Thursday, March 27, 2008

MLS Looks South (except maybe for Theirry Henry)

Here's a good article in the New York Times about how Major League Soccer is looking to Latin America for young, talented and inexpensive soccer players. It's a solid strategy as there are many, many first and second tier Latin American players who don't mind coming to America so they can start or have bigger roles than they would at home. The article mentioned New York and D.C., but they could have easily referenced Dallas which has three Brazilians, two Argentinians, a Mexican and a Columbian who are all expected to start or make substantial contributions to the club. The atmosphere at FC Dallas games has changed somewhat since they started playing out in the suburbs instead of at the Cotton Bowl in downtown Dallas (as in the faces in the stands are whiter) but it remains the case that vast majority of soccer fans in and around these parts are Hispanic, and I think the team roster should reflect that fact.

The article also cites to M.L.S.' fondness for bringing aging and somewhat less than devoted European stars to America to play (Djorkaeff, Mathaus, Stoichkov); stars that later turned into duds as their age caught up to them or they struggled with the very physical style of play that characterizes M.L.S. soccer or they simply weren't that interested in their quality of play while here. I can say with moderate confidence that M.L.S. clubs have abandoned that approach, but they have definitely not abandoned signing European stars who maybe closer to the end of their careers than to the beginning but who are still light-years beyond the average M.L.S. player (Beckham.) In that vein, there are now rumors that Seattle FC, an expansion club set to start next season, is in the hunt for French and Barcelona star Theirry Henry. This is in addition to rumors that have circulated regularly since before Beckham came that other big name players would like to come to America to finish out their careers. They seem attracted to the fact that M.L.S. can now pay big money to designated players outside of the salary cap, and that they can be bigger fish in littler seas. But M.L.S.' biggest selling point appears to be America itself, as the players can come here and walk the streets without being mobbed (or even recognized) and will be adored by fans as opposed to scrutinized endlessly in their home countries.

Anyway, I can think of a worse league than one that's stocked with young Latin American and American players who are on the rise, and older but still good European stars who are on the decline. Someday M.L.S. may even be dominated by American players, but American soccer still has a lot of catching up to to do before that happens.

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