Toronto FC put seven years of complete and utter futility behind them on Monday by announcing the signings of Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe in the same press conference. It doesn’t erase it, but now it’s not at the forefront of discussions about the club… except for Daniel Taylor of The Guardian. He wrote a scathing piece about Defoe’s move, quoting every negative thing ever said about Toronto FC, although neglecting to mention the new brass in place. Even as Defoe fought back against the negative perception, this does raise a global question about where MLS stands at present for players like Defoe, players like Bradley, and where the league stands on the global pedestal. Certainly Taylor has a St. George’s Cross-colored view of what the league is, but what of the star-spangled stripes view, or the view of a general fan? They are changing just as fast as the league is.
Evidently, the English view of the league is still what it was when David Beckham made the bold move to LA: a retirement league. MLS 1.0 was pretty much synonymous with this view. But when Beckham came over (recruited by the same Tim Leiweke that brought in Bradley and Defoe), the league was transformed. Now with major US Men’s National Team players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley coming back, the league has transformed again.
Taylor believes, as do others such as Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood, that Defoe’s World Cup hopes are done because he’s gone to MLS. This is fascinating considering Beckham still played for England after he made the move to LA, and would have been on the plane to South Africa if it wasn’t for his Achilles injury suffered when on loan to AC Milan. Robbie Keane still is banging in goals for Ireland as a Galaxy player just as successfully as he did when he was playing in England too. Was David Beckham by far the best player in MLS during his tenure, as many skeptics would lead you to believe? Many would say no. And Jermain Defoe certainly won’t be the best player in the league when he arrives, or maybe even the best forward. The league is a tougher animal than people in Blighty give it credit for, and this will make Jermain Defoe a better player, even though his World Cup hopes are most likely shot. But what is interesting here is that Defoe certainly had interest from smaller Premier League clubs, but he spurned all of them to come to MLS, which can now be construed as a safer option. So Defoe’s leap of faith is a big one, but is it as big as the player he was introduced with?