Henry and defender Rafa Marquez, expectations for the defending Eastern Conference regular-season champs go well beyond the opener.
“We’re good enough,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said at the team’s media day Tuesday at Red Bulls Stadium. “Henry will score this year. He’ll score enough for us to win.”
After losing to the San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference semifinal last season, with Henry and Marquez playing only partial seasons, the expectation this year is that any finish short of an MLS Cup will be a failure. To achieve the Red Bulls’ goal, however, Henry will be expected to pick up the 13-goal hole created by the departure of last year’s scoring leader, Juan Pablo Angel.
Marquez, who played in 10 games at midfield, will now team on the back line with Red Bulls Defender of the Year Tim Ream.
The real pressure is on Henry, however. His midseason arrival from Barcelona was accompanied by injury and a lack of chemistry. His move to the center, with support from young U.S. national team member Juan Agudelo, should help him increase his two-goal output (in 11 games) last season.
“I was born with pressure,” Henry said. “But if you look at the league champions, they weren’t always the teams with the star players. That’s why you don’t see teams winning back-to-back. But the pressure to win is the same. It’s always around.”
Marquez, the former Mexican national team captain, said it is incumbent upon the Red Bulls to win this year, especially after their improbable worst-to-first rise from 2009 to 2010.
“We have a great responsibility as a team to achieve something this year,” Marquez said. “But it’s less about Thierry and me, and more about the team.”