MLS: Is Thierry Henry the Best Designated Player Signing in League History?

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MLS: Is Thierry Henry the Best Designated Player Signing in League History?
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With two goals—including an MLS Goal of the Week nomination—and an assist in the New York Red Bulls' 4-1 victory over the Columbus Crew on Sunday, Thierry Henry was named MLS Player of the Week.

It’s the third week in a row he’s earned those honors and he is the first player in MLS history to ever win three consecutive Player of the Week awards.

His historic run and impressive start to the season—seven goals and four assists—has New York Red Bulls fans excited. Since coming to the team in the middle of the 2010 season, he has delivered the goods and has been a great Designated Player signing, worth his hefty contract (second-largest in the league).

Signing a player as a Designated Player contract has not historically meant success on the field. Many players such as Luis Angel Landin, Blaise Nkufo and Geovanni have been failed signings.

Henry has been a success. In 42 MLS regular season games, he has 23 goals and 11 assists. Has the Frenchman been the best DP signing in league history, though?

To properly gauge his impact, we first have to exclude guys that graduated to DP salaries. Players like Landon Donovan, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Alvaro Saborio, Fredy Montero and Shalrie Joseph came into the league on normal contracts. They played so well that they earned a raise, one that put them over the DP threshold.

While they’ve had great careers in MLS, they weren’t typical DP signings. They were given the contract because of past success in the league, not as high-profile transfers from teams around the world that face the uncertainty of adapting to the MLS.

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Robbie Keane had a nice run at the end of the season for the Galaxy, scoring four total goals in nine appearances across all competitions, but he needs to play more games in MLS for us to be able to really determine his impact.

The real competition for the best DP signing is between Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and the man the rule was created for, David Beckham.

Blanco was a huge success for the Chicago Fire. His team made the playoffs in each of his three seasons, and in 2007 and 2008 Blanco was selected as a finalist for the MVP award. He was an exceptional talent with a fiery attitude to match.

There could be two slight downsides to his time in MLS—and it could just be nitpicking—but one was that the Fire never made it past the conference finals. In 2009, his last year with the team, the Fire were upset by wild card (and eventual champion) Real Salt Lake.

He also played forward, but only scored 16 goals in three seasons for the team. A player’s value is not measure in goals alone, but as a forward it is your main job, and Blanco did not light up the stats sheet.

Juan Pablo Angel was a lethal scorer for the Red Bulls. He owns the record for most goals scored for the franchise in all competitions with 62, and he was a fan favorite.

Angel was eventually moved out in favor of Henry, however, and the Frenchman hasn’t disappointed, especially with Angel slowing down in past years.

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Angel spent a lot of time in New York with injuries, struggled mightily with the Galaxy, and only scoring three goals all year, and now finishing with Chivas.

As for Beckham, the English midfielder was the reason the DP rule was made. Off the field, he has lived up to all the hype. Beckham-mania has hit the country with all the commercials, magazine covers and jersey sales.

He’s sold out MLS stadiums on the road and his presence has gotten the league more attention and more respectability, and has influenced other international players like Henry to come over and play in the league. It’s hard to imagine any player ever making the kind of commercial impact Beckham has had on the league.

His play on the field, however, has been more tumultuous. Yes, he was part of the league’s Best XI last year and was a major component in the Galaxy winning the MLS Cup. That being said, there has been so much negativity associated with Beckham’s on-field performance.

For the first four years of Beckham’s MLS contract, he spent time either on the bench injured or on loan in Italy. He openly talked about his desire to go back to Europe in order to continue to play for the English national team. He fought with teammates, most notably Landon Donovan.

All in all, he didn’t look like he really wanted to be in or play with the Galaxy, or even in America.

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It wasn’t until the final year of his first MLS contract that Beckham seemed engaged and committed to Los Angeles and the MLS.

Since coming to the MLS, Henry has fully committed to the Red Bulls. He has retired internationally and is giving his full attention to his club team. He’s sometimes cantankerous as a player, he has high expectations for himself and his teammates, and he has no problem unleashing his emotions.

What he has done, on the other hand, is score lots of goals, and he is always the hardest working player on the pitch for the Red Bulls. He knows when to take charge himself or when to let his teammates step up. He was also part of the MLS Best XI last season, along with Beckham.

He still needs to score more goals in big games (like Angel), dominate the league, receive individual attention for his play (like Blanco) and win a championship to go along with his ability to bring in more fans to games (like Beckham), but Henry has only played in 42 games, just a bit more than one full season.

What he has done in a short amount of time has been incredible. He is absolutely one of the best DP signings in league history and he still has a lot of time to do even more for the Red Bulls.

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