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The Amandine Henry signing and what it means

Can Amandine Henry help fill more NWSL stadiums? (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Can Amandine Henry help fill more NWSL stadiums? (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

After more than two months of speculation and anticipation, Amandine Henry finally has a signed contract to play in NWSL.  The Silver Ball winner from last summer’s World Cup will join the Thorns when her Lyon contract runs out—possibly as early as June 1.  The announcement brought with it the expected buzz, as did the initial reports in January.  But what does it really mean?

Henry is good and she can help any team:  Mark Parsons described Henry perfectly in his statement that was included in the announcement from the Thorns.  “Her ability to control the game in the center of midfield helps everyone else do their job better,” the Thorns head coach said.  “She has exceptional passing range, is very intelligent on and off the ball, and can score special goals as she proved in the World Cup last year.”

{MORE:  Thorns make it official, sign Amandine Henry}

Henry can dictate attacking play from a deeper position than any woman in the world, and as Parsons noted, can also be dangerous when advancing into more forward positions.  Simply put there is hardly a team on the planet she can’t help.  Thorns fans must already be losing sleep over the prospects of Henry orchestrating for the likes of Tobin Heath, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and Nadia Nadim.

Henry won’t be a traditional defensive midfielder in terms of tackling and ball-winning, but her presence and technical skill will still put loads of pressure on opposing offences not to give the ball away in vulnerable positions.  In short there are very few if any areas of the game where Henry is not capable of making the Thorns better.

Who will lose playing time when Henry arrives? This is always an unfortunate side effect of big signings that happen in the middle of the season.  On the flipside, these things have a tendency to work themselves out.  Players get injured or go off form, opening up playing time for the newcomers.  Overcrowding can be an issue, but on the scale of issues that confront coaches it ranks pretty close to the bottom.

With that said, the name to watch is Allie Long.  A fixture in the Thorns midfield since day one, Long can play the top or bottom of the midfield though not necessarily out wide.  With Lindsay Horan in the team and battling for an Olympic spot, Long would seem to be the odd woman out among those three.  Then again Parsons could always resort to a 4-2-3-1 with Horan and Henry sitting deep and Long flanking two wide midfielders on top of them.  But that would mean only one between Christine Sinclair, Nadia Nadim, and Jodie Taylor seeing the field.

In truth there are several combinations and shapes that could work and there will be at least one good player that loses significant time when Henry is ready to jump in.  And it very well might be a delicate balancing act for Parsons, albeit one he won’t mind having to balance.

What will Henry’s impact be off the field? There is no doubt the signing of Henry sent shock waves around the women’s soccer world.  Her signing is a huge coup for NWSL which does not have the financial clout of the larger clubs in Europe.  We have yet to hear from Henry publicly, but the assumption is that she left more than a little money on the table to make the move to the United States.

It is unlikely though for Henry’s presence in NWSL to transcend the league to the point of attracting fans from outside the existing scope.  Strengthening the league will certainly bring in more soccer fans but will there be a Henry bump? To date the only two players whose profile was large enough to move attendance needles as road players were Mia Hamm and Marta.  And in both of those cases, the impact gradually wore off. (You can make a case for Alex Morgan and post-World Cup Carli Lloyd, but Morgan has spent too much time injured and Lloyd was part of a more broad phenomenon.)

The biggest MLS drawing card has been David Beckham whose mere presence filled stadiums around the country.  The Beckham Effect did not last forever, but it had residual value in that new fans were brought into the league as a result.  Beckham also spread positive thoughts about MLS back to his friends in Europe.

Henry is not likely to sell too many tickets on her own, and her home market is the one that needs the least help in that department.  In the long term her biggest contribution will be if she helps make the league more compelling and if others follow her lead as they did with Beckham.

Biggest signing in U.S. women’s pro soccer ever? Ah yes, what is good news if we can’t immediately smother it to death by making grand determinations about its exact place on the historical timeline?  The answer here, as always, is that it remains to be seen.  If it can have the affect mentioned above and add competitive legitimacy, as well as set the standard for others to follow, it could certainly wind up as the most significant signing.  But let’s take a look at a few others.

In 2000, former U.S. assistant coach Lauren Gregg took a trip to China.  In her new role as Vice President of player personnel, Gregg was charged with convincing the core of the Chinese national team into WUSA.  It was a two-pronged process.  Not only did the players have to agree, but agreements had to be worked out with the stingy Chinese federation.  Gregg landed the two most prominent members of the team—Sun Wen and Gao Hong—plus Liu Ailing, Fan Yunjie, and Wen Lirong.  The inclusion of the Chinese players gave WUSA immediate standing as the gold standard for women’s soccer around the world.

{WATCH:  Sun Wen’s finest moment in WUSA (watch the entire match while you’re at it}

In 2002, the Carolina Courage signed Birgit Prinz from Germany.  The bruising forward arrived during the season and took the league by storm, helping the Courage win the championship.  A year later, Prinz and fellow WUSA player Maren Meinert tormented the United States on the way to giving Germany the World Cup title.

When WPS came around in 2009 it did so with Marta as its most recognizable and marketable star.  Despite an unwillingness to reveal her English in public, Marta literally sold tickets in every market she visited and was a dynamo for three different teams in three seasons.  The difference with Marta is that it was more expected that she would come to the league rather than considered any big deal.  Her exorbitant salary was also a drag on her clubs, the first two of which folded.  She was even passed on in two different drafts.  In the league’s international draft, she went third to the Los Angeles Sol.  A year later, two teams went elsewhere in the dispersal draft before FC Gold Pride took the plunge.

Five years from now, where will Amandine Henry lie in this discussion? It is way too soon to tell, but it will be lots of fun to watch it all unfold.


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