By Kyle McCarthy
The talk in New York sports circles these days inevitably turns to possible summer acquisitions.
Ninety-five percent of those whispers focus on the Knicks' impending pursuit of LeBron James. Thierry Henry staked his claim to a portion of the remaining sliver earlier this week.
Reports wafted out of Europe with increasing frequency as Monday turned into Tuesday. All of them essentially reached the same conclusion: the French wizard will finally consummate his love affair with the Big Apple by signing with the Red Bulls after the World Cup.
Henry will join all of the other luminaries shining brightly on America's largest stage. The city that never sleeps also never stops wanting more from its stars. In Henry, New York will finally have its footballing maestro, a magician worthy of assuming the mantle once inhabited by Pele and the Cosmos and updating it in his new palace in suburban Harrison, N.J.
The French international's much anticipated arrival places one related tendency in stark relief. The constant yearning for something greater often obscures the perfectly reasonable value of what already exists. While the addition of a new sports icon won't pose problems for Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, Henry's arrival may indeed prove a hindrance to Juan Pablo Angel's long-term future in the metropolitan area.
Few players with Angel's resume would face an uncertain future. No player in Red Bulls history has scored more goals in a season (19 in 2007) or for the team during his tenure with the club (49 and counting) than the former Aston Villa striker. His exploits on the field are suitably matched by his professional deportment off of it. As a Designated Player and as a high-profile signing, Angel ranks as one of MLS' greatest successes.
Despite all of Angel's contributions during his three-plus years with the Red Bulls, he may leave the club after his contract expires at the end of the campaign. Angel said earlier this season he hopes to sort out his future well before then. New York – particularly with Henry en route and with other stars looming as possible acquisitions either in the summer or in the close season – doesn't appear as anxious to address the situation.
Then again, there isn't much reason for New York to act. The recent DP rule revisions give the Red Bulls plenty of leeway to decide whether to keep Angel at a later date or trade him in for a new model with increasing, rather than decreasing, yearly goal production. Money isn't an issue or an object. Oh, and the Red Bulls – recent two-game slide aside – could mount a legitimate challenge for MLS Cup with Angel and Henry leading the line in front of a stingy defensive core. And if the pedigreed front duo doesn't mesh, well, there's an out clause there at the end of the season to bring in a new option more suited to Henry's slashing style.
The current inaction does leave Angel in a bit of a predicament, however. Angel spends his time scoring goals on the field (a team-high four in eight matches this season) and batting away rumors off of it. He deals with the inquiries – a particularly bizarre link to Mexican second division side Veracruz surfaced last week, a move that would only make sense should Angel feel a burning desire to persuade Cuauhtemoc Blanco to remain there as well – as coolly as he does the chances presented to him inside the penalty area. Take Angel's answer to a question about the man who may eventually pave his way out of town as a typical example:
“He was one of the best players I've ever seen,” Angel told Big Apple Soccer. “He still has the ability to do it at any level and if has chosen to come to the United States especially the Red Bull -- I think it will be a great thing for the league and for our team because not just what he generates off the field but because he is just a phenomenal player.”
Angel's contributions to the game and the club probably do not merit such a laudatory assessment, but the gap is not as wide as some might suspect if the spectrum is limited to MLS. The 34-year-old striker has made his mark in the American top flight and, to be fair, has made a considerable amount of money in doing so. Suitors here and abroad will line up to court Angel if he indeed leaves New York at the end of the campaign, so it is not as if his future is New York or bust.
Yet as many foreign arrivals would suggest, the allure of playing in New York offers rewards unmatched in other destinations. Constant buzz is one of them. The current chatter will continue to swirl around James and Henry, even though one will likely pass on New York and the other appears signed-and-delivered to play in New Jersey. It may take some time, however, to see whether the focus on the incoming traffic will eventually shift to the possible departure of another, less-heralded player well deserving of his berth among the successful names already in lights.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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