With millions of soccer fans in North America recovering from World Cup withdrawal, Thierry Henry is a recognizable international star who is a great addition for the New York Red Bulls and Major League Soccer as he can generate increased attention and interest both with television audiences and at Red Bulls games around the country. While the arrival of Thierry Henry has not created as much hype as when David Beckham signed his “total value” $250 million contact with the L.A. Galaxy, Henry’s overall impact on the league may be much more significant in the long-term.
ESPN may not feature Red Bull games just because of Henry (and for better or worse, the use of the “Beckham cam” that followed David around as he sat on the bench, warmed up, and ultimately entered the game instead of covering the action on the field), but that’s okay because a one-time event television audience isn’t what’s going to help the league develop. For the record, David Beckham brought an enormous amount of talent to the L.A. Galaxy, but his rollout and first few years were overshadowed by a forced and manipulated rollout/PR strategy that felt similar to the recent Lebronathon debacle.
Fortunately, the Henry announcement has been long anticipated yet modest. MLS is hoping that Henry and other big name signings encourage other players to accept one of each team’s three designated player slots. Immediately, Ronaldinho comes to mind as a recognizable soccer icon whose rumored move to the L.A. Galaxy would improve one of the better MLS teams and attract both national and international attention. At the same time, this would put the pressure on more conservative owners using one or even zero of their designated player slots to spend a bit more to keep up.
While MLS players were able to negotiate marginally better wages and standard contracts back in March, owners are kept from spending more than $2.5 million on their entire roster aside from the designated players whose salaries do not count against the cap.
However, it’s good to see MLS team owners not just spending limited resources to sign designated players for the sake of doing so. If a player doesn’t fit in a system or a more talented/recognizable player might become available next season, it’s worth it to wait. Major League Soccer is not the N.B.A. where Darko Milicic receives a multi-year, $20 million contract. The owner of the Philadelphia Union got it right, saying that spending big bucks on low-impact, low-revenue generating designated players is wasteful and will not grow soccer in the United States like directing more resources to the club’s youth academy systems.
All in all, while he’s not promoted as being the “ambassador of soccer” to the United States as Beckham was, Henry will look to make a huge impact for the Red Bulls and be part of a growing movement toward soccer in the United States. Stay tuned for a NYRB midseason report and predictions for the 2nd half of the season.
Theirry Henry will debut for the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, July 22nd vs English Premiere League club Tottenham Hotspur. Kick-off is at 8 pm with live coverage on Fox Soccer Channel.