Being the best player in the MLS doesn’t mean a lot in bigger, global terms, but for Thierry Henry, 35, with his glory days in the English Premier League and La Liga behind him, it’s still an affirmation of his class and quality, that will never leave him despite the diminishing physical attributes.
His latest accomplishment? Three assists and a goal for the New York Red Bulls in their 4-1 win over Toronto, moving them up to the second place on the Eastern Conference table as we get closer to the playoffs, where New York bowed down early. This season, Henry wants what David Beckham and Robbie Keane managed to do last year.
There’s no doubt Henry is the highest caliber player to ever step on an MLS pitch, and despite growing pains and his occasional bust up with players, like headbutting Kei Kamara in his previous match (serving a suspension afterwards), Henry is not just playing like one of the best players in the MLS, but is also producing numbers, with 14 goals and 12 assists in 23 matches so far this season.
Henry’s success in New York, as always in leagues striving to cement a place in sports culture, is more than just scoring goals. Leadership and experience rubbing off of him on to other players is also an obvious observation. Any player above the age of 31 is expected to share and teach others. But Henry makes the league’s most important team, in their most important market, something a bit above normal. For now, the only way for MLS teams to show a little bit of flair and distinction is bringing in the right kind of former-European star. The Red Bulls managed to get the best possible one.
Henry’s second role is a broader one, and it once again doesn’t have anything to do with his skills on the pitch. Make the MLS somewhere former star players might consider to play at. There are salary cap issues that prevent some MLS teams being competitive with the Gulf countries and China (a bubble waiting to burst), but for those looking for a bit more competitiveness and a chance to build something in their final years on pitch, the MLS seems like a perfect place. The comfortable option of going back on loan to Europe during the off season for keeping in shape and also seeing that you still got it is something that can’t be overlooked.
This isn’t the glory days of Arsenal or Pep Guardiola’s super team in Barcelona. Just the New York Red Bulls. But for Thierry Henry, who has been a star with every team he has played for (except for Juventus way way back), this is a perfect place to keep his legend growing and maybe do something bigger than just score goals, putting the hand ball incident behind him as a distant, almost forgotten memory.