Wednesday, July 14, 2010
By Justin O'Neil
Los Angeles got their star in 2007. New York appears to have their star in 2010.
When David Beckham signed a five-year deal to move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, it made international headlines and shocked soccer insiders around the world. According to reports, the Empire State is getting their own world-class star, with French striker Thierry officially signing with the Red Bulls on Wednesday.
Beckham is a better-known name around the world, but true soccer fans will be more excited to see Henry moving across the pond. Henry is will simply be the best player in the U.S. since Brazilian legend Pele was with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s.
While it can be seen as fashionable to rag on Beckham, few would put the Englishman as the same class as Henry. Henry is one of the greatest players in soccer history: he led the 1998 World Cup Champions with three goals in the tournament, led the English Premier League in scoring four times, the Champions League in scoring twice, and was runner-up for the FIFA Player of the Year Award on two occasions while playing for Arsenal.
Henry was not great at the 2010 World Cup, but neither was any other Frenchman. The team imploded with the outgoing coach Crazy Ray Raymond Domenech feuding with captain Patrick Viera and sending striker Nicolas Anelka home after a locker room spat. Henry was one of the few members of the French team to come out with no blame, even meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the meltdown.
While the results of the Beckham move have been mixed, including Beckham and teammate Landon Donovan trading barbs in the press, the move trained the international eye on the MLS like never before. When Beckham received a straight red card for a two-footed tackle last season, the league earned begrudging respect from the English press for not coddling Beckham and giving him special treatment.
Beckham and Donovan put the feud to bed since their rocky first season, and advanced to the MLS Cup Final last season, losing on penalties to Real Salt Lake.
Only Henry knows the true reasons for the move, but having won everything a footballer can hope to win, he is at a different stage of his life. He is no longer the captain of France after being reduced to coming off the bench for both his country and at FC Barcelona. At Barcelona, he is forced to play a more complimentary role because of the sheer class of the players around him.
He has for a long time been an admirer of the U.S. and New York, and is good friends with fellow Frenchman Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. The move to the U.S. has been rumored for years.
Fans would be wrong to think the move is a cash grab by an aging star. Henrys salary and endorsements in Europe already make him one of the best-paid athletes in the world.
Henry turns 33 in August, the same age that Beckham made his move to the MLS. Henry should be reenergized by the move, and bring a winning mentality to the Red Bulls. Barcelona won its second consecutive Spanish League, and was knocked out in the semi-finals of the Champions League last month, a year after winning the competition.
Henry will be the main attraction at the brand-new Red Bull Arena, and be an integral part of the resurgent Red Bulls. He is the third European superstar to make the move to the MLS in the past three years. In addition to the Beckham move, Henrys former Arsenal teammate Freddie Ljungberg signed with the expansion Seattle Sounders last year.
The Fire made a big splash in 2007 when they signed Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The midfielder was a good move both on the field and off it, drawing additional followers from the Mexican-American community, but Blanco left the Fire at the conclusion of the 2009 season.
The MLS allows teams to go above the salary cap with the designated player rule, which is how teams on relatively small wage budgets are able to sign international stars. With Blanco gone, the Fire are without a designated player, and seem to be the most logical destination for the next international star that wants to jump to this side of the pond. Both the Galaxy and Red Bulls now have two designated players, while the Fire has none.
Chicago is still searching for their identity, as they are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 4-5-5 record. The team has talent and could make a playoff push, but without true star quality or an impressive breakthrough from the team academy, looks unlikely to compete for a title in the near future.
The Fire can and should be the next team to snatch a big-name. Whether it happens will come down to money, effort by the team, and the sheer luck of a star looking for a fresh start in a new place.