Notable English MLS Flops


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.

19 thoughts on “Notable English MLS Flops”

  1. MLS is a worse league now than at was at its inception? Are you fucking kidding me? You know absolutely nothing whatsoever about soccer if you truly hold this ridiculous opinion. The quality of the league has raised substantially over the past ten years, something to which anyone involved with the league will attest.

    Finally, MLS has always been worse than the FMF. There’s simply not the same pool of money in the US to sustain the high salaries in Mexico. Having said that, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as Mexico is easily one of the top three leagues in the Americas (Argentina and Brazil being the other two). Moreover, the FMF is closing the gap.

  2. Funny how MLS took a horrible down-turn the moment it left this writer’s hometown. I’m sure MLS will rise again if back in Miami for 2010.

  3. Kartik,
    I am a big fan of your writing, but, I have to agree you are wrong about the level of play. As someone who attented MLS matches in the late 90’s at Foxborough, the level of play has increased quite a bit. I watch games today that have flow, where teams actually string passes together. I will acknowledge that early MLS had very good Latin players, more than today and the Latin players are going to be the key to the success of the league instead of Euro players. I remember a particularly terrible match between the Revs and the Crew in ’99 and I know that today that mess would and could not happen today.

  4. While I agree that latin players are important to the league, I would respectfully disagree with the statement that they are key to success in North America. The key to success is finding players who speak the language of the majority without accent and can dominate the league while still providing high quality. These are the Donovans and De Ro’s of the league.

    The Latin players are important for augmenting the success of domestic stars, but they are no replacement for domestic stars.

  5. Actually if you look strictly at players who represented their nations in the big tournaments, MLS is at a lower ebb now than ever. In 1998, 23 MLS players representing 7 different nations played in the World Cup. In 2002, 12 MLS players representing one country, the US were at Korea/Japan 02. At Germany 06, it was 15 players representing 4 countries all from CONCACAF. MLS had active players representing their countries in both Euro 96 and 00, but none in Euro 04 or Euro 08.

    That’s regression at least at the top of the food chain. True the overall depth of the squads have gotten better since 98-00 but a reason exists why MLS had higher TV ratings and bigger stars then. I would qualify all of this by saying MLS is in a much more secure place financially then it was in that period. Ultimately that is what really matters.

  6. Don’t forget about Columbus… We had Northern Ireland defender Mark Williams, who pretty much cost us the playoffs in 2003. Not only was he slow and ineffective but he was also an arrogant jerk. We also had an abortive comeback attempt by Tony Adams (he didn’t even make the team as a trialist). Also, do you remember when Paul Gascoigne was rumored to be coming to DC United? That would’ve been an even bigger trainwreck than Beckham.

    1. Kartik, how can you seriously state you watch MLS that much and still believe 1998 MLS quality was better than today?

      1. We did win Champions Cups in 1998 and 2000. However, both of those years saw the Champions Cup played in late summer months, and I believe in one basic location. Nowadays, the Champions League takes place from August until April. HOWEVER, the MLS teams involved often field “B” teams because the midweek games come at the time the MLS playoff race is heating up, and MLS clubs would rather qualify for the playoffs and win MLS Cup than try and win a midweek game against Joe Public.

      Priorities. When you have a smaller salary cap, and thus limited roster space, you can’t field your best starting eleven every Saturday and Wednesday for six weeks in a row. A Man United in the UEFA CL can alter a lineup and toss in three to five fresh faces who are great quality. IN MLS, we are not there yet due to roster size/salary cap. To MLS coaches, getting in the playoffs and winning the MLS Cup is most important.

      In 1998, four older Europeans came into MLS and ruled the roost, leading the Fire to the Cup. No expansion team could do that today. Beckham can’t rule the roost here today like Nowak, Kubik, et al did then. The league is far superior now.

      DC United of 1998 would make the playoffs today, but probably get knocked out in the first round, and I’ve been a DC fan since November 1995.

      Everyone has an opinion, but I see no basis for yours. You are comparing Apples (the CONCACAF Champions Cup 1998) to Oranges (CONCACAF Champions League today).

  7. Kartik: the number of players playing for a national side has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the league. In the case of the MLS, the number of foreign based players correlates with the improvement of the league. The Clint Dempseys of the world wouldn’t have ever played in England if the league hadn’t continued growing footballistically (to employ an Arsene Wenger term). Again, as Chris points out, if you actually watched the league grow you’d know that the league has improved dramatically.

    Also, the league’s participation in international competitions have very little to do with the overall quality of the league. Being a very low priority for those sides participating, MLS teams rested many of their players in these competitions. Additionally, you seem to have forgotten about SuperLiga, whose million dollar prize actually makes MLS teams care about it.

  8. I find the quality of the mid to lower tier starters more important in judging a league (of MLS’s stature). A few weak links can kill the quality of play and that happening was much more common in the late 90s. Expansion has erased a bit of the progress made but I don’t penalize the league for a small reduction in team quality after growing the number of teams by 50% (10 to 15).

    An article discussing the “humiliation” of losing preseason scrimmages is probably not worth linking.

  9. I actually watch 5-7 MLS games a week so do have a pretty good grasp of how the league is doing. Believe it or not I am not the only one (actually far from it) who believes the football in 2008 is worse than 1998. A few respected MLS watchers feel the same way. However, I am probably the only one saying I’d take MLS circa 2004 over 2008 because the player development of American players was better at that time. The way things are going, the core of the national team in about five years may be a set of players who either never played in MLS or played in the league for 1 or 2 years. What does that say about our domestic league?

    BTW, the prize money for Superliga is NOT $1 million. That’s why the MLSPA protested openly and the tournament has been nicknamed the super sham by many. Go back and read Steve Goff’s Washington Post articles from this year’s tournament and you’ll see how questionable the event is. Moreover, I would argue Mexican teams don’t bring their best for Superliga, and after all it is in the FMF pre-season.

    I have no doubt the DC United teams from 1997 thru 1999 would absolutely dominate MLS today the way Man U dominates the vastly over rated an uncompetitive EPL year in and year out.

  10. First off, the bulk of the national team has spent significant time in MLS. So that point is pure conjecture. Anyways all it says to me is that MLS is an important step in producing top talent if within a couple of years players like Bradley, Altidore, Guzan, Edu, Kljestan, etc are moving on to high paying jobs in top leagues/clubs in Europe. MLS can’t afford to be anything but a feeder to the top leagues. I’d be more worried if it couldn’t produce players who succeed in Europe.

    The early DC United teams dominated MLS then also. Many coaches/GMs then were idiots who were greatly outmatched by Bruce Arena (and probably more imporantly Bob Bradley). Bruce isn’t as lucky nowadays.

  11. One overlooked point is that the MLS creates conditions which allow further player development in North America. That doe not always mean that the player will be on a MLS bench one day. He maybe in England, Italy, or Germany. Because we have MLS American players can have aspirations for professional soccer which then may see then take their trade overseas. Maybe not what was intended but still a plus.

  12. The fact that expansion of the league is argued as a reason why MLS is worse now than before is total crap. It’s the same excuse Canadian xenophobic hockey fans (I’m Cdn for the record) use to try to bring teams from the southern US back to Canada. The fact is, and you can ask any player in the NHL, the quality of that league is higher than ever before. Any legend will say that. Expansion results in long term quality of play by bringing more talent into the league and offering people more options for their careers.

    MLS expansion has not hurt the quality and should continue because it improves the number of our players playing. The more people playing better soccer, the better for both the US and Canada.

  13. Whats the point of this article? What is the point of listing all the old hasbeen players that are playing in your league. If you want to criticise the players that play in your league, you should have the balls to do it to people who are in the prime of their careers and not the players who are at the end of their careers or who were never good enough to play in the premiership.

    I personnaly think the MSL has improved substantially but you undermine your own league and professionalism with articles like this. Grow up. The press on a whole are arrogant idiots who dont reflect the oppinions of most.

    Saying this the MLS is of a poorer standard than the english spanish or italian leagues but that is to be expected as you haven’t had the time to develop this. The reason is the experience of your league as a whoel and not some daft excuse about crossing time zones/altitude/weather. While this may take an effect, these are things you have to accept and deal with. like players in the spanish leagues deal with the dry heat, italians the humidity, and the british the 4 seasons a day battering. We never make that excuse, we prepare and deal with it and at the end of the day its the football on the pitch and not the pre and post match excuses that matter.

  14. MLS is on its 14th season,yet its “franchises” get eliminated by central american and caribean clubs, even by USL clubs on CCL; in spite of the US being a much wealthier country.
    We can debate all we want, but it is clear that something is very wrong with this “league”.

    PD:can somebody answer me this please? because I dont see nobody asking this kind of questions.

    Does it make ANY sense for MLS been sancion a 1st division league, if there is no promotion and relegation to a lower one.

    Everything about MLS feel so unsoccerlike.

  15. I would like to respecfully quote on of my fellow bloggers, steve

    “Finally, MLS has always been worse than the FMF. There’s simply not the same pool of money in the US to sustain the high salaries in Mexico”

    steve, dont you think that it is the salary cap the responsable issue here?

  16. Ok I’m going to stick my oar in here, for the record I’m British. First of all nearly every player on your list was never a top player in European football in the first place.

    Guppy and Howey got a few caps sure but that was during a woeful era for the England national team when we couldnt even qualify for international finals unlike the US lol.

    Also most players on your list apart from Wilson went to the MLS way past their prime (late 30s)

    I agree though there is an arrogance that European players think they can walk into the MLS at the end of their careers, especially when the main strength of the league is athletic ability rather than technique.

    Wilson was quite young granted, but if you were used to the climate of somewhere like Middlesbrough you might find the Dallas heat a bit of a shocker as well lol.

    I’m not surprised Huckerby did quite well, as he always had bags of ability and used to be one of the fastest players in the EPL with great acceleration. Consistency was always his problem and a tendency to bottle it every time he got a shot with a big club. He always played his best football for teams where expectations were low. But I promise you if Shaka Hislop had gone to the MLS in his prime he would have been by far the best keeper to ever play in the league.

    I’d like to see more links between MLS and top european clubs so that young prospects from both could cut their teeth abroad. There is undoubtedly a great deal of untapped potential in talent as well as support in the US for football.

    The national team seem to get better every year and the long american tradition of excellence in competitive sports makes me think its only a matter of time before you get it right at the league level.

    I don’t think you need David Beckham for that lol.

    Finally I’d like to write a list of the American players who I enjoyed watching in the England.

    Brian McBride – A classic ‘british style’ striker, never backed down from a physical challenge but also had his share of skills to get the job done with head or feet, I wish he’d got to the UK a few years earlier cos I think he could have played at a top club, but he was a fantastic servant for Fulham.

    Claudio Reina- wonderful playmaker who could thread the ball through the eye of a needle and at one point was up there with the best passers in the league, another player who had the talent and the opportunity for a big move but showed great loyalty to Manchester City.

    Jay DeMerit- Not a skilful player but a solid defender with a never say die attitude, fighting for the ball in a way that always goes down well with UK fans, gave 100% for 90 minutes guaranteed. I also love his story, came over to England with nothing but a dream, plucked from non-league football by Watford and a few years later he was in the EPL, Hollywood stuff lol

    Tim Howard- failed to make the grade at Man United, who have a poor record in the transfer market when it come to keepers since the Schmecihel era. Due to this I think he was never given the time to grow into the role. But now at Everton he’s still perhaps one of the top 5 keepers in the Premiership

    Brad Friedel- another keeper, who although never at a top four club, was in my view the best keeper in the country during the early 2000s. A great shot stopper, total command over the back line and his area, saved loads of penalties. Won so many points for Blackburn by not conceding. First name on the team sheet.

    Eddie Lewis- Played for a spell at my team Leeds United and was one of our best players in an otherwise terrible team lol. He had a great left foot and good technique for that level to make and score goals for us with his quality crosses and free kicks. We still got relegated though!

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