It's year nineteen in Major League Soccer, and we're losing two of the greatest players to play in this league. Landon Donovan has said he's retiring, and if all the signs are correct New York Red Bulls striker and Designated Player Thierry Henry is also leaving and possibly retiring.
The key question when someone of Henry's stature departs any league is - how will the player be remembered? That question has eluded people for many years but we have to ask it of Thierry, just like we did of Landon.
Thierry was the second big time player to come over from Spain after David Beckham did. At first it was supposed to create a wave of players coming over here to "retire" as we didn't see the massive amount of well known stars following suit that we perhaps expected. Most wouldn't consider Barry Ferguson and Kris Boyd worth it, with all due respect to those two who've had decent careers in the UK. What Thierry did was make the Red Bulls spend some money, and try to match LA Galaxy in terms of star signings and, ultimately, success. So far they've failed but that's not Thierry's fault.
What has Thierry Henry done for the league? He's made it cool, because Henry's cool, isn't he? He speaks very eloquently and seems to be a really decent man. Henry has also pointed out how easy it is for him to live in the States and how he's adapted to the country easily which can only encourage future recruits. In Europe he's well known, in the States, some people know him. If Matt Damon and Thierry walk down the street together, Matt would get more people recognising him than Thierry, which isn't surprising really but Henry would get a few glances, there's no doubting that.
Thierry Henry made it fashionable for people to watch the sport overseas. In the time Henry has been here, there have been supporter blogs of the league pop up in the world. The fact that a website like this which is based in the UK takes American football, both past and present, shows that Thierry Henry's lasting impact on the league is that he helped it grow in niche markets for the MLS and people are showing more interest in the league because of players like him.
He also made it clear to the New York Red Bulls that they have to spend to be with the big boys, as I touched on earlier. Tim Cahill came in on a Designated Player contract from Everton and has set the league afire. They've also made noises about bringing in some more top players, but have ended up doing it at a lower cost. Thierry has shown them that, if you bring over top names who care about playing and aren't complete has-beens who are here for the money, the buzz and attention will soon follow. The Red Bulls made the New York Cosmos back-page news for a while, which is quite something in itself.
Overall, Thierry Henry's reputation and general smoothness have made his stay here more than worthwhile. He's helped raise the profile of the game, is aiding his club in their development and has enabled more big stars to follow his lead, take the leap into MLS and see what life in America has to offer. Of course David Beckham did something similar but he arguably divided fans with the way that he did it, whereas Henry has nothing but admirers.
Should Thierry Henry depart and possibly retire, which is being strongly reported, who's a potential candidate to step in and carry on his great work? There's three names out there and one has said in the past that he wants to end his career here; it's Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Of course the other two who could potentially join are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi but that's probably unlikely, especially in the next two or three years. The most realistic candidate other than Zlatan is one player who is already here playing for Orlando City next season; Kaka. He has the style, the play and will be left alone in a majority of the markets where he can be Kaka. Also, he brings in the Italian and Brazilian fans, essentially helping the league spread across the world further.
Should one of those above fail to join the league, are any of the current big names capable of picking up the baton and continuing Henry's good work? The one that stands out is former Fulham and Spurs man Clint Dempsey. The MLS moved him back here and threw him at Seattle so the club could get some more exposure, which has so far worked. Dempsey's the captain of the US national team, the face of the sport and a warrior on the pitch. This is his league and the faster he wins an MLS Cup, the better for MLSHQ.
Whoever steps up to the plate has it all to do, though, as Thierry Henry has proven he's a tough act to follow. I think it's fair to say most football fans in America respect and admire Henry more than ever and certainly appreciate his contribution to our game.
By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @