Stop turning MLS into a retirement league
April 11, 2017
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Like a bunch of cars with nice bodies and worn out engines parked in a scrap yard, Major League Soccer (MLS) has become a league with nice stadiums and a plethora of old players hustling for retirement money. For this reason, MLS lacks the class, grit, athleticism and high-caliber players to have the league on par with other big-spending leagues.
Of recent, the Chicago Fire signed German international Bastian Schweinsteiger, a player that has won more titles and silverware than any other player in the MLS. He scored during his debut match for the Fire, and so far he has been brilliant for his team.
Here is the irony: signing a player like Schweinsteiger is the very reason why MLS, despite the huge spending on players and stadiums, still struggles with its TV ratings. Schweinsteiger at the age of 32 isn’t that player you can build a franchise around. In fact, 10 years ago when he was fantastic for Germany and Bayern Munich, he wouldn’t have thought about playing in the MLS.
Managers in the MLS believe signing accomplished players who are getting ready for retirement is a way to have fans attracted to these teams.
The Red Bulls thought it wise to bring Thierry Henry after his heroic performances at Arsenal and Barcelona to prove he was the guy their team needed to boost their striking options. Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer and a former hit man at Barcelona David Villa didn’t move to New York City FC till the torrid days of his career when Barcelona started to look for younger options.
England’s Shaun Wright-Phillips will also be remembered for this dwindling path. From Manchester City, he signed a big deal with Chelsea in 1999. He became an important part of the team and was even good enough to get a place back at Manchester City when its new wealthy owner Sheikh Mansour wanted trophies. His poor performance forced him to sign with a relegation zone team like the Queens Park Rangers. The Red Bulls and Phoenix Rising FC were his most recent options for banking retirement money.
This is a charade to soccer enthusiasts across the country.
What is wrong with recruiting the best young players in high schools and universities across the country? MLS has some examples and methodologies to mimic. Leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLB are classic examples of how a sound recruitment process for American players should be carried out.
Don’t drag this major frailty of the MLS into the touted conversation that defends the existence of the best basketball, football, and baseball programs as being something very unique to the United States.
Basketball, football and baseball teams in Europe and Asia do not spend the same money on their programs like the teams in the U.S. On the contrary, MLS teams are capable of spending the same amount of money on players and league development like teams in England, Spain and Germany.
Stop airing games on the radio. Sign great television contracts. Bring in some young talent, and let’s see what happens.
Currently, the most celebrated American soccer player is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. Unlike other leagues that have been able to keep their country’s best player at home, no team in the MLS can successfully lure the Pennsylvania native. He will be back at the age of 30 without his present verve to get that retirement money.
Tim Howard, in my mind, the best goalie to play in the World Cup, with 16 saves against a meteoric team like Belgium, didn’t play in America during his prime years. Howard ended his stint in Merseyside with English Premier League (EPL) side Everton in 2016 at the age of 37 for the Colorado Rapids. Now let us watch a 38-year-old superstar.
I am able to watch 10 EPL weekend games. I can’t say the same thing about the MLS. Maybe when I’m ready to retire, or at least old enough to sympathize with the current state of soccer in the MLS, the MLS will have something for me to cheer for.