Sebastian Giovinco more important for MLS than David Beckham's arrival

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'The future of soccer is in North America.'

Then again, Sebastian Giovinco's agent Andrea D'Amico would say that. The former-Juventus star, dubbed the next Del Piero when he burst onto the scene in 2006, has just become the world's highest paid Italian soccer player. And he'll play in the MLS.

Ahead of Pirlo, Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, Verratti, Balotelli and Cassano.

Joining Toronto FC, seemingly in an attempt by MLS to create another super-club to rival the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy, Giovinco might just be the league's most important signing yet.

David Beckham put MLS on the map. Landon Donovan was the home-grown star. Thierry Henry the luxury European import. All three have now departed, and Major League Soccer is going all out to replace them. But it's not just off-the-field brands they're after now, it's on-the-pitch quality.

Steven Gerrard, David Villa and Frank Lampard join Michael Bradley, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Kaka.

Lampard and Villa will play together at the newly formed New York City FC. This new franchise has clearly been earmarked as one to join the likes of Seattle, LA, Toronto and (possibly) the Red Bulls as one of the league's marquee clubs.

It's not a popular approach, in fact it's grossly unfair to the other teams, but the complexity of MLS means the league can practically pick and choose which players are paired with certain teams.

The league has a stake in every side - it controls practically every decision and signs off on personnel moves. Like the NFL and NBA before it, MLS is a socialist sport in a capitalist country.

While the Premier League is often described as the complete opposite - a rigorously capitalistic exercise that relies on survival of the fittest (and richest) - MLS is all central planning and salary caps.

But unlike the NFL and NBA, MLS seems to have no desire to create an equitable playing field. Instead, it's using dictatorial authority to create a Premier League-style hierarchy.

Elite clubs (Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City = Seattle, LA Galaxy, Toronto FC) at the top and the rest scrapping below.

Rather than preaching equality, which raises overall quality slowly and organically, MLS is attempting to 'dope' the MLS by creating marketable franchises that top tier players will want to join.

And it's working.

The first step was Beckham, but the arrival of Giovinco is the next, more difficult, stage of development. For the first time, an international striker (the most marketable position) has decided to join an MLS club is his prime. Giovinco is 27 years old and his contract runs right through until he's 32.

He's done this because of the money - it's been reported that Giovinco could earn up to $10m-a-season - almost four times his Juventus salary.

But also because North America is an extremely attractive place to live.

Some cities and countries have natural advantages. London, Paris, Madrid - the modern footballer wants the clubs, the bars, the shops, the lifestyle. They will naturally be drawn to these cities over, say, Manchester or Liverpool.

This will not be the case for every player, but when given the choice between Madrid or Manchester, Liverpool or Inter Milan, it's a factor.

Now, while Major League Soccer is not close to competing with a major European league for players at the top level, it's closing the gap. Giovinco is proof.

He reportedly had offers from the Premier League and Italy, Arsenal, Tottenham and Fiorentina were linked, but he chose Canada and MLS.

Anything is possible now - Tim Bezbatchenko, Toronto FC general manager

It's not clear exactly what archaic rules MLS used to allow Giovinco to join Jozy Altidore (brought in as part of the deal that sent Jermain Defoe to Sunderland) and Michael Bradley, it just serves to prove the point that the league wants Toronto to be good.

When Bradley joined that was a massive coup - he's widely regarded to be the best American soccer player at the moment. He made it in Europe with Roma. He's a star.

Altidore may be a punchline to Premier League fans, but he's a hero to USMNT followers, and will score in Major League Soccer. TFC now have two of the national team's best players and the league's most expensive recruit.

Standard improving

MLS was a place for ageing stars tired of the European scene, eager to play on but more concerned with quality of life than quality of opposition. America was, and is, preferable to previous alternatives Qatar or Saudi Arabia or Australia. Major League Soccer has left these rivals for dead.

But Giovinco opens it up even further. Now a very good player in his best years has decided MLS is the right move.

As Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko told the Toronto Sun: "Anything is possible now."

The point is not to challenge the Premier League or La Liga, but to muscle into the next tier. To become a destination for players who would be stars in Portugal or Holland. This is the next step in the evolution of the league.

The league itself is aggressively expansionist to this effect. Three new teams were founded last year, Atlanta and Los Angeles FC will join the league in 2017. Beckham's Miami team has the rights pending the construction of a stadium.

Miami and LA are two more premier destinations that will practically sell themselves if the league is strong enough. Kaka, Gerrard, Lampard, et al have been brought in to ensure the league is stronger in two years time than it is now.

Montreal Impact only joined three years ago, and this year will see NYC FC and Orlando City, with a resplendent Kaka in the lineup, kit up for the first time.

Attendances rising

Money is flooding into the league, attendances have risen from an average of 16,037 in 2009 to more than 19,000 last season - a new record. Seattle average 43,000-per-home-game - that would be good enough for sixth highest in the Premier League, just behind Liverpool.

Founded just over 20 years ago, Major League Soccer has survived and consolidated. Now it's building, and fast. With that comes new challenges.

The single entity structure of the league's ownership has been partially responsible for its success. But the players are restless. They want freedom of movement and higher average wages - the league minimum is just $36,500 a year.

A strike has been mentioned, as league and players' union gather over the next few months to thrash out a new collective bargaining agreement.

The future of soccer is not North America, at least not yet. These are complex problems that will require innovative solutions for a unique soccer league.

But it's certainly only heading in one direction. The era of Beckham and Henry has passed. Giovinco is the new beginning.

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