MLS Debate: Who Fits Better In New York, Del Piero Or Henry?

With rumors of two legends heading to MLS, examines who would be the best fit in New York.
Since the inception of MLS, the New York outfit, whether it was the MetroStars or currently the Red Bulls, has been the hub that all the unending “coming to America” rumors have descended upon. Those linked to the club tend to have much in common, most have enjoyed illustrious club and international careers; yet, are also unfortunately approaching retirement rather than their athletic heights. A final similarity is that scant few are realistic with most just being ephemeral dreams never to be seen in a New York kit.

Although many of the “exclusive reports” are called on their ridiculousness and are never substantiated, the potential signing of Alessandro del Piero, first printed in the pink pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport, is an intriguing proposal and may be possible after a friendly with Juventus was announced for May 23rd in Red Bull Arena.

From the Red Bulls perspective, the acquisition would make sense as they attempt to draw soccer supporters from New York City into their newly built stadium in the midst of New Jersey. But the club has been perpetually linked with another particular World Cup winning striker, Thierry Henry, to the point that the origins of the rumor are as difficult to pinpoint as the origins of European folktales. The arrival of both superstars is unlikely as the Red Bulls already have a Designated Player in striker Juan Pablo Angel. But regardless of the differing likeliness of the rumors, which superstar would be the better fit in NY?

During the post match conference after his side’s victory over FC Dallas, Hans Backe revealed an interesting reason for the signing of Brian Nielsen. Although the former Danish youth international typically appears at left midfield, he could also appear as a “second striker”.

“When we play away, perhaps against the bigger teams, and probably need to defend a little bit more, for example the LA Galaxy away" Backe answered that Nielsen could be used as a withdrawn forward.

When asked about who would make way to accommodate a second striker in the starting eleven, Backe stated, “probably one of the strikers.”

These two statements indicate that Alessandro del Piero would be the better fit for the team that Backe and general manager Erick Soler are trying to mold.

Del Piero would provide Backe the versatility to align his team in his usual 4-4-2 or the more defensive 4-5-1. The all-time goal scorer and most capped player of Juventus could complement Angel in the best attacking line in MLS or lie a little deeper for greater protection in the midfield.

Thierry Henry is obviously a stellar player, but neither he nor Angel could really fit into the formation; there is no reason to pay millions for a player if you aren’t going to optimize his play.

One advantage of Henry is that while del Piero is 35, the Frenchman is a “mere” 32 years old. Yet, I still give del Piero the advantage in terms of who would have the more enduring career in New York. The qualities that make Il Pinturicchio such an immaculate player are eternal; his physical ability may diminish, but his finishing and creativity will always remain. I’m not denying that Henry does not also possess phenomenal skill, but what made him soar at Arsenal was his tremendous pace. Henry’s current campaign may reveal that his age is finally catching up with him.

MLS has always been regarded as a league that relies upon physicality rather than skill. This might make some shy away from the 5 foot 8 inch Italian, but in recent years Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Youri Djorkaeff have proven that wily veterans can have more success than even the greatest American athletes.

A final edge for del Piero is that as we all know Italian-Americans are the quintessential New Yorkers. Italy is the country from Europe that has the greatest descendants in NYC. As a Juventus legend, del Piero would have the star power to draw from Staten Island and the Bronx. Not that Thierry Henry wouldn’t elicit a response at the ticket gate, but del Piero is an individual that those not normally interested in American soccer could relate with.

But here is a final proposition that could satiate both sides of the debate; the Red Bulls have made it known that they are interested in purchasing a third designated player slot. Who wouldn't want to see both European goalscorers brought in to creating an attacking frontline with Angel. Negotiations for 2011 would be a nightmare, but I will look past that for the time being. Let me get back to daydreaming of that triumvirate.

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