Critics of Major League Soccer can deride the standard of play all they want, but they will not prevent the arrival of more international superstars over the next few years.
While he probably won't turn up in MLS for at least three years, French striker Thierry Henry has given the league a huge lift by revealing he plans to end his career in New York.
Henry's comments in the New York Times reflect the increased interest in MLS around the worldwide soccer community. They're a barometer of how more leading players are considering following David Beckham across the Atlantic.
Henry, 30, is under contract at Barcelona until 2011 and feelings can obviously change. But read his words and make up your own mind.
"I always say that one day I can play over there," Henry said. "I would love to. It's still early.
"Don't get me wrong, I just love the U.S. I don't know why. I love the way you live. I love American sports. For me, it's a dream to go to training and then see a game of football, basketball, whatever game. For me, New York is the best city in the world."
The pedigree of Henry is beyond question or reproach. In seven years with Arsenal, he became one of the most influential players in English Premiership history, finishing as the runner-up for the 2003 and 2004 FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He is still regarded as one of the world's best strikers, and in Europe, he is an icon few can claim to parallel.
When I compiled a list of international stars Major League Soccer should look to sign, plenty of readers questioned the decision to include Henry at No. 6. The common complaint: "Why would a worldwide superstar such as Henry want to come and play in North America?"
But those who love to bash MLS overlook a key factor – lifestyle. Sure, the standard of play is not yet close to the levels of the leading European leagues, but the fact remains that plenty of people want to come here.
For the thousands of Europeans who flock to New York City on vacation each year, it feels like the center of the universe. For a man like Henry, who cannot escape the spotlight wherever he treads in his own continent, the anonymity he is afforded when he visits the Big Apple is refreshing and enticing.
And take note MLS bashers: Players, coaches and people in the international soccer world no longer look upon the American game with tilted-nose scorn. There is a general level of fascination with how much progress soccer can make here. There's an acceptance that serious growth is inevitable.
Now, I fully expect another stream of emails criticizing MLS with claims that Henry will only come to the U.S. for a final payday, or that he'll be looking for an easier ride in a lower-level league in the twilight of his career. Such statements are insulting to one of the finest players on the planet.
The man is a competitor and that personality trait is a constant theme running through his life. It will still be in place when he makes his likely move to New York.
- Major League Soccer
- Thierry Henry
- New York