Major League Soccer progress stunted by defender shortage

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Major League Soccer has made great progress in recent years to reach a position where retaining the division's leading lights is a genuine possibility.

In years gone by, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore have all left the United States long before their prime to seek success in Europe. However, this trend is slowly coming to a halt.

Bradley and Dempsey have returned to their home nation, and MLS franchises are also beginning to tie down their current stars.

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Matt Besler and Graham Zusi both recently inked Designated Player deals, joining a pool that includes Pedro Morales, Obafemi Martins and Jermain Defoe, while the league can also boast the talents of Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen and Marcelo Sarvas.

But there remains one problem position - the defence.

Though a lack of top class back-liners is not an issue limited to the States, with Premier League outfits Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United all struggling to recruit reinforcements in the summer transfer window, American clubs are the big losers in this worldwide shortage.

Paris Saint-Germain paid a ludicrous fee to bring David Luiz to France before the World Cup, but for clubs that cannot afford such figures, the MLS represents an attractive market.

While Besler remains with Sporting Kansas City, the two players most likely to rival the Kansan for Defender of the Year honours have both moved on. 

DeAndre Yedlin may have returned to Seattle Sounders FC on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, but the same cannot be said Palermo's former Columbus Crew man Giancarlo Gonzalez.

CONCACAF observers are often baffled by the continued Champions League deficiencies of Uncle Sam's top clubs, however when only four defensive players have ever signed DP contracts, these continental trials should not be such a surprise. 

Rafael Marquez enjoyed only limited success with the New York Red Bulls, and though Besler's international teammate Omar Gonzalez is key for the LA Galaxy, their Western Conference rivals Portland Timbers overpaid for the services of Liam Ridgewell.

Officials must now hope that the Ridgewell transfer is not a sign of things to come. It is accepted at present that European teams can pluck the finest stoppers from the States due to the inflated wage packets and prestigious competition, but MLS sides must not fall into the trap of happily receive rejects such as the 30-year-old Londoner.

The first step to attracting finer defenders to the division must surely be to retain the likes of Yedlin and Gonzalez, and this will become particularly crucial with David Villa, Kaka and Frank Lampard set to wreak havoc in the New Year.

Then again, where else can you find entertainment like this:

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Columbus Crew
Seattle Sounders FC

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