MLS is growing at an exceptional rate and bringing it closer to the world’s elite leagues

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Major League Soccer is constantly being lambasted as a retirement league – a comfy setting where older players in the twilights of their careers can earn good paychecks, while experiencing famous cities like Seattle, New York and Los Angeles (no bias there, just a Pacific Northwest native writing about football). Franck Ribery once said that if he played in the United States he, “wouldn’t count that as part of my real career”.

For Major League Soccer to change this perception, and bring itself on par with the elite leagues across the world, it must start targeting younger players of a higher pedigree, or players who could still make an impact in Europe. There are restrictions in terms of salary with the Designated Player rule, but teams have to bring in talent of a higher grade.

The teams in MLS have started to do this. It isn’t a finished product, but they’re getting there. The most recent acquisitions of note support the previous line of thinking.

LA Galaxy’s next European star will be Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. While Stevie G isn’t the player he once was, he still checks out as a player with the ability to thrive in Europe. He posted a 7.08 rating in the Champions League and has turned in a 6.96 rating in the Premier League. In all competitions he has nine goals in 26 appearances. He may be 34, but he could certainly still contribute to a European team. Adding a massively influential on-field player will pay huge dividends for the league and the Galaxy.

While Gerrard fits the bill as a player who could make an impact in Europe, recent signing Mix Diskerud and rumored acquisition Jozy Altidore represent the other acquisition of value for MLS clubs – younger players of a high quality who could be playing in Europe. The obvious caveat is that both are American and it’s a homecoming of sorts for both, but the two are massive additions for the league.

In terms of recruiting players, MLS’ best bets are going to be to Americans. We’ve seen the league tempt stars such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley home in the past. Now Diskerud, Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Sacha Kljestan and Brek Shea join DeMarcus Beasley as recent national team veterans to make their way back to North America.

Major League Soccer has also targeted players with past MLS success. These players aren’t American, but have extensive experience in the league. Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara didn’t light the world on fire in Europe (both coincidentally played in England) but during their respective primes, they were top players in MLS. Bringing the duo back only improves the quality of the competition.

In addition to Americans and league veterans, Major League Soccer has gone about bringing in former stars in the latter stages of their careers – players who aren’t what they once were, but players who aren’t severely affected by age. Gerrard is a prime example of this. His former England colleague Frank Lampard (if he actually shows up) is another.

Lampard and Diskerud’s soon-to-be teammate David Villa is another one of these players. Villa is only 33. He was a part of an admittedly weaker, but still talented, Spain squad at the World Cup in Brazil. The striker is his country’s top goalscorer of all-time and he played an important role during his brief time at Atletico Madrid, helping Atleti to a Champions League final appearance and La Liga title.

In addition to the likes of Bradley and Altidore, Toronto is set to bring Italian attacker Sebastian Giovinco into the fold. The man dubbed formica atomica, or “atomic ant” in Italian, is only 28 and in the midst of his prime. Not only is Toronto acquiring him from an elite European team in Juventus, they are also acquiring a player with 21 caps for the Italian national team. Giovinco could still be a fixture with the Azzurri while playing in MLS.

The league also recently welcomed Kaka, who represents another massive opportunity. The Brazilian legend will suit up alongside Brek Shea for expansion franchise Orlando City SC. Kaka isn’t what he used to be, but one must remember what he used to be. The playmaker was in the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo discussion at one point in time. He was arguably the better player of the three at times as well. Kaka was the best-of-the-best in his prime. If he brings a small portion of that to MLS, the league will benefit. If he succeeds, he will likely be the catalyst of success at Orlando. Should the Floridians thrive in MLS, it will create even more opportunity for North American soccer growth.

Not only will it help attract other marquee players, but it will also be another feather in the league’s cap in terms of attracting new cities.

The year 2017 will bring the arrival of an Atlanta-based team, as well as a second Los Angeles-based team to replace the defunct Chivas USA. Additionally, there is hope that David Beckham’s Miami project will come to fruition. Other prospective MLS cities include Minneapolis, Sacramento and San Antonio. If cities feel they can bring in a star like Kaka to their team, who is gold on the field and marketing wise, it only increases the appeal.

Major League Soccer is at an all-time high, thanks to new additions Steven Gerrard, Mix Diskerud, Frank Lampard and David Villa. In short, the league is beginning to thrive. It won’t be long before North America’s premier soccer league is on par with the world’s best.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.

All stats courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

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