After close to two hours in the car with his buddy Louis Conover, long-time Arsenal fan Mike Earnest was set to see Thierry Henry play in person for the first time.
Sporting a No. 14 jersey with the French international’s name emblazoned on the back, Earnest couldn’t contain his excitement. He was at Red Bull Arena, with tickets purchased last week, just to see Henry play.
“This [signing] really is huge,” Earnest said. “The Red Bulls are certainly making their presence felt.”
As the fans streamed into the stadium, Red Bulls-clad fans mingled with those sporting Barcelona and Arsenal kits. Even a Philadelphia supporter in a Sons of Ben T-shirt and a New England supporter in kit and scarf were spotted.
It was clear that there were numerous first-time fans in attendance, based off the groups stopping to take photos outside on the concourse and the fans asking for help to get to their seats.
The trio of Dan Teheran and Michael and Nicole Vukovich, all from Monmouth County, N.J., made a last-minute decision to come out for Thursday’s match. All season-ticket holders, the Vukoviches and Teheran weren’t originally interested in the Barclays New York Challenge – but that quickly changed.
“It’s Henry, it’s a historic moment,” Teheran said. “I don’t usually make weeknight games – only on the weekends – but I am here tonight because of Henry.”
Paul Coleman of Kent, England, was certainly not here for Henry, but was on holiday to support his favorite club, Tottenham. He was surprised by the stadium and the fan presence already inside, calling the brand-new $200 million dollar Red Bull Arena “absolutely fantastic.” He didn’t expect a facility like this one in the United States.
“I did a Google Earth search on the location of the arena and there was nothing,” Coleman said with a laugh. “This was a pleasant surprise.”
While he has seen his fair share of Henry when the former Arsenal striker would routinely play against the Spurs, Coleman was complimentary of the player’s decision to play in New York.
“It is good for the game, what he’s doing,” said Coleman, adding that he thinks Henry still has several years of top soccer left in his legs. He even posits that the Frenchman would find a place in the starting XI for Tottenham.
As Conover and Earnest stretch their legs from their long road trip, they said that Thursday night is a chance for MLS to impress them and turn them into fans.
“Now, with Henry here, I think we’ll come back a few times next year,” Conover said.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012