The biggest news story of the MLS season so far has been the signing of 32-year-old French striker Thierry Henry by the New York Red Bulls. But while it’s a major coup for the league, some cynics are wondering if MLS is basically becoming the Florida of the football world – code for is MLS becoming a retirement home for global football stars? And if it is, is there anything wrong with that?

When looking at the list of some of the league’s top imports it obviously starts with English star David Beckham. Add to that Guillermo Schelotto, Freddie Ljungberg, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and now Henry. These were all great players on the world stage, but they are all well past their prime now. And if the talk around MLS is anything to go by, Manchester United ace Ryan Giggs might be following them in a year or two.

If these players were joining MLS by the boatloads then yes, it might hurt the development of young players and the league in general, but that is not the case here as there are really only a handful of them. Of course, if these ageing stars were at the top of their game though, would they be heading to MLS? The answer is probably no, they would still be playing in Europe.

So while some people are under the impression these big-name players are taking the places of young, home-grown talent, it is not really quite true. The league cannot be blamed for welcoming world-class players with open arms because it definitely needs to promote itself and what better way to do that than with stars that are recognised all across the globe.

In fact, the rest of this season is crucial for MLS as America is still caught up in the buzz created by this summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Now is the time for the league to ride that wave of popularity and to try and keep it going for as long as possible. The sport is hot at the moment and the signing of Henry should make it even hotter.


Most American fans have probably heard of the former Barcelona forward, but only the hardcore ones will know that his skills are on the wane. Henry’s name should still sell jerseys at the souvenir stands and if he can bang in a few goals it will seem like the Frenchman is still at the top of his game – this is more than good enough for the league. In addition, the big-name arrivals are often idolised by youngsters and if it helps them become more interested in the sport that is also a good thing for a nation that is trying to promote soccer and develop top notch talent.

Henry’s presence should also boost his team-mates’ confidence and motivate opposing players to lift their level while playing against him. The only real downside to these ageing stars showing up at the door before the last call on their careers is called is the salary factor. Household names like Beckham and Henry definitely don’t come cheap and there is not really a lot of money to go around in MLS at the moment. When some players are taking home a few million dollars and others are trying to get by on about $40,000 a year, resentment can creep in.

Even though then, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with MLS bringing in stars from overseas, it might actually hurt the league in the long run as the lower paid players are bound to be looking for somewhere else to ply their trade and make a bit more money. This means a lot of young MLS stars may eventually be forced to leave the league and move to Europe or elsewhere to make a comfortable living as a soccer player’s career is relatively short. Take Landon Donovan for instance. Even though he is one of the best-paid players in MLS, Donovan can definitely make a lot more in Europe, the same way fellow Americans Stuart Holden, Tim Howard, and Clint Dempsey are.

But it is normal for any human being to accept the highest wages offered. For some people such as Dempsey, Howard, and Holden, the place to be playing right now is England, while for Henry, Ljungberg, and Beckham, it is America. It is only natural to go where the money is. And to make the cycle complete, don’t be surprised to see an older Dempsey, Howard, and Holden eventually make their way over to MLS once their pay cheques start to dry up in the English Premier League, if that’s where the money is of course.