Friday, May 21, 2010
Henry will help Red Bulls ... and MLS
The worst-kept secret in MLS moved a step closer to being confirmed this week as numerous reports indicated that Thierry Henry will join the New York Red Bulls after the World Cup. With an official announcement looking ever more likely, we can start to evaluate the impact the 32-year-old will have on his new team and the league.
My take on the move is that it has the potential to be one of the most spectacular in league history. Granted, Henry has had a poor campaign with Barcelona -- scoring a meager four goals in 30 appearances and making only three starts since the beginning of February -- but the fact is that he is just a year removed from being a major part of a Barcelona side that was one of the most successful teams of all time.
As Sir Alex Ferguson -- no bad judge of talent -- said when asked about Henry on Tuesday: "He's not a deteriorated player by any manner or means. He's still a very, very competent player. ... I think he'll be a success [in the USA]. I've got no doubts in my mind with that."
Henry is sure to welcome the change of scenery. Interviewing him when he visited Boston in 2007, I was struck by his enthusiasm for the United States, which, he admitted, was fueled by its being "one of the places I can be left alone." Equally, it is certain that his new Red Bulls teammates will embrace him. Three straight defeats have taken a little of the gloss off the start New York has made in 2010, but coach Hans Backe's side remains in second place (5-4) in a wide-open Eastern Conference.
Henry's arrival will address the main issue affecting the Red Bulls in their opening nine matches: a paucity of goals. Only Kansas City, Philadelphia and DC have struck fewer than the nine managed by New York, four of which have come from Juan Pablo Angel. The Colombian remains a potent threat but is now 34 and would benefit from the assistance Henry can provide in shouldering the scoring burden.
Signing Henry does not make New York the odds-on favorite to win the MLS Cup or to even top the standings in the East at the end of the regular season. Reinforcements may be needed to boost a midfield that has struggled to consistently create chances, although the Frenchman should help in the creativity department.
One thing for sure is that Henry's arrival will provide a post-World Cup boost to MLS, which will be felt in crowd numbers across the country. Now the Red Bulls have to put the talent around him so that he can flourish fully in those stadia.
Gooch's grand gesture
While many fans would happily play for free, just to have a shot at the big time, there are few veteran professionals who, despite being established internationals, would offer their services gratis. Therefore, take a bow, Oguchi Onyewu.
In a move that echoes the actions of another Milan man, Fernando Redondo, who suspended his salary in 2000 having sustained a knee injury shortly after signing for the club, Onyewu this week agreed to stay with the Rossoneri for another season for free, following a debut campaign at the San Siro in which he made just one substitute appearance.
The situation is a win-win for both parties. Onyewu earns plenty of goodwill, as well as another chance to impress the Milan powers-that-be in a bid to earn a longer-term contract. Not that he may make many more appearances in the red-and-black next season than he did last, if reports linking him with a season-long loan move to Chievo are to be believed.
A move, though, would still be beneficial. Onyewu would still be in Serie A and, out of the limelight, he could focus solely on playing. Meanwhile, Milan would retain the registration of a player on the right side of 30 -- no small matter given the average age of the rest of the club's defenders -- while also having the chance to watch closely how he handles a full season in one of the world's top leagues.
As he prepares to take part in his third World Cup, Landon Donovan spoke frankly this week about his development as a person which, he believes, has assisted in his growth as a player, to the point where he now feels more content than ever with his position as one of the leaders on the national team.
To paraphrase the 28-year-old, Donovan was too young to know any better in 2002 but not old enough to see his responsibilities in 2006 as anything other than a burden. Four years on, he has found a balance that currently sees him playing the best soccer of his career.
With a goal and nine assists in nine games, the Los Angeles Galaxy captain has been a contributing factor in 10 of the 15 goals his team has scored in the opening two months of a campaign he began in midseason shape following a successful loan spell at Everton. L.A. (8-0-2) is in first place in the Western Conference.
A return to Europe following the World Cup cannot be ruled out. For now, though, the man who describes himself as being more "real" and "centered" than in the past has the focus to inspire his country in South Africa.