BBC Sport is reporting that English born Chris Birchall, of the Trinidad and Tobago national team will sign for the Earthquakes. From my vantage point this is an important symbolic signing for MLS. Birchall is English born and has never played his club football outside England. He became the first white player to suit up for the Soca Warriors in 40 years during CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.
Even though Birchall’s career has been spent in England’s lower leagues, his signing indicates two very important trends:
- English born players that have never played club football outside of England’s football bubble (When you spend time in England, you don’t pay close attention to football leagues outside of the British Isles) are willing to consider MLS as a realistic option to continue a football career. Very few English born players play outside of England or Scotland. In fact, MLS may have the most English born players of note outside of Great Britain.
- MLS needs to focus heavily on bringing internationals from CONCACAF based countries to the league, especially ones like Birchall with World Cup experience. This is largely about semantics and marketing. Very few people actually believe Birchall is a top class international. But he did start three games at Germany 2006, and continues to feature prominently for the Soca Warriors. When trying to sell the league it is easier to do so with footballers who feature for their national sides and have World Cup experience than with the random Argentine or Brazilian player who will never sniff the national team. Now this having been said the Christian Gomez’s and Emilio upgrade the quality of play in the league in a way a Birchall never could, but again it’s a tougher sell to say “our league matters,” to snobs of the international game. (I know several EPL/La Liga fans who find the number of MLS internationals without any national team experience laughable.)
Birchall should help the Earthquakes as well and that is ultimately the reason this signing is being made. If MLS is able to finesse its schedule through international breaks for 2009, expect more signings like Birchall while the transfer window is open.