UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — When they first took the field in 1996, one of the 10 original clubs to form MLS, the New York franchise—then named the MetroStars—was supposed to be the league’s flagship.
With a few exceptions, that flagship has waved the white flag: no major trophies, many disappointing seasons, and a record number of squad members as the club tried to find a successful formula. Year after year, promises of big names and MLS Cups fell flat. There seemed to be no continuity and no hope.
In fact, in 1999, a German sports newspaper called the franchise the worst soccer team in the world, following a disastrous 7-25 mark and a last-place finish.
But today, things changed.
Long gone is the MetroStars moniker, Giants Stadium, and busts like Lothar Matthäus. Now the team is known as the Red Bulls. They play in Red Bull Arena, their very own a $200 million state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium. And the side has just signed one of the greatest players of his generation: Thierry Henry.
WATCH: Interview with Thierry Henry
Holding midfielder Seth Stammler, the club’s longest tenured player, has lived through all the changes, and he is thrilled with what has transpired.
“There is no doubt [Henry] can play and he is going to come in and contribute right away,” Stammler said. “Hopefully he can take our team to the next level as we chase the top of the East, the overall MLS points lead and obviously take that momentum into the playoffs and a chance at the MLS Cup.”
There may be no player on the team who woke up with a bigger smile on Wednesday morning than the captain, Juan Pablo Angel. The striker is one of the league’s most feared and consistent scorers—he has 54 goals in 87 regular-season games—despite playing with several partners up top.
Now he will have a fellow world-class forward to knock goals in with. Angel played against Henry when the Colombian striker suited up for English Premier League side Aston Villa, and he is thrilled at the prospects of the new partnership.
WATCH: Henry Photoshoot
“He’s arguably one of the best players in our generation,” Angel said. “He’s a player that has won everything he could possibly win in this sport and he’s still fit. I think it’s an honor to have him here. He’s going to be a tremendous addition to the league, to the Red Bulls. It keeps showing how much effort this company is putting in for this sport in the country.”
And the newcomers, such as rookie defender Tim Ream, are overwhelmingly excited.
“It’s kind of wild to think about it,” Ream said. “Coming in, I knew I was going to be playing with Juan Pablo and I knew what kind of player he was. You put [Angel and Henry] together—it’s pretty incredible. There is not much you can say about them. They are just spectacular players.”
And that front two, after 15 years of waiting, might finally give New York fans the sight they’ve longed to see—their captain lifting the MLS Cup.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.