Credit where credit is due

Why the MLS is a special and unique league and deserves more credit
by Herb Scribner   |   Monday, December 26, 2011

Major League Soccer (MLS)

By the looks of the news this past week, a lot of Major League Soccer stars are heading off to places abroad, joining the likes of Clint Dempsey at foreign clubs after plying their earlier careers in the MLS.

This also includes legendary David Beckham who, though the reports are being called premature, has been linked to a move to Paris-Saint Germain. This is a move which would take him away from the MLS, a league he’s called home for five years.

Couple that with Omar Gonzalez, another Los Angeles Galaxy player who has done some serious work on the backline for his championship squad in 2011. He’s apparently linked to a move to the EPL or Mexico's Primera Division. Not bad.

What this shows isn’t that the MLS is losing players, but rather that the league has something special, something that other leagues don’t have. It shows that this league can not only incubate a young player’s career and groom him for the path of professional soccer, but also rejuvenate and elongate a career for aging players.

While Beckham will likely always have one of the nastiest crosses on the planet, and will always remain talented in that aspect even in the twilight of his playing days, look back at how this year, more than ever, Beckham pushed himself and carried the Galaxy in several matches of their playoff run. In the MLS Cup final against the Houston Dynamo, Beckham played the entire match – this despite carrying a niggling injury - mentioned post-match to the crowd by Landon Donovan after he received the Man-of-the-Match award. It all led to Becks being named Comeback Player of the Year.

Other than Beckham, look at Theirry Henry. He hasn’t been the dynamite scorer that many imagined him to be (though he finished 3rd in MLS scoring leaders in 2011) when he first stepped on an MLS pitch, but he has made enough noise that Arsenal -- his former club, which doesn’t have any room for error -- is considering him for a short-term loan deal. That says volumes, considering that Henry was at his best when he played for the Gunners earlier in the decade.

And besides these two players getting another shot at playing abroad, look at some of the other big names that have been linked to moves to the MLS. Temperamental French striker Nicolas Anelka, until only about a week ago, was rumored to join francophone Montreal Impact, but that broke down. And recently, it seems the Impact have had talks with Italian star Alessandro Del Piero. Two big names that are looking to make waves in the MLS similar to how Beckham and Henry have. There’s also been rumors of Diego Forlan coming to the States as well to finish out his career.

I get that these are all, for the most part, just rumors and aren’t official signings as of yet. But take a look at what this means on a broader scale. This isn’t the fact that MLS can wheel-and-deal players, or that it can successfully negotiate and spend loads of cash on international stars at their peaks.

Rather, this shows that the MLS is being seriously considered as a top league. Obviously it isn’t on the level of Spain’s La Liga or the English Premier League in terms of prestige and glamour, but it’s housed several top names from modern soccer’s glitterati. Before there was Henry, Beckham, Keane, Frings, Marquez and Angel there were Donadoni, Valderrama, Zenga, Matthaus, Stoichkov, Djorkaeff, Schelotto, Blanco and Ljungberg. Its entire history, the MLS has had a few incredible aging stars finish their careers in the league. The difference now is that those big names are co-joined with a growing list of North Americans staying home and possibly a few future foreign starlets sprinkled among them.

It also begs the question as to what does the MLS strives to be, at the end of the day. Does it want to be the next EPL, and have four-to-five teams battling it out for supremacy? Or to be La Liga, with two giants clashing for the top spot? Or how about a Bundesliga, where it’s nearly anybody’s game for most of the season?

It’s up to the MLS to decide its own fate of course. But right now, with all these youngsters getting trials and tryouts with foreign clubs, and the stars of yesterday coming into the league and getting some time to shine one last time for non-European audiences, it looks like the talent flow is moving and changing, rapidly. And with all of that perennial flux, it only adds mystery and intrigue to which team can rise to the top each season.

MLS is a special league, a unique league. It’s different than any other because not only does it build up young players, but it gives a second shot for the aging players. And we should all be okay with that.


UMass Amherst
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FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.