Donovan Deal Could Have Killed MLS
Bayern Munich’s manager Juergen Klinsmann knows Landon Donovan well. After all both are Southern California residents and Klinsmann had spent much of his time before taking the Germany manager job advising the Los Angeles Galaxy on football matters. So it should come as no surprise that Klinsmann almost lured Donovan to Germany this summer.
Steve Goff of the Washington Post reports that Bayern Munich wanted to take Donovan on loan this summer with an option to buy the player. Klinsmann wanted to buy the player outright but the Bayern board, mindful of Donovan’s failure at Bayer Leverkusen was more cautious wanting to take Donovan initially on loan. In any event, MLS rejected the loan to buy offer as Donovan’s departure could render MLS almost irrelevant to hardcore US National Team fans (some of whom believe it or not have already checked out on MLS entirely, and who like myself have viewed USL’s superior results over MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League as a clear indication as to MLS’ lack of quality) in the current US national team setup which features a vast majority of regular selections that play their club football abroad.
The reality of this situation is simple. MLS is seeing fewer and fewer key contributors to the US National team in its league and in actuality a smaller percentage of the youth national teams are now also being made up of MLS players. Consider these statistics:
1998 World Cup: 17 of 23 US players were MLS based
6 foreign players were MLS based
2002 World Cup: 12 of 23 US players were MLS based
0 foreign players were MLS based
2006 World Cup: 11 of 23 US players were MLS based
4 foreign players were MLS based (All four were from CONCACAF nations)
Now midway through World Cup qualifying, Bob Bradley selects between 5 to 7 MLS players for each qualifier, making the league less and less relevant to US National team fans. In my other venture, CSRN’s American Soccer Show which is national team oriented we have reduced our MLS coverage and increased our coverage of Americans abroad because of this reality . If tracking the US national teams pool players is the goal of our coverage, MLS is simply becoming another league in the realm of Norway, Sweden and even Mexico as time goes on. The league is left with journeyman American players and players who are MLS lifers and who while being capped under Bruce Arena are less likely to see the field under a manager like Bradley who appears to have a clear bias towards players from European clubs.
While MLS may be less and less relevant to Bob Bradley and the national team, the best American player and the most marketable one remains in the league: Landon Donovan. A sale of Donovan would mean MLS would be left with US pool players who are either extremely young like Sacha Kljestan or at the end of the their careers after long spells abroad like Eddie Lewis. The league in no way would be able to represent itself as anything other than a retirement home or a developmental league. While from my perspective those labels would simply describe the league in a more honest fashion, that is not what MLS brass wants.
MLS has decided that charging a $40 million franchise fee for prospective expansion teams is an attractive investment. I don’t have the sort of cash lying around so I cannot truly asses the leagues values other than to state that on Forbes recent list of the richest football clubs in the world, only three MLS sides exceeded that value: one of course was the LA Galaxy which actually exceeded the $100 million mark.
In celebrity or non football circles, David Beckham makes the Galaxy attractive. However in American footballing cliques, which includes me, the interest in the Galaxy is simple: arguably the best ever American footballer plays for that club and plays in Major League Soccer. No doubt a move to Bayern Munich with a manager who understands the American player and Southern California lifestyle Donovan clings to would have been a marriage made in heaven, but for MLS’ viability and credibility the sale of Donovan may have represented a fatal blow.