As MLS enters the final stages of the season, it’s exciting to look toward the future of some of the league’s key stars. However, there remains a strong possibility that two stars in particular could be leaving the league. But what will their absence mean for the league?
Atlanta United’s 24-year-old attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron has had a successful spell in MLS. The Paraguayan has scored 21 goals and assisted 28 goals in 62 MLS appearance for his franchise, and his impressive play has been noticed by some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Arsenal is reportedly looking at Almiron as a replacement for Aaron Ramsey, who will exit the Gunners on a free transfer in 2019. In October, ESPN reported that Arsenal want to move for Almiron in January and they are willing to pay up to £15 million for him.
Another superstar that MLS is rumored to be losing is LA Galaxy’s 37-year-old striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The former Swedish national team captain has starred in MLS, scoring 22 goals in 27 league games for the LA Galaxy since joining in March of 2018. But the rumor mill has been churning with many newspapers around the world circulating reports of an attempt from AC Milan to sign the striker. Given that Zlatan only moved to LA recently and that he seems to be enjoying life in the US, perhaps a permanent move to his old club AC Milan is wishful thinking on the Serie A’s part especially when his age and capability to play in Europe after a very physical American season is taken into consideration? But we have gotten used to expecting the unexpected with Ibrahimovic, so anything could happen.
What does it mean for MLS?
Almiron and Ibrahimovic themselves would leave sizable gaps in their respective team’s lineups, but given the MLS’s youthful outlook and seemingly newfound ability to attract legends before they have lost their quality, they would surely soon be replaced by better and more expansive players.
Though it might sound crazy, the departure of young stars like Almiron from MLS is a good thing because by selling young stars, MLS demonstrates that they are a breeding ground for new talent and not just a retreat for aging stars. Through players like Almiron, the MLS’ youth and scouting system seem to be finally challenging the perception that the league is merely a retirement league or a peaceful sanctuary where the world’s greatest footballers go to end their careers.
In March, MLS produced a series of statistics that further prove the point. MLS’ data shows that of 637 active MLS players, 234 players have been capped for their national team. More impressive than the number of international players in MLS is the fact that the average age of an MLS player is 25.36, a statistic that demonstrates how MLS is showcasing youth talent and is no longer solely reliant on the all-star old guard transferred from European club’s.
As strange as it seems, any European move for an older player like Ibrahimovic could also be a good thing for MLS’ reputation as it would show that he is still capable of playing to a world class standard and that he is playing in MLS for soccer reasons rather than just the money. Perhaps Milan’s interest even demonstrates that the young crop of MLS talent is playing alongside and against genuine world stars who are at least close to their prime and not just heroes of the game from yesteryear who have outlived their sell-by-date.