Because less players equal more space to pass and move

MLS (Must Learn Soon)

The MLS (Major League Soccer) is a funny old thing. It’s a bit like a Club 18:30 holiday – you don’t know how long it’s been around, just that it’s abroad and only old people seem to want to go there.

I do actually know how long it’s been around – since 1996. It didn’t make itself known to the wider world until 2007 though, when a certain English export emigrated to LA.

David Beckham’s move from Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy was a coup for both parties – the MLS finally had its big name to maximise interest in itself, and Brand Beckham could infiltrate North America.

Unfortunately for the MLS, Beckham was, and still is, too big for it. The media’s only interest was in DB23. Who was he playing? Was his international career over? How many goals and assists had he got so far? He sold 250,000 shirts before his unveiling, was made captain and remained in international contention because of his eventual loan moves to AC Milan. As far as Goldenballs was concerned, the move couldn’t have gone better for him.

There were two winners here – David Beckham and the LA Galaxy’s bank balance. Yes, it drew attention to the league but it didn’t raise its profile. Many other ex-Premier League players moved there for a final payday and because they could play comfortably at that level. Juan Pablo Angel, Freddie Ljungberg and Brian McBride all crossed the Atlantic in the twilight of their careers for a kickabout and a fistful of dollars, not for the challenge.

Any half-decent American had moved to the Premier League long ago. Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel all plyed their trade there, and that’s just the goalkeepers. Brian McBride and Eddie Lewis played for Fulham, as does Clint Dempsey now. Jozy Altidore is at Hull, on loan from Villareal in Spain. Landon Donovan frequently “did a Beckham” and went on loan to Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and finally to Everton (where I believe he found his level, and that’s not a dig at The Toffees.)

Elsewhere, Altidore’s strike partner Charlie Davis plays in France, Oguchi Onyewu in Italy and Freddy Adu in Greece. I don’t think it’s about money with American players. I genuinely believe they want to better themselves and play at the highest level they can, and they have shown the ability to succeed outside of the United States.

At the moment, the Premier League is the business, La Liga is the exotic holiday and MLS is the retirement home and cushy pension. It’s no coincidence that two of the world’s greatest players of the modern era, Raul and Thierry Henry, are being touted as future Major League players – and they will be the best players there – despite approaching their best-before date.

It’s not enough to attract these glamorous icons to play for movie-star wages alongside homegrown talents who could earn more working as a coach. The bar needs to be raised from within, to nurture better players from their schools, colleges and universities and breed a higher standard of player. The MLS doesn’t need a structural change, just a shift in mentality to adopt a classic football ethos: money can’t buy success.