The pace of development in the game here is certainly more plodding than some people would like. But for such a major undertaking, it really does move at a nice pace, all things considered.
The important message here is this: MLS and the domestic soccer establishment in general is far more prepared to reap the publicity benefits of a player like Henry now – in a lot of different ways.
Think for a second about the stadiums Beckham initially encountered as he landed on MLS shores in 2007. Three of the first five MLS stadiums Beckham visited fell squarely into the “less than perfect” category. The Galaxy played on the artificial turf at BMO, then inside the ill fitting NFL stadiums in
This stuff matters. The cameras and reporters follow Beckham. What they see screams “temporary.” They tell stories as if MLS was the circus – you know, the circus comes to town, everyone has a good time and then the performers move on.
Dedicated stadiums add a real sense of permanence, a better sense of “place” for professional soccer in the
Now look at Henry and the Red Bulls and what they’ll be seeing in the near future:
Henry will play three months of MLS regular season matches and only once go into a stadium that’s not made for soccer. That will be next week down in
Otherwise, the Red Bulls visit
That’s where Henry and the Red Bulls will be tonight, facing the nouveau riche of
Also consider the footprint of MLS. As Beckham was announced as Major League Soccer’s bell cow in January of 2007, MLS had just completed a season in which just 12 teams competed. Now, Henry is part of a 16-team league. By next year, it will be an 18-team operation.
That’s vital – and it’s critical that MLS keeps expanding its national footprint. Yes, I know the dangers of unchecked expansion, and these things should be carefully governed so that expenses don’t spiral beyond control. (I’m a little concerned about the long-term ramifications of the third DP, for example.) But generally speaking, MLS has no presence in markets where there isn’t an MLS team. So there are wonderful cities in this big ol’ country where MLS remains little more than a rumor. Think about
Nor is there an MLS presence in
So there’s plenty of work to be done. But the landscape in 2010 looks a lot better than it did just three years ago. Henry is here, and he may soon be joined by a couple of other giants of the global game. MLS is much better positioned today than yesterday to exploit the attached PR blast.