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Is MLS booming or becoming a retirement ground?

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On the 1st of March, the new MLS season kicks off. The American game has seen a dramatic increase in popularity, especially from Britain and Europe.

The introduction of David Beckham to the league boosted its popularity massively, but since his departure, it has just kept on growing.

With the seemingly constant interest from American clubs for European stars looking for a last big pay deal, is the MLS a serious league or is it a full of old timers getting one last pay day?

The influence of some of the biggest names in football has propelled American "soccer" into the big time.

Whilst the majority of people don't know every member of every squad, checking in to see famous players and how they are doing is common. Thierry Henry is still tearing defences apart, and causing moments that are becoming YouTube sensations. For example, his casual celebration took social media by storm and gained more interest in the New York Red Bulls, as people want to see what he will do next.

The argument that is just a league for the old timers still stands. The exploits of Henry, 36, doesn't really help the stereotype. At the end of last season, 14 players retired. At the end of the Premier League last season, there was 8 retirements including Michael Owen, Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher. But that doesn't prove anything. The number of players retiring varies from year to year. 

Looking at the amount of players over 30 playing in America, it looks similar to the Premier League. There are 103 over 30's playing in America, on average 5.4 players per team. The Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes have the most with 8 within their squad.

The oldest player in the league is Marcus Hahnemann, the former Reading and Wolves keeper, who is 41. The oldest player in the Premier League is another goalkeeper. Brad Friedel is 42 years old, and still playing at the highest level. 

Outfield it's the same story. In the MLS, the oldest player is 37-year-old Montreal Impact striker Marco di Vaio. In the Premier League, the legendary Ryan Giggs takes the title, having played in every single season of the Premier League. So the age argument doesn't have much substance to it.

The majority of squad's attract college stars into their squads, which helps bring the average age of the team down. The quality of players available has increased making the league more competitive which in turn, helps draw a larger audience in.

The increasingly competitive league goes hand in hand with the improvement of the national squad. Over the last two decade, the national squad has proved that they can compete at the highest level.

Hosting the World Cup and reaching the last 16 was the best performance by an American team since 1930. In 2002, they went one stage further and reached the quarter finals which remains their best performance at the World Cup. In 2009, the USA beat Spain in the semi finals of the Confederations cup, ending Spain's 15 game winning streak and 35 unbeaten game run.

Despite having a tough group for the 2014 World Cup, coach Jurgen Klinnsman is confident of getting through the group and says the only thing that matters in winning.

Over the last number of seasons, it seems as if there has been a British invasion to the MLS.

It started with Beckham but now they are 26 British and Irish players in the league including Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Robert Earnshaw, Kenny Miller, Nigel Reo-Coker and Bradley Wright-Phillips. There has been rumours that both Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard could be offered a chance to move to the States when there contract expires in the summer.

The draw of high salaries, warmer climates and the chance to live in America are all very attractive propositions. However, balance this with the long travelling times in between games and the attraction seems less. It is a big choice to move but one that has high rewards.

The amount of money that gets thrown around has helped the league grow and develop. With the introduction of three designated-players rule, it means that the clubs can attract the big name stars from Europe, possibly looking for one last large pay package.

Two of the biggest players to move in this close season have both moved to Toronto FC, both becoming designated players. Jermain Defoe from Tottenham and Michael Bradley, the American who moves from Roma are big acquisitions for the side that finished 9th in the East division last season.

Along with the loan signing of Julio Cesar from QPR, the club have sold all their season tickets, proving that spending big bucks gets the public interested generating more cash for the club. 

Beckham's influence over the MLS may not be over. The former LA Galaxy star is soon to set up a Miami based team and has spoken about trying to persuade stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Cristiano Ronaldo over into his squad.

To do so would take massive funds, but would propel the league even further into the public's attention. The success of the venture and the team will be unknown for a couple of years but the interest in trying to make the American league the best in the world can only be good for the tournament as it grows.

So whilst the MLS may be attracting stars of a certain age, looking for one last pay check, the league is growing rapidly. With the interest from Britain and Europe increasing, aided by the national team's success, it won't be long before the MLS will be taken seriously and not as somewhere to enjoy the good weather whilst sometimes kicking a ball around. American fans will be hoping that this season will produce another close competition, full of excitement.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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