MLS success requires more than just world stars

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A pretty convincing argument could be made that the five men that will battle for the 2015 Major League Soccer MVP award have yet to kick a ball in the division. Some of them haven't even signed to the United States' top tier yet.

Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe will be there or thereabouts, but it's difficult to look beyond the supreme talents of New York City FC's David Villa and Orlando City's Kaka, or their potential teammates Frank Lampard, Xavi Hernandez and Robinho. As we reach the time of year where attentions to turn to the MLS All-Star game, the thought of that quintet working in tandem for next campaign's show-piece is rather scary.

However, gifted as they may be, these aces would be foolish to assume that their individual qualities will result in immediate success for their new clubs. Germany's World Cup triumph is a timely reminder that a balanced team can often conquer over opponents that are heavily reliant on the abilities of one or two superstars.

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In the US, there are several ways of enlisting players, each as important as the other.

Designated Players

Next to the note marked "International Designated Players of the highest calibre" both newcomers can place a tick, particularly if the three aforementioned yet-to-be-completed transfers are finalised as expected.

Just as Thierry Henry and David Beckham did, Villa and Kaka will surely light up the MLS. A quick glance at the former duo's early records offers a stark warning, though.

Last season's Supporters' Shield was the New York Red Bulls first major honour, despite the arrival of World Cup winner Henry in 2010. Meanwhile, Beckham may have collected four winner's medals as an LA Galaxy player, but it also took him four years to get off the mark. With all their hopes pinned on two of the biggest names in the game, the two clubs struggled badly.

Back-up, in the form of Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, was crucial in their eventual successes, but players on standard league contracts proved equally vital. Fabian Espindola and Lloyd Sam were perfect foil for Henry, with Jamison Olave keeping them out at the other end. In Los Angeles, Omar Gonzalez and Mike Magee made telling contributions.

Expansion Draft

In 2014, Seattle Sounders FC are the team to beat, and look like romping to the Supporters' Shield title. Two of their key performers have been Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin, both of whom represent other significant recruitment methods.

Evans joined the Rave Green in their introductory 2008 Expansion Draft. Picked tenth of ten, he was at the time a 23-year-old with just 30 MLS appearances under his belt for the Columbus Crew. Now, he's a full international and the captain of the league-leaders.

The format of the Draft means that other franchises can choose to protect 11 of their best players, while the remaining members of their squad are vulnerable to selection by a new club. Though these processes often only provide back-up and utility men, there are potential stars to be nabbed. The Crew left Evans unprotected, and they lost him.

Even at this early stage, possible signings can be identified. The Portland Timbers will be one side to look out for next year, having built a roster too deep to sheild. Rotation policy victims such as Steve Zakuani and Rodney Wallace may be on the menus of Orlando and New York.

College stars

Fellow Cascadia outfit Vancouver Whitecaps FC, meanwhile, contribute the greatest example of developing their own youngsters, but it is rival Yedlin who is the stand-out success story.

Signing with the Sounders from their youth set-up through the Homegrown Player rule, the 21-year-old has gone on to appear at the World Cup, and looks certain to earn a big-money move to Europe.

Having featured in Seattle's academy prior to studying at the University of Akron, Yedlin avoided the MLS SuperDraft. As in other major American sports, this is the traditional route into the division, and though the Washingtonian may have taken another path, there is a very current case that offers a shining endorsement of the draft.

Matt Besler has just signed a new long-term DP contract at Sporting Kansas City. Shaking off interest from Sunderland, among others, the 27-year-old defender has opted to stay in homeland - a major coup for both the Wizards and the league.

A college player at the University of Notre Dame, Besler was one of the country's top athletes, and was drafted eighth in 2009. He's never looked back, winning two major titles and starring for the Stars and Stripes.

Though any move would be impossible, the Kansas-born centre-back would be a welcome addition to either of the latest franchises in the MLS, and that indicates necessity to explore all avenues and not rely solely on the likes of Xavi and Robinho.

The Lions currently have the advantage of a USL Professional Division squad to pick from, so Claudio Reyna will need to get his act together if Villa and co. are to add to their incredible hauls of silverware.

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Thierry Henry
MLS SuperDraft
Thierry Henry

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