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Thierry Henry Officially Joins New York Red Bulls

Jul 14, 2010 – 12:14 PM
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Michael Cardillo

Michael Cardillo %BloggerTitle%

Thierry Henry Red Bull New YorkThe worst-kept secret in MLS became official Wednesday morning when the New York Red Bulls announced the signing of French star Thierry Henry through a mass text message to anyone who's purchased tickets to their sparkling new home arena.

Henry's arrival was also trumpeted via a full-page ad in Wednesday's New York Times proclaiming, "Bienvenue Thierry Henry."

This move, of course, has been one of the longest-standing MLS rumors with Henry -- who's made his love of visiting New York no secret -- linked to a move ever since the league created its designated player roster allotments, which allows clubs to spend over the salary cap on up to three players.

Henry will be introduced to New York in a Thursday afternoon press conference, once the MLS transfer window officially opens.

Details of Henry's contract are still unclear, though the club has labeled it a "multi-year" deal, and that he will indeed fall under the designated player slot, joining Colombian Juan Pablo Angel on New York's roster. It remains to be seen, too, if the Red Bulls paid Barcelona a transfer fee since Henry still had one year left on his contract with the Spanish champs.

The Red Bulls are probably fortunate that they'll wait another 24 hours before unveiling the most famous player in club history since most of the New York media is still tied up by the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

It is, however, typical luck for the attention-craving Red Bulls to schedule the Henry news on what is usually the slowest sports day of the year -- the day after the MLB All-Star Game -- only to see it coincide with a story that with probably generate the most ink in Gotham all year.

It was a chance to crack the "back pages" for probably the first time in team history, only to be bumped off by the passing of a New York icon.

Some will probably question whether or not New York's capture of Henry's signature is a move based at revving up attention at the brand new Red Bull Arena or if it's a sporting decision.

The answer is probably a little of both.

Since opening in March, Red Bull Arena is averaging just over 16,000 fans through eight MLS matches, which is nearly a 50 percent increase from the team's 2009 attendance at Giants Stadium. That said, it's far below the 25,000-seat capacity. Logic would dictate a major, marquee signing like Henry would provide some bump at the gate.

The Red Bulls next home game is July 22 against English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the Barclay's NY Challenge, a match the club is touting as Henry's debut in New York.

Also, the club seems to already be pushing his No. 14 jersey fairly hard, which you can't really blame them for.

How much the 32-year-old ex-Arsenal legend has left in the tank is open for debate.
At Barcelona last season, Henry only made 15 starts, scoring just four goals as he was marginalized by emerging homegrown youngster Pedro. The Spanish champs also signed World Cup star David Villa away from Valencia for big money, so Henry's chances at seeing the field at the Camp Nou were unlikely at best next season.

Henry was marginalized, too, during France's World Cup debacle, playing only a combined 53 minutes in two substitutes appearances.

Still, the combination of Henry and Angel should, at least on paper, give New York the most fearsome forward line in MLS.

Through a video posted on the Red Bull website, Henry is at least saying the right things:

"Some people might think I am going to go there for vacation -- I do actually go there for vacation -- but it won't be for vacation this time. I'm a competitor and I don't like to lose.''

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The question going forward for New York is that, if the Henry name is enough to make the Red Bulls relevant in a crowded New York market, where they've been an afterthought throughout their history dating back to the days of the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars. The team has tried in the past to go the foreign route, but never had a player with the potential mass appeal as Henry. Even if he's getting older, Henry still has the potential to pull some Euro-centric MLS-doubters to at least a game or two at Red Bull Arena.

For soccer fans, Henry's name certainly means something whether it's his wonderful play during his time in North London, or for his now infamous handball in that World Cup playoff qualifier vs. Ireland. Even at 32 he's still a player you'd specifically pay money to go watch play.

Though, he isn't David Beckham, a name that transcends beyond the realm of soccer fans, even if Henry did appear in a series of ads for Gillette with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer a few years ago. He isn't a crossover media star, but that probably shouldn't matter to soccer fans.

Apparently, Henry's a big enough name for Jimmy Fallon to book him on his NBC "Late Night" show Thursday, which is a place you're not finding any MLS players who aren't named Beckham or Donovan.

However this all pans out, at least the Red Bulls are willing to spend money to try to make it work in the crowded New York sports market. Henry, no pun intended, should lend a helping hand in achieving that goal.
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