George Weah in City colors/ All Sport UK Photo
The connections between Major League Soccer and my favorite international football club, Manchester City continue to grow with time. Monday, San Jose announced the signing of Darren Huckerby and Paul Dickov is about to sign with Toronto FC according to published reports. Manchester City has contributed more former players recently to the soccer setup in this country than just about any other international club, even those right across the border in Mexico.
Ivan Gazidis, the deputy commissioner of MLS is a self confessed Manchester City fan. Gazidis’ understanding of English football and its success has provided MLS under his leadership, a more international and broad looking approach. Claudio Reyna, Ronald Watterhaus, and Paulo Wanchope all signed in MLS last season, and all three choose MLS as the destination to end their careers. Terry Cooke (Colorado), Steve Howey (New England) and Ian Bishop (Miami) were three of the limited number of English imports to MLS in the earlier part of this decade. In the case of Cooke he’s made MLS and the Colorado Rapids his long-term footballing home and in Bishop’s case he choose to stay on in south Florida following the contraction of the Fusion. He now plays in a semi-professional league, and teaches the game to local youths.
Juan Carlos Osorio is an American trained but Manchester City honed manager. Osorio’s time at City provided him not only with exposure to one of the best footballing leagues in the world but to the type of tactical setup and awareness that he did not posses when he was an MLS assistant. Osorio has returned to MLS as one of the finest coaches from a pure tactical standpoint that the league has seen in sometime. More importantly, unlike some foreign managers that have been brought into MLS and are not understanding of the midset of American players, nor the difficulty of travel, altitude and other factors that make MLS much tougher than advertised, Osorio knows this league and its players.
Even outside MLS, Manchester City’s connections shine light in this corner of the globe. Recent hero of the club’s history Shaun Goater now manages the Bermuda Hogges of USL-2 and has helped professionalize the footballing setup in his native land to where Bermuda almost upset Trinidad and Tobago who participated in the 2006 World Cup last month in qualifying. Goater’s goal was to make Bermuda more of a force in CONCACAF and he is hoping the island nation can qualify for the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. George Weah, former FIFA World Football of the Year, and Manchester City striker has moved to south Florida with his family to participate in an Under 40 professional league. Weah’s decision to relocate to south Florida was so momentous it made the front page of the local papers: not the front page of the sports section, the front page of the paper. Weah as he was throughout most of his career and in his recent run for Liberian President is a name that transcends football, and has in his own way the stardom that few international footballers have in the U.S.
What has made City a greater contributor to the growth of football in this part of the world in terms of exported players than let’s say cross town rival Manchester United? For starters City is club that has recently attracted a lot of foreign players from places that until recently did not necessarily export a great number of players to English Football: The USA, Costa Rica, Bermuda and Liberia the home nations of Reyna, Wanchope, Goater and Weah are either geographically or spiritually more connected to the United States than to England. (In the case of Bermuda, it was a British colony but of course is right off the coast of the US, which explains why Bermuda’s one professional team plays in a US league. Also I should not that Wanchope spent his teen years in the United States before returning to Costa Rica to pursue a career in football because MLS did not exist in those days) In addition, playing at City isn’t a walk in the park. The club has some of the most knowledgeable fans in England along with a very large supporter’s base. Experiences at Manchester City unlike those at some other European clubs harden players and coaches in a way that makes it possible for them to come to North America and have a unique impact on our footballing landscape.
Colorado Rapids midfielder Terry Cooke in his City days