There’s still the worry here in North America that England and Europe view our MLS as at best a development league and at worst as a retirement league. This might have been true ten years ago but the league now deserves the same level of respect given to Nordic leagues, that is, as a competitive league engaged in the international market.
There are some quirks (to be kind) that occasionally put MLS a bit at odds in the world player market. Before the beginning of this season, convoluted rules (allocation, discovery rights, and right of first refusal) used by MLS lead to goalkeeper Luis Robles to walk away from the New York Red Bulls, kept promising USMNT prospect Gale Agbossoumonde from even approaching MLS, and saw last year’s NASL MVP and Golden Boot winner Etienne Barbara sit in clubless limbo for a better part of the offseason.
Yet these same rules allowed Edson Buddle to return to Los Angeles and Chris Rolfe to return this month to Chicago. It is, to say the least, inconsistent and imperfect.
A balance of youth and experience is necessary not just for a team but for a league. There’s nothing negative about an accomplished elder player coming to a team or to the league. Arguably the Chicago Fire became a better team with 35 year-old Pavel Pardo joined their side; 36 year-old Juan Pablo Angel, although he’s taken a reduced role is still a vital force at Chivas USA and league MVP Dwayne de Rosario at 33 is still bossing the midfield for DC United.
One of the things the league should consider is bringing over more EPL players. Why? Because American soccer fans love the EPL. Nearly every MLS supporter has an English team they love (or love to hate), and following American players in England and overseas is practically its own genre of soccer journalism. Bringing players over from the EPL raises the quality of play, raises the profile of the game and league profile overseas, and it irrevocably inserts our league into the consciousness of world football as more than a mere footnote.
Major League Soccer clubs don’t need to rely on out of contract foreign stars for their Designated Players, yet they do. So with that in mind, let’s speculate: what if a MLS team decided to prey on those EPL teams that are in dire straits, threatened with relegation or in need of funds? What players would probably excel in MLS, would improve the squad they landed with, and would cause a stir among the fans.
The six teams currently at the bottom of the EPL table (Villa, Queens Park Rangers, Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn, and Wolves) all have players that they’ll have to unload, would like to let go, or could possibly be coaxed into selling this summer. So let’s engage in some pointless conjecture.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have been relegated this season. This means that several players will be looking to jump ship in order to catch on with a team with will continue to play in the EPL. It also means that the team will be acceptable to cutting some fat. MLS needs better defenders, it’s a simple fact that there is a sore lack of fullbacks in the league.
Wolves might not have been that great of a defensive team this season but they have players that could shine in North America. Veteran Jody Craddock, a 36 yr old centerback who can play fullback, would provide any young team with a hardnosed mentor—someone who could whip the kids up in Toronto into shape.
Aston Villa are currently above the relegation zone but the team is rebuilding and is focusing on youth. The Villians have an amazing crop of youngsters and could blossom into quite the squad. In the meantime, forward Emile Heskey is out of contract this summer.
The strong 34 year-old English international has earned the respect of supporters and players no matter the club. Imagine what Heskey could teach Philadelphia’s Pajoy and Mwanga about using your presence on the pitch, your physicality, to become a brilliant targetman. Perhaps he’ll tag along when Villa plays Chicago this summer and decide to stick around.
This season has been ridiculously underwhelming for QPR and the team may still get sucked back down to the Championship League. Although they’ve spent money it seems the team has yet to coalesce or even find its style. Well, a portion of this melodrama has been generated by midfielder and nominal team captain Joey Barton.
Known for his use (and some would say abuse) of Twitter, Barton was picked up by QPR on a free transfer and signed for four years. But over the course of the season Barton has become more and more of a non-entity on the pitch. England is sick of Joey Barton. The simple fact is, in the US, Barton would be a brilliant media train-wreck.
It wouldn’t necessarily be a stunt to bring him over to MLS, although Barton would certainly put fans into the seats. It’s easy enough to imagine New Englanders and Philadelphians lining up to give Barton grief whether he’s playing for or against them. In fact, it’s easy to imagine him finding buddies in Rafa Marquez and William Conde, AJ Soares or even Danny Califf.
Pointless conjecture? Absolutely. None of these players will play in the US: Craddock is likely to retire, it’s unlikely Heskey would ever leave England and if Luke Rodgers was denied a visa Barton would certainly fail. Certainly the league hopes to attract more players similar to Portland’s Kris Boyd, a player in what is considered their playing prime, respected, and with a depth of playing experience.
Wouldn’t it just be brilliant to have a young phenom who had a spectacular season, is only in his early twenties, and looking to become a star…someone like Jordan Rhodes.