With the high profile departure of Brand ‘Beckham’ from LA Galaxy recently, the MLS was thrown back into the spotlight, and question marks will surely be raised as to who will now fill the superstars’ boots as the face of the MLS.
In recent times, the likes of Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez and Robbie Keane have all attempted to have the same brand impact as Beckham, and in turn highlight the MLS as a league to be reckoned with. But has the arrival of these European superstars overshadowed the talent pool the MLS has the potential to develop?
The impact of these players on the pitch is unquestionable. Take the Galaxy for example; the experience supplied by Keane and Beckham has played a huge role in bringing the MLS Cup back to the Home Depot Centre, but perhaps the spotlight has been too focused on the big names rather than forging a sustainable future for the club and creating the next big star.
This is reflected in the US performances at youth level. To date the US under 20’s best finish in an international competition was fourth place in the under 20 World Cup in 1989 and the under-23’s even failed to qualify for last summer’s Olympics in London.
It is not, however, that the US Lacks talent, far from it. You only have to look at high calibre players like Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu and Maurice Edu to see that the talent exists. Neither is it that the standard of coaching in the country is poor. The system ranks among the best in the world and has made huge strides in recent years towards improving standards. I feel however, that to make the MLS known in the footballing community worldwide, they must focus on young home-grown players, rather than plugging gaps in the team, or a drop in shirt sales with a big name the wrong side of thirty from Europe.
However there are risks involved with promoting young, raw players. The US itself is a prime example, take the case of Freddy Adu. He was once touted as the 16 year old American Maradona, and the answer to US football fans dreams, despite still going through puberty. His was a case of too much too soon, and he can now be found struggling to break into the first team at the Philadelphia Union, after a less than successful stint in Europe.
Lessons have to be learned from how Adu’s potential was harnessed, not only from a footballing sense but also from a media perspective.If the league devotes time and patience on bringing through the next generation, they are certain to reap the rewards in a country where over 3 million youth players are registered.
I just hope that the league discourages the clubs from making marquee signings and that in years to come worldwide audiences will witness a league where the big names were nurtured domestically, and in turn inspire further generations.