Was he more important than Beckham to the development of the MLS? One could argue.
Was he the most prolific scorer in the premier league era? I don’t know who else would be.
Was he the best player not named Zinedine Zidane on a French national side that was a headbutt away from an international dynasty? Unless you’re a member of the Claude Makelele fan club, Yes. Absolutely.
Thierry Henry’s retirement will be felt the most by the MLS, a league that he dominated, while at the same time validated. Beckham’s move, while it translated into tangible success, always felt like a larger PR play.
Henry just loves New York and he loves the beautiful game. When he came to Major League Soccer he still had plenty left in the tank, as evidenced by his successful loan spell at Arsenal during the Red Bulls offseason.
It’s hard to imagine David Villa and Frank Lampard coming stateside had Henry not served as a beacon of light that the US is not just a glorified retirement home.
Villa may score 80 goals in his inaugural season at NYCFC, and in the process make the MLS look like a league of second tier players unworthy of training with Jurgen Klinsmann’s national side (a stance he has painfully staked out since losing to Belgium in July).
Maybe he won’t. Maybe he will be next in a long line of players that make it to the US earlier in their career than conventional wisdom would suggest, and have a fighting time doing it.
If that happens, it’s because Thierry Henry grabbed the torch from Beckham and reminded the world that even in American league play, it’s really just about soccer.