Henry not solution for MLS

IGOR HENRIQUES, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

TORONTO -- Major League Soccer has long been hoping to acquire a sense of legitimacy within the soccer world. The acquisition of players with marketing appeal has long been a tenet the league has used in order to gain such acceptance.

Thierry Henry is the latest high-profile player to be brought into the league in order to give it a better chance at such legitimacy. The problem in this philosophy, however, is that the players being brought in are long past their prime and are shadows of their former selves talent-wise, Henry fitting right into that mold.

The former Arsenal great managed only four goals for Barcelona last year, and at age 32 is in the twilight of his career. What he does bring to the New York Red Bulls and the MLS is the reputation as one of the all-time great soccer players but one only needs to look at the recent past to see how this has worked out before.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Galaxy brought in publicity magnet David Beckham in hopes of boosting the team's profile and that of soccer in North America. The long-term results have been underwhelming to say the least, with Beckham's extraordinary jersey sales numbers being the most positive aspect thus far, and his play being well below par.

Much like Beckham, Henry could provide a boom when it comes to merchandise but the likelihood of him having a lasting effect on the game in North America is a moderate one at best. A new philosophy is needed by the MLS to grow the game, and the options are vast if implemented properly.

Acquiring younger players with potential, over former stars that are over the hill, could lead to a change in the mindset about the MLS throughout the world. With players like Henry and Beckham seemingly making the MLS their final stop in their playing days, the perception of the MLS as a retirement home for former star players is growing.

The likelihood of the MLS being able to draw the likes of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to the league at this point are slim, but nothing stops teams in the league from searching the globe for young talented players that have yet to become established stars.

This is the model of many of the smaller soccer leagues in Europe, and allows them to be competitive while maximizing their assets when cash-laden teams from bigger leagues come calling.

To date, MLS teams have had very few players that have garnered interest across the bigger leagues such as the English Premier League, Italian Serie A and the Spanish La Liga. The most notable player to come out of the MLS and make a strong impression on the top tier in Europe is American Landon Donovan, who has seen time with Bayern Munich and Everton on loan over the last few years.

Though his stint at Bayern Munich saw mixed results, his stint at Everton was much more successful and that, perhaps more than the Beckham signing, made people take note that the MLS does indeed have some world-class players in their midst.

With such success outside the MLS, the league should be branding Donovan as its poster boy, and not the likes of Beckham or the incoming Henry. Though Donovan was originally discovered by Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, he has played the majority of his career in the MLS with San Jose and Los Angeles, as a key contributor to both teams success.

Donovan was only 19 when he made his debut, and the model by which he became a star in the MLS, and a widely-known soccer player, should be used more often in the league to give it the legitimacy it so desperately needs at this point in its existence.

Though not having reached the success of Donovan as of yet, fellow American national team member Jozy Altidore possesses a vast amount of skill that was first honed with the Red Bulls. He has yet to leave his mark in Europe after being sold to Villarreal, but provides yet another example of a young player groomed for success. At only 20, should Altidore return to the MLS in the near future, he could become the long-term heir apparent to Donovan on the North American soccer scene.

The signing of Thierry Henry by the Red Bulls seems to be an attempt at a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Trying to capitalize on the fading star of a recognizable player is nothing new to the MLS, though succeeding with that approach is foreign territory.


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