MLS – No longer a retirement league?

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Major League Soccer, or the MLS has never truly been taken seriously by the world. The MLS has so often been regarded as a place with sub-par football but large pay checks, somewhat similar to the Chinese Super League, or the Qatar Stars League.

One could not blame the MLS for seeking to sign huge names for considerable sums of money. They often brought with them both footballing quality and much needed wide spread recognition.

The first of these players was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or more commonly known as Pelé, who signed for New York Cosmos in 1975. Pelé was also joined by Portuguese great Eusébio in the MLS in 1975, with the ‘Black Panther’ joining Toronto Blizzards, or what they were called at the time ‘Toronto Metros-Croatia’.


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However one could argue that ever since LA Galaxy signed David Beckham in 2007, when Beckham was 32; there has been an influx of quality players moving to North America in order not just to gain a large sum of money but rather to play football at a decent standard.

Obviously this season there has been a resurgence of players leaving top quality leagues due to their age, players such as David Villa, Kaká, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and many others have left the Premiership, Liga BBVA and Serie A for a move out west.

As said, these players are definitely not in their prime, and at an average age of 34.8 years they are all definitely reaching the end of their careers.

Nonetheless, these players are certainly of a higher tier of players in comparison to the previous players that would move out to the MLS.

Two seasons ago Gerrard was a key component in a title challenging Premier League team, just last season Pirlo won the Italian Serie A and was a finalist in the Champions League, arguably the most prestigious club competition on the planet.

Whilst these players are ageing and not what they used to be, they are still phenomenal footballers who are choosing to move to America and Canada when they still have quality to offer to the sport.

This is a demonstration of the growing quality of the MLS, it is not a child’s league or a league anyone could make it in, it is developing into a league of good withstanding within the football world.

Players in their prime moving to the MLS?

The key development that the MLS has seen recently however is MLS sides signing good players that are still well within their prime.

Of course these players are not world beaters but the two I have picked to analyse could definitely make a contribution to most teams in the top divisions of Europe.

These two players are of course, Italian Sebastian Giovinco who plays for Toronto FC having been signed from Italian powerhouse Juventus in January, and Mexican Giovani dos Santos who has signed for LA Galaxy from Spanish side Villarreal.

Sebastian Giovinco

The ‘formica atomica’ (Atomic Ant) as he was known in Italy has taken to the MLS with considerable ease, having scored 13 goals in 19 appearances so far. Once a highly rated player in the Italian Serie A, Giovinco’s shares definitely dropped considerably in the past few years.

Going from a player that had been tipped to follow in the footsteps of Azzuri and Juventus great Alessandro del Piero to moving to the MLS at just 27-years-old, one could definitely have said that he was never going to amount to his potential.

That being said, recent strengthening of the MLS means that for a player to play very well in the league they have to be of a good standard, and as previously mentioned, a goal ratio every 1.4 games is a very decent ratio indeed. Especially when one considers it is his first season in this league and continent!

The goals Sebastian has scored haven’t been easy tap ins either, a considerable amount of them have been free kicks or long distance shots thus further proving his quality.

If Giovinco continues to play as well as he has been this season, then one can only imagine that more players who are hitting their prime will want to move to the MLS, which of course will continue to strengthen the league as a whole.

Giovinco’s successes could be argued led to the next player signing for a MLS team.

Giovani dos Santos

Dos Santos was a youth prospect similar to Giovinco. Produced at a top, top club (this time Barcelona rather than Juve) in a similar mould to one of the world’s best players at the time (Ronaldinho rather than del Piero) unfortunately the similarities with Giovinco continued, never quite fulfilling the potential that they seemingly offered.

Dos Santos’ ill advised move to Spurs in 2008 did not work out particularly well, despite most Spurs fans being desperate for dos Santos to thrive.

After having been loaned out three times to three different teams during his term at Spurs, Giovani made a move back to Spain in 2012 joining RCD Mallorca.

Similar to Giovinco at Parma, at a smaller club in a league which suited his game he succeeded momentarily, earning a transfer to larger Spanish side Villarreal as Mallorca were relegated in his first season with them (Giovani was top goalscorer for Mallorca though).

Enough about Giovani dos Santos’ history, earlier this month Giovani made the move from Villarreal to LA Galaxy for the considerable sum of £6.3m (the most expensive player in the leagues history).

It remains to be seen whether or not Giovani performs admirably for Galaxy, but his signing is a definite show of intent from the MLS, they have financial pull and a growing league in terms of quality.


A few weeks ago I did an article on the growing pulling power of the Turkish league, I predicted that the league would rise through UEFA coefficients and big names would continue to sign for Turkish sides.

So far, I have been proven correct with German Mario Gómez leaving Florentine side Fiorentina for Beşiktaş. The case with the MLS is very similar, if but a few years behind.

If anything the MLS is better off financially than a considerable amount of leagues in Europe; this will allow the MLS to continualyl develop both their own home grown players and sign a growing amount of top quality players from other leagues around the world.

Furthermore, if players like Giovinco and Giovani dos Santos impress and manage to still break into their international squads then more players are more likely to join an MLS side.

Give it a few years when players like Gedion Zelalem, DeAndre Yedlin and Gyasi Zardes hit their prime, the American ‘soccer’ revolution will be in full flight, and world football will need to sit up and pay attention.

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Frank Lampard
Toronto FC
Steven Gerrard
LA Galaxy

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