MLS can lure more Premier League stars

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After news broke that Everton midfielder Tim Cahill is set for a shock move to New York Red Bulls, the theory that Major League Soccer in the United States is fast becoming an important player in world football took one more step towards realisation.

With a growing presence of Premier League alumnae now choosing to ply their respective trades across the Atlantic, the profile of the MLS continues to rise.

When David Beckham first put pen to paper on a lucrative five-year deal to sign with LA Galaxy in 2007, much was made of what his celebrity status could do for football as a brand in North America.

Investing in the world's most famous footballer was a calculated risk - following the unprecedented move to introduce the 'designated player rule' - making an exception to the salary cap that has successfully controlled the investment and finances going in, and coming out of one of the country's minority sports.

It's a gamble that paid off, though. Upon the completion of Beckham's initial five-year contract at the end of 2011-12, average attendances in the MLS were up to nearly 18,000 per game, giving an annual total of 5.5 million.

When he arrived before the start of 2007-08, the figure stood at 15,500 per game, with an annual total of 3 million. Admittedly, at the time there were fewer teams participating in the MLS, and the league has flourished from its revamp to the current format. But, Beckham's impact is undeniable.

Thierry Henry followed the former England captain's lead after leaving Arsenal in 2007. The French forward spent three years in Spain with La Liga giants Barcelona, before joining the newly formed New York Red Bulls in 2010, where he can still be found enjoying his football today.

Teemu Tainio, the former Tottenham midfielder, is a team-mate of Henry's in New York, as is former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez completing the trio of highest profile names at the Red Bull Arena. The capture of Cahill is a sign of further progress, though, with the club finally proving capable of signing a player still in his prime.

The 32-year-old midfielder has been a revelation with Everton since joining them from Millwall in 2004, scoring 68 goals in 278 appearances during an eight-year spell with the Merseyside club.

A statement on the Toffees' official website confirmed: "Everton have agreed with Major League Soccer (MLS) that Tim Cahill can be transferred to the New York Red Bulls.

"Tim, 32, will move to the Red Bulls for a nominal fee, subject to agreeing personal terms and passing a medical. He will travel to the US in the next few days."



Cahill's departure removes a huge influence from the Everton dressing room, and even though his impact on the field has lessened over the past two seasons, the reported £1.5million switch does seem like a strange piece of business from the Premier League club's perspective - until you delve a little deeper.

David Moyes has signed a ready-made replacement with the acquisition of Steven Naismith from Rangers, and the sale of the Australian international may also pave way for the permanent return of Steven Pienaar, following his noteworthy loan spell from Tottenham last season. But, what does Cahill stand to gain?

The opportunity to eke a few more seasons out of his body, away from the physical pressure of the Premier League is one thing. That's not to say that the MLS is a game of lawn bowls, but the English top-flight is as unforgiving an environment as it's possible for a footballer to find.

Socceroos boss Holger Osieck has openly discussed his concerns for Cahill’s physical wellbeing. So, providing he can maintain standards close to his Premier League level in the USA, he stands a good chance of adding to the 24 goals scored, and 55 appearances made for his country. Essentially, it’s a move that should benefit all parties.

Cahill’s arrival in New York will also see him come up against former team-mate Landon Donovan, who plays for and captain’s LA Galaxy, but has had two loan spells with Everton during the MLS off-season. Robbie Keane is another familiar face on the books in Los Angeles, after the Republic of Ireland international left Tottenham in January to test himself across the pond.

The unfamiliar path from the Premier League to the MLS is a journey now taken not only by players entering the twilight of their careers, but increasingly by stars that still have plenty to offer.

Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is another heavily linked with a move to North America, and with just 12 months remaining on his Stamford Bridge contract, the 34-year-old could be the next in line to make the switch.

In order for the MLS to really challenge the world’s leading domestic leagues, investment needs to be made more generally across the entire division. Marquee signings are all well and good, but it’s unlikely to improve the overall standard of competition.

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David Beckham
Premier League
Thierry Henry

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