The MLS made just the explosion it sought after the nation was gripped by the World Cup.
The news did not come as a surprise. Rumors about Thierry Henry coming to the MLS and specifically coming to the Big Apple have been circling around since at least 2007. Over the past year it’s become a foregone conclusion in MLS circles. In New York there was the House that Ruth Built, and in 2010 the New York Red Bulls opened what many considered to be the House that was built for Henry. And after all the anticipation it is now official that “Va-va-voom“ will arrive in America. It is an MLS supporters dream come true.
Henry could be considered the most decorated player to sign for the MLS, and possibly the most decorated player in the United States since the famed NASL years with Pele, Beckenbauer, and Cruyff all playing on American soil. He has a World Cup, European Championship and Champions League winners medal, he is famed member of Arsenal‘s Invincibles and a two-time golden boot winner. He’s France’s all-time scorer(51), second only to Lilian Thuram in appearances(123), and the list continues on and on.
Now he will ply his trade in New York.
But signing for New York and the MLS is one thing, performing is another. After a successful 2008/09 campaign at Barcelona his third year was one Henry will want to forget. He lacked the spark that saw his stardom rise, the explosiveness in his acceleration looked gone, and with the emergence of Pedro he took a backseat in the Barcelona pecking order. The signing of Villa all but confirmed his tidy exit in this summer’s transfer window. No fanfare on that side of the Atlantic and that spoke volumes.
And New York does not exactly have the history of big signings working out.
Youri Djorkaeff, a teammate of Henry on the French national team that won the World Cup and Euros had a forgettable run in New York in 2005/06. Roberto Donadoni, while playing well enough to be selected in the league’s best XI, didn’t have the impact that was expected. Lothar Matthaus, capped 150 times by Germany, was a complete disappointment. It would be unfair to not mention Juan Pablo Angel, though. Angel did not see the MLS as a soccer retirement home but as another stop in his career, and he quickly cemented himself as the league’s premier striker.
It’ll be important for Henry to accept Angel’s mentality toward the league. Equally important will be how he adapts to the style. The game here is played at a quicker pace then what he’s seen at Barcelona over the past three seasons with a much stronger emphasis on the physical game. While he is no stranger to a fast paced, physical game it’ll be interesting to see if his can adapt his game to it now that he is 32, past his prime, and question marks surround his once famed acceleration. He certainly has the technical prowess to terrify MLS backlines, but that’s always been just a part of Henry’s game. Now that technical ability must take the forefront assuming he can’t burst away in the heat against players that are conditioned to the constant summer running in the MLS.
But there is certainly room for a lot of optimism. He certainly is not washed up nor is he too old at 32.
Also, Henry should slot easily into the progressive 4-1-3-2 formation Hans Backe has installed at New York. He’ll have help in Angel who is considered the MLS’ most dangerous attacker, and their tandem will certainly take the pressure off the shielding midfielder and backline that has struggled to gel during the first half of the season. With emerging young layers like Tim Ream(who could certainly factor in the US’ 2014 plans), Tchani, Hall, and Borman combined with experienced MLS veterans like Petke, Mendes, Albright, and the enigmatic Richards there is a solid core for Henry to operate in. If you add the possible introduction of Ljungberg to connect the sometimes too separated midfield from the attackers or Marquez to solidify the spine there is a team that should certainly be a major contender come November.
Even with no Marquez or Ljungberg there will be no lowering the bar for Henry. He is expected to be the deadliest striker in the MLS as soon as he puts on the jersey, and in New York he has the manager, the stadium, the city, and a supporting cast that should create a foundation for him to excel. The MLS might not see the Henry of old, but if he can adapt his game and accept the MLS as something other than a joy ride he might make those pipe-dreams from years ago into a reality.