It isn’t all bad news for Major League Soccer in the world of Designated Players. Juan Pablo Ángel signed a long term extension with the Red Bulls which could keep him with the club until December 2012 when he would be 36. Ángel led the New Jersey based Red Bulls to within a game of its first MLS Cup title last season, and has scored more league goals in the last two seasons than any player in Major League Soccer. (Luciano Emilio and Landon Donovan have both scored more overall goals including Superliga and the Champions Cup)
Ángel has adapted to MLS much more easily than David Beckham, which speaks volumes about his personal commitment and willingness to embrace the league after seven seasons in the English Premiership with Aston Villa. Also at play is the comfort many Latino stars have within big city America which is more conducive to Spanish speakers and Latin footballers than England.
Long term, the adaptability of South American players to American culture is something that the league can leverage. I have often in the past editorialized that the continued signing of European based players who are not Latino or African is a waste of MLS limited resources. One the cost to sign these players is too high and secondly they often times do not settle in MLS do to travel and climate related issues .
European footballers, particularly those who have played their entire career in the relative cocoon of the British Isles do not realize the difficulty of traveling by plane for six hours for matches or crossing three time zones between matches. Unless you are in the best of condition and dedicated to your club you won’t be successful.Additionally, MLS teams play at various altitudes not all at the same general height and in the same basic climate as in England.
The English Premier League and lower divisions feature short coach rides from ground to ground, city to city. In MLS, the travel itself requires extensive planning and administration. Simply comparing the quality of a player in England to MLS is like comparing Pears to Pineapples.
These distinctions are typically lost on the Anglophilia afflicted US based fan, but for Juan Pablo Ángel who made a decent career in the English top flight, MLS is now a long term home. In Guille Barros Schelotto, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Javier Morales, Freddy Montero and Angel the league since 2007 has signed its best group of Latin players since the inagural season of the league which included Carlos Valderrama, Maucio Cienfuegos and Marco Etcheverry. That is good news for the game in the United States.