Thierry Henry Comes to America
The French soccer star will be the new black face of U.S. soccer.
There's a very good chance that Henry is coming to America to reverse the sagging fortunes of his recent career. After a storied tenure with Arsenal, his contract was sold to top-ranked Barcelona, where he did not fare as well and was released. Henry was involved in a major international controversy last November during a World Cup qualifying match against Ireland. He committed a hand ball that was not called by the referee, before sending a crossing pass to a teammate who scored the winning goal.
There was an international outrage over the missed call, and even Henry suggested that in the name of fairness, the match should be replayed (though the sport's governing body, FIFA, turned a deaf ear to such demands). In this year's World Cup, France turned in a desultory performance, scored only one goal, failed to win even one match, suffered a team mutiny and didn't advance beyond the first round of the tournament. Thus, the Red Bulls and America offer one of soccer's leading men a fresh start. And he arrives at a time when his celebrity could rise quickly here.
Henry's signing is another big step in a long road to the mainstream for soccer in America. It may be a generation before the sport finds itself on the same footing as the NBA or Major League Baseball, but the NFL's rise didn't happen overnight. The forward pass, the play that elevated the league from a variation of rugby to a more up-tempo and telegenic sport, became an integral part of the game in the early '40s, but the NFL didn't become a national pastime until the mid '60s. It may take a comparable period of time for soccer to become vastly popular in America, but its rise seems inevitable. Even more so with Thierry Henry in a Red Bulls jersey.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.