Soccer got a new home in the New York area when the Red Bulls opened their stadium in Harrison, New Jersey earlier this year. Now it might get a superstar to rival any in Major League Soccer.
Multiple sources, including SI.com and the Daily News, are reporting that French striker Thierry Henry will be joining the Red Bulls after playing in the World Cup in South Africa next month. Henry currently plays his club soccer for Spanish powerhouse Barcelona, but has struggled this season and the team's interest in relieving themselves of the remaining year on his contract makes sense. None of the reports indicate what kind of money the Red Bulls would have to send to Spain to make the deal work, but the amount would almost certainly be made up in attendance if Henry should appear on our shores.
Right now, the Red Bulls are averaging around 18,000 fans per game, a huge increase from previous seasons at Giants Stadium but there's still about 7,000 seats to fill for regular sellouts. Henry's soccer celebrity makes him a big draw to locals who might not normally follow MLS action and his appearances in Gillette commercials with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer means that even more casual observers are familiar with his body of work.
He'd also help a team that has outperformed expectations continue to spend time at the top of the standings this season. There have been many reasons why the Red Bulls (and MetroStars before them) failed to capture much local interest but the fact that they've rarely, if ever, been any good are right at the top of the list. With Henry, the team should be better -- even if he's lost a step, it's a step most MLS players never had in the first place -- and generate even more interest.
The only downside might come from locals of Irish descent who still harbor a grudge against Henry and France for the controversial goal that eliminated the Irish national team from World Cup qualifying. Henry used his hand to control a ball near the net and then set up the winning goal. Thanks to soccer's primacy in just about every other country on the globe, it was an international incident of the highest order and one that will surely be rehashed ad nauseum when the French take the pitch at the World Cup.
That's not much of a negative, though. If people want to come to boo Henry, they still have to pay to get through the turnstiles and all the attention means that Henry is known by even more people than other greats who haven't been accused of cheating their way into the sport's biggest event. In short, Henry makes all kinds of sense to the Red Bulls.
It makes all kinds of sense for Henry as well. Accessing the New York/U.S. markets makes all the sense in the world to a player who, at 32, will soon need to transition off the field. He's fluent in English, telegenic and as perfect a fit for a cosmopolitan city as David Beckham was for celebrity obsessed Los Angeles.
So it looks like we won't need LeBron to choose the Knicks to land a global icon this summer after all.