Thierry Henry notes positive changes in his return to MLS

AP – There’s been a shift in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the relatively short time since Thierry Henry was a player.

The former Arsenal star, now the new coach of the Montreal Impact, played for the New York Red Bulls from 2010 to 2014.

Back then, Henry said, MLS was still targetting players from Europe at the end of their careers. Like him.

But now the league is drawing promising young talent from Mexico and South America — signalling a progression from the old ‘retirement league’ reputation MLS once had. The average age of players is skewing younger than a decade ago.

“That’s a sign that the league is evolving,” Henry said.

Henry noted that MLS is retaining young talent, like Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela, who in the past may have gone to Europe.

Head coach of MLS side Montreal Impact Thierry Henry. PHOTO: AP

“I don’t know how far the league can go. It’s up to us obviously, now I’m back in, to make sure that we can elevate the league as much as we can,” he said. “This league has no limits for me, but you need time to reach that level.”

MLS was celebrating its 25th season, and Henry was embarking on his first as coach of the Impact, when play was suspended on March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Montreal had started well, with a win in Henry’s debut as coach over the New England Revolution, and a draw on the road against FC Dallas, before the league was shuttered.

Henry, who signed a two-year contract with the Impact last November, is now navigating the uncertainties of coaching amid a pandemic.

“Well, what’s difficult is not being on the field, as I mentioned before. You cannot beat that. You need to be on the field in order to have a feeling, to have intensity,” he said.

“And when you succeed at what you wanted to do or planned to do for a game or a training session, the players are buying it a bit more because they can feel it a bit better.”

It is Henry’s second stint as a head coach: He had a difficult three-month tenure coaching Monaco, the club he played for as a youth. Before that, he coached the forwards for Belgium, which reached the 2018 World Cup semifinals.

As a player, Henry is France’s all-time top scorer and a winner of the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. He retired from international play in 2010 with 51 goals in 123 appearances.

With Arsenal, Henry held the record for most goals for a foreign player in the English Premier League (175) until Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero passed him in January. Henry remains Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer with 228 goals across all competitions during his time there from 1999-2007.