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Thursday, July 28, 2011

MLS: The Football Star's Retirement Home.

With a increased influx of European  players migrating to the MLS, it makes me wonder... where is the attraction? Former Arsenal starlet Thierry Henry, Freddy Ljungberg, Frank Rost , German bull- dog Torsten Frings and last but not least David Beckham. These elder statesmen can no longer compete at the highest level (Ryan Giggs Excluded), due to miles on the engine. When you reach this point of your career it seems second nature now to follow the trend of becoming a Designated Player (DP) in the MLS. Forgive me but let me compare this to a similar event occurring in Baseball. The position, appropriately named (DH) or Designated Hitter is becoming obsolete.  A team in the American League must have this position in the team, a position reserved for the meaty-ist of sluggers;  big burly fore-armed men, who cannot field. Their sole purpose in the team is to hit.  These player's can play for  a longer duration of time due to the lack for action they see, somewhat akin to the lengthly careers of goalkeepers'. Once procurers' of high salaries the DH's now face a predicament as they age, and their value as a member of the team decreases. They suffer financially, as they they seem to hop annually in search of games. A role once valued has been left with it's star patrons  receiving 1 year deals, for far less money, instead of long well payed contracts. Only If they had a league that  equates to the MLS in Baseball to flock to. The DP isn't becoming obsolete, clearly seen by the growing number of them, but their situation coalesces with the DH, in that DPs have to seek out new pastures in lower profile leagues to play.

The fore-mentiond talent of Thierry Henry and company,  saw it harder to be picked at their respective club's, so in response they fashioned moves to the MLS and in return practically where guaranteed  first team football.  These marquee name players seem to be highly cultivated by MLS managers, but what attracts the player to MLS? Do they do it because the think it will be a cake-walk? Is it the pay? Surly not because of the salary-cap. The location? What's the attraction for these aging stars? When David Beckham signed for the LA Galaxy in 2007, it was HUGE deal! American soccer fans thought it was going to be the second coming having an international star of Beckham's stature playing soccer in the U.S.  Reasons for this astronomic move was due to Beckham wanting to market his worldwide brand more so than him wanting to be integral part of Soccer's growth in this country. Now, I am not sure if this is down to him, but ever since his arrival I have noticed that the game's popularity has come on leaps-an-bounds in this country. Moving to the MLS is a sure-fire way of  stars who have faded slightly to regain the spotlight. The excitement of a player of Torsten Frings or Thierry Henry playing in the United States get's endless attention, and American soccer fans eat that shit right up. It's a doubled edged sword sort-of situation, but not in the negative way it usually connotes. The player's get their spotlight, and the game get's publicity. Such big news end's up gracing ESPN Sports Center type shows that the non-soccer fans watch, leading to my non-soccer supporting friends to say   " Hey, I heard that a big name soccer star is coming to the MLS."This exposure helps the game for the simple fact that the American public becomes aware, hopefully sparking interest.

I see the interest, feeling it myself when I catch wind of a  player I admire showing interest in wanting to come play in my country. We as fans of the game want to view the top names, even if their older and slower. The influx of such players can only help the game, and the media coverage may be a tad excessive, but that's needed for a game that still needs to be sold to the American public. Look at what the NY Cosmos has done. A team that won't even be relevant till after 2012 has ripped a page out of the fire-strom marketing handbook with advertising of their uniforms. The Cosmos are a perfect example to use as reference to how soccer clubs in America have always been a destination for aging stars, such as Pele.  Back in its NASL days it attracted  top world talents who were getting on a bit,and this still holds true today. 

I believe that having DP's in the MLS is necessary. This, with a mixture of youth development is a large stride in the right direction. Our goal, in the long run is to make the MLS a top league, produce talent who are starting for teams such as Manchester United, Barcelona, and Inter Milan, and to get more people in this country interested in the world's game. The DP's help in terms of notoriety, and the fact that they basically come to MLS because it's an easier league doesn't bother me. 

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