I love watching the MLS. The American pro “soccer” league is blossoming. A renaissance that started with the signing of David Beckham and continues to build with a somewhat rare mix. It is a league that gives opportunity to those who may be struggling in the more established professional leagues while at the same time attracts big name stars at the end of their careers.
This can lead to some interesting and somewhat unlikely team lineups. I was first fascinated by the LA Galaxy elevens containing both Beckham and former English lower league winger Chris Birchall, but this season the New York Red Bulls have produced an even unlikelier pairing.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau were the original odd couple, where the differing lifestyles of two friends are at constant loggerheads. In footballing terms, the contrasting lifestyles of the Red Bulls forward line is as drastic.
Thierry Henry is football royalty. The Frenchman is as popular a man as he is revered as a player, highly decorated and having played for some of the worlds biggest clubs, he can boast Lionel Messi as a former teammate and is a World Cup winner.
Luke Rodgers is football proletariat. The Englishman has earned a reputation as a troublemaker and a bad boy while plying his trade in the lower echelons of the English professional game. He can boast the likes of Lee Hughes as a former teammate and is a League Two winner.
There is a saying when something extraordinary happens Stateside “Only in America”, and only in the MLS could these two form a successful partnership.
Henry’s career began in Monaco and the glamourous setting of the French Riviera in 1994. By 1997, it was already clear that his future lay away from Ligue 1, having already secured a league title and a French Young Footballer of the Year award. By January 1999, Henry was a World Cup winner with his country and a £10 million man, on his way to the Stadio Delle Alpi and Italy’s “Old Lady” Juventus. The summer before, Luke Rodgers was starting his career, with Shrewsbury Town in the English Third Division. His spell at the Shrews was successful on a personal front, goals coming with relative ease, but as a club the Gay Meadow side dropped into the conference and non-league football.
It wasn’t all rosy for Henry either. His spell in Italy lasted just seven months, unsuited to the Italian style of play he made an £11 million move to Arsenal and the English Premier League that summer. Henry’s eight seasons for the Gunners are well documented. Premier League titles and FA Cups were joined by unbeaten seasons and being named the PFA player of the year. Twice. Not to mention a European Championship title with his country. In the same time, Rodgers had a achieved a Conference play-off win and a move to League One with Crewe Alexandra.
In the summer of 2007, with heavy heart, Thierry left Arsenal and headed for the Nou Camp in a £20 million deal, in the previous January Port Vale had splashed out £30k for Rodgers services. Henry added the Champions League to his collection of honours in 2009, surrounded by two La Liga titles. While he celebrated the the second of those titles, Rodgers was celebrating his only career trophy, having won League Two with Notts County(the only club where the two shared a former teammate in Sol Campbell, all be it for only one game).
Henry headed to the MLS in July 2010, and was joined by Rodgers in January of this year, their careers couldn’t be more different, but actually in the land of opportunity, Rodgers is taking his. The pair have struck up a potent partnership, and the New York Red Bulls are currently top of the Eastern Conference. Rodgers career may not be glamourous, but he has always been a goalscorer, and one that gives the teams he plays for a good return. He already has five this term for the Red Bull arena side and several assists for his more cultured partner. Henry has seven himself and the New York side look like they will be certain play-off challengers with the combination of the traditional aggressive striker in Rodgers and the tricky ball player up front.
This doesn’t happen anywhere else, perhaps the AFL to a lesser extent, but just think what we could see from the MLS in years to come? Messi & Dean Bowditch? Long may it continue.