Last night, Thierry Henry scored on his debut for New York Red Bull’s against old foes, Tottenham Hotspur in a 2-1 defeat. The recently retired French International scored on the 32nd minute only for Robbie Keane and Gareth Bale to pull two back and claim the game.
Perhaps more importantly though was the potential Henrys influence could have on the league.
Its footballs worst kept secret that Americans are waking up to football, but is it only apparent to us football mad Europeans and not so obvious state side? Im not too sure. There are certainly corners of the country that are doing their best to promote the sport but whether its working or not is another matter.
Looking at certain figures it paints a bleak picture, the MLS figures on the two major TV providers, ESPN2 and Fox Soccer Channel saw average figure’s for match day’s last season at merely 251,000 and 53,000 respectively – only just 0.2 percent of the market.
But there is good news.
Landon Donovan’s appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman last month was a milestone moment for football, the sport’s leading US player on the nation’s biggest show, illustrating that Americans are willing to sit and listen to a soccer player talk about the sport, and not just because hes married to a Spice Girl.
And its not just talk shows that Americans are getting their daily dosage of soccer. A total of 19.4m people watched the USA’s loss to Ghana in the second round of the tournament and 24.3m people watched the final between Spain and the Netherlands, which might mean next to nothing until you compare it to the 22.3m people that watched the Baseball World Series and the mere 8.3mil that watched Ice Hockeys Stanley cup.
Attendances are also on the rise, with an average attendance of 16,000 across the league and Seattle Sounders now at an average Attendance of 36,000 and Philadelphia Union’s close to 22,000, it shows that in certain parts of the country, the sport is really beginning to take off.
One of the most important factors though, is which kind of signing Thierry Henry is. Many will compare him to Beckhams move to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid a few years ago and think its merely another media stunt to get more people in Manchester, Paris or Hong Kong wearing Red Bull t-shirts.I disagree, i think that stage of the MLS is nearing its end, and this signing was specifically for the sake of the teams progress in the league.
Last year Beckham, the biggest sporting good in the world, was peeked by local boy Landon Donovan for the MVP award. Kevin Baxter puts it perfectly in the Los Angeles Times saying:
”Clearly the league still believes it needs foreign stars to legitimise itself, but I’m not sure I agree. When I was in Durban during the World Cup, I was wearing a Galaxy T-shirt and two employees in the hotel said, ‘Oh, LA Galaxy. David Beckham’. That’s exactly what the MLS wanted. But Landon Donovan is definitely the face of the league now. He was the MVP [most valuable player] last season and had a good World Cup, so he’s the flavour of the month.”
The impressive form of Donovan for Everton in the Premier League, the National squad at The World Cup and additionally, the arrival of Thierry Henry, says that foreign stars can move to the MLS for competitive football, and that the league is reaching a level where it simply isnt a retirement home.His move signals a new type of player coming to the league looking for somewhere to apply his trade, rather than a villa in Hollywood and a spot at the MTV awards.