In his farewell address General Douglas MacArthur said "old soldiers never die; they just fade away" and I once had a Lee Jeans t-shirt that said, "old jeans never die; they just fade away." I suppose the same can now be true of soccer legends.
Latest to join the trend of European star later in his career to make the jump to the MLS is Thierry Henry. Rumors were widely circulated early spring that he would be joining the New York Red Bulls, but with the official opening of the transfer window, the news is now official. Probably more recognizable to the average U.S. audience as 'that guy who handled the ball and kept Ireland out of the World Cup.' he will always be known as the Arsenal player, the fat head on the wall at Wall 2 Wall to me. I was hoping that Henry would join the team in time for the Columbus Crew vs New York game this weekend, but alas, I am not that lucky.
But what about former stars joining the MLS? Clearly the MLS is levels below the English Premiere League, La Liga and Serie A, therefore when players have exhausted their talents and welcomes there, they have to move on. And what better a place that will pay you tons of money because even in your waning years you're still heads and shoulders above half the players out there. And I get why the MLS would want and welcome these stars. They are the big names that the current MLS is lacking. A way to draw in the crowds of people who love European soccer but haven't been sold on the MLS yet. Money, visibility and game attendance. But what really does this say about the MLS and the state of American soccer. Will we ever be able to grow talents of our own? Clint Dempsey doesn't get more "American"; he's from Texas, (hell the guy's name is CLINT!) and likes rap; he's well respected on his epl team and by his peers, but will any MLS team ever pay Beckham or Henry money for him? Okay, I admit Dempsey is NOT a Beckham, but when Dempsey's days playing in Europe are behind him, will he return to the mls? will he be given a hero's welcome and tons of money? I don't know. But something tells me no. And that's because U.S. players are not yet the attention, headline grabbing names like Henry and Beckham.
I'm happy that Henry is coming. The more people tuning in, watching and getting excited about soccer in the U.S. the better. I just wish, at the same time, that there was a way to find more respect for the U.S. game, and to cultivate better players and names from within. Without a doubt, playing more with high level players helps this, but at the end of the day, there is a big part of me that wishes that the MLS could turn from a final resting place for the greats to a launching pad to a high level of play and competition.