Based on the rhetoric from some recent comments on this website you would believe any player with a Premier League history should dominate the lowly US based Major League Soccer. But the history of English born players with significant Premier League experience in MLS is a mixed bag. Some players like Ian Bishop and Darren Huckerby settled in nicely early on in MLS while others struggled. Here is a brief list of a few moderately familiar names of players who didn’t do so well in MLS.
* Steve Howey played 191 games for Newcastle United and 76 for Manchester City before coming to MLS at age 31 in 2003 to play for Steve Nicol and New England. Howey had been capped five times by England as a Senior International in “A” matches. Yet Howey lasted four games in MLS and was quickly looking for work again in England. He landed with Bolton of the EPL before being let go and playing in the Championship with Leicester City.
* Steve Guppy was another player capped by England at the Senior National Team level. In 2004 he came to the US and started for DC United in the highest rated game ever for the league on ABC, when Freddy Adu made his debut. Less than two months later Guppy, whose lack of quality touches and inability to play the Latin brand of Football DC United has become known for was released and he signed with Leeds United. Guppy later returned to the US to play for second division (USL-1) side Rochester Rhinos and had more success at that level of football.
* Mark Wilson was a highly touted English midfielder that even played for Manchester United in a Champions League match. After a failed stint at Boro, he came to the US and flopped totally at FC Dallas, demonstrating an inability to cope with the summer heat. He was released when the club signed Shaka Hislop, my next footballer to discuss.
* Shaka Hislop was a top keeper in the Premier League. The English born keeper choose to play for his parents home nation of Trinidad and Tobago and he has been excellent for the national team and of course had a great World Cup. Hislop even started the FA Cup final in 2006 for West Ham just weeks before his awesome World Cup and a month before he signed for FC Dallas. Hislop however only started matches for the Hoops when Argentine net-minder Dario Sala was injured or suspended, and when Sala was suspended most recently, Hislop was beaten out in training by American youth team keeper Ray Burse Jr. Hislop has now been released by FC Dallas and is working for ESPN.
* In 1995 Paul Rideout scored the winning goal for Everton in the FA Cup final against Manchester United. Two years later Rideout with a decent amount of fanfare signed with MLS and was allocated to Kansas City. A year later after scoring only one goal in league play Rideout was released. He is now back with the Wizards as the coach of the clubs U-18 team.
* Chris Woods was one of the best goalkeepers in England during the 1990s. His play with Sheffield Wednesday and the National Team was outstanding. Woods career with Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday was near legendary. However when he arrived in MLS as a big signing in the league’s first year he had trouble judging the ball flight and looked miserable. He was eventually replaced by Marcus Hannehman who had been signed from the Seattle Sounders of the A-League. Woods returned to England to play in the EPL with Southampton and Blackburn.
For the record, many of the first time readers of this website since the Beckham saga began assume I’m a big backer of MLS. In fact, I have been singled out time and time again for being too critical of the league by many of its apologists. I happen to believe that MLS is a below average product overall: a product whose quality has diminished over time, from a spunky young league with lots of Latin talent, a to a great development league for young Americans (as evidenced by the American performance in the 1999 Confederations Cup and 20o2 World Cup), to now essentially a commercial/marketing product with far inferior football to the neighboring Mexican League.
I however do want to see my domestic first division be successful and do believe the David Beckham situation has demonstrated the hypocrisy and ignorance of european football fans both in the states and abroad. Moreover, European football fans seem to fail to understand the differences in the game due to climate, travel distances, geography and altitude that affect American football. Comparing the English League where the greatest distance between ground is a four hour coach ride to a league whose games are played across three time zones is fairly silly, as is comparing a league who has only one type of climate and geography (England, whose footballing tactics have always represented an ability to cope with the elements of the British Isles but not with the climate elsewhere), to a league whose styles of play have been dramatically affected by altitude, sumer heat and winter snow.