MLS officially announced the 2014 Expansion Draft rules, and it just may be the catalyst for Thierry Henry to say whether he plans to return to the New York Red Bulls in 2015 or not. I'm not going to list all the rules here, but if you want to read the full set, you can read them on MLS Press Box. The catalyst for Henry though are the these three specific rules (emphasis mine):
- MLS clubs may protect 11 players between their Senior Roster and their Supplemental Roster. If the player’s contract expires at the end of 2014, he will still be considered part of the club’s roster.
- If a player retires, he will not be a part of the club’s roster, but his club will lose its right of first refusal to him should he ultimately decide to play.
- Designated Players are NOT automatically protected (i.e., clubs must choose whether to protect such players and if such player is not protected, he will be available for selection in the Expansion Draft). However, if the Designated Player has a no-trade clause in his contract, then his MLS club must protect him and he will count as one of the 11 players who may be protected.
One of the major narratives of this year for the Red Bulls has been "will Henry retire/leave?" For his part, Henry has been quiet on the matter, wanting to focus on this season and not let the story line of a possible farewell tour (ala Landon Donovan) be a distraction. However, given these rules and the date of the expansion draft being 3 days after the MLS Cup final, the decision has to be announced sooner rather than later.
Presumably, the second rule listed was to help clarify the situation for the LA Galaxy and Donovan, who is himself retiring at the end of the year, as it was not a rule (at least not a clearly stated one if so) for the last expansion draft in 2011. A side effect though is that Henry won't be able to wait too long to announce his intentions, at least to the team. We'll all end up finding out his decision by December 10th regardless, but he should announce it publicly now. Why?
Aside from letting the team know so they can plan for the expansion draft, saying so now could provide a huge boost for the team as they try to send their captain out on top. Also, imagine how crazy Red Bull Arena would be on Sunday (which is already sold out) if the crowd knew that it was Henry's last ever home game (Red Bulls have to travel out West if they advance). Henry deserves a proper send off, and he may not get it if he waits until after Sunday to say he's done with MLS/Soccer. He's waited to make a decision for obvious reasons, but now he's going to be forced to make a call. Might as well clear the air now and allow the only distraction to be if he'll play on turf or not in New England.