The takeaway story from last night's hard-fought 2-2 draw between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls was not what is should have been.
It wasn't the play of Dallas, down a man after Brek Shea's idiotic challenge on Chris Albright earned him a red card in the 29th minute. It wasn't the late own goal Jair Benitez put in to gift the Red Bulls a draw. It wasn't the exciting play of Eric Alexander, who scored Dallas' second. It wasn't Mehdi Ballouchy's goal in his Red Bull debut, it wasn't the once-in-a-blue-moon crowd at Pizza Hut Park, and it wasn't Juan Pablo Angel's odd benching to start the match.
Nope. The takeaway story from last night's clash between two of the top teams in MLS involves a certain World Cup winning-superstar, the league's leading candidate for Goalkeeper of the Year, and a seemingly innocuous incident during a stoppage in play after Ballouchy's goal in the dying minutes of the first half.
If you missed it, here's what went down. After Ballouchy scored, the newly acquired midfielder and a few teammates ran off to celebrate. The ball, having been retrieved by Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman, sat just in front of the goal. Hartman stood, hands on hips, naturally upset over conceding and looking toward the sideline, with his foot dangling just behind the ball. Thierry Henry, the aforementioned World Cup winner and something of a high-profile player in this league, ran up and took a swing at the ball, perhaps with the intent of thumping it into the net in a celebratory manner. When Henry's foot connected with the ball, the ball had nowhere to go; Hartman's foot blocked it, causing the shock of the impact to force the keeper's foot backward. That type of force travels up the leg and causes the need to flex in a direction it's not designed to. The result: injured medial collateral ligament.
If Hartman's foot was planted, there's probably nothing to talk about. As it is, a freak confluence of factors led to the injury, forced Hartman out of the game, and gave rise to a controversy over Henry's pointless actions.
Henry attempted to apologize, Hartman was having nothing of it (though he maintained his composure). No card was issued for the incident, so the question now becomes whether the New York striker should be punished.
I'll be honest: I'd be fine with just about any result. If the league determines Henry acted irresponsibly and suspends him for a game, there's a certain justice in that. If the incident is dismissed as just an unlucky turn of events and there's no punishment, there's a reasonable argument for that as well. Henry certainly didn't intend to hurt Hartman, and he wasn't trying to initiate contact with his kick; in almost every other instance where a stupid, brainless act occurs on a soccer field and results in injury or near-injury, the player acting stupidly is going into a challenge, throwing an elbow, or otherwise doing something they know could get them in trouble. There is no better words than "innocuous" to describe the type of thing that Henry did. The only reason it turned out not to be is because Hartman was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time with his knee vulnerable due to a simple matter of tension.*
Players regularly slam the ball back into the net after a goal. It's pointless in every instance. Because they rarely (never?) result in injury to another player, those unneeded kicks are just window dressing to the aftermath of a goal.
That doesn't excuse Henry, of course. He probably should have recognized that with Hartman there, kicking the ball would be a bad idea. Still, it's hard to blame him for doing something players have done since the beginning of time without incident. Henry didn't break any rule.
I'm sure passions are inflamed on the part of FC Dallas fans (by the way, way to show up guys - 15k? Fantastic!) and Hartman himself. I'm certain Red Bulls fans would reject the notion that Henry should be suspended. Biases outside of those two teams are at play, be they anti-Red Bull, anti-Henry, or anti-big market sentiments. Whatever your leanings are, I think it's hard to be objective about the incident because of all of the factors at play.
The bottom line for me is that if Hartman wasn't injured or wasn't forced out of the game, no one would give a second thought about what Henry did. He screwed up, that much is certain. What, if any, the response should be is a much tougher thing to determine.
Question then, to you the reader - should Henry face a suspension?
*I'm working off of memory for the description of the incident, so forgive me if I'm off on any details.