‘The times they are a changin!’
By Simon Pyne
The US soccer scene has been viewed by many as a poor relation to its European counterpart, and has traditionally been a place for players in the twilight of their career to get a last payday before retirement looms.
The Japanese J-League had the same issues during the late nineties and early noughties. Many players finished their careers in Japan with a large payoff, before going home and relaxing on the porch, stroking the dog.
This led to the general consensus that the J-League was not to be taken seriously as far as football went, and MLS has been seen in a not so dissimilar light.
But don’t be misled by such scurrilous rumours and misguided comparisons. American soccer is definitely in the ascendance, its appeal rapidly increasing, and American players are now appearing in leagues all over the globe.
Did you know there are currently American players playing in over 33 countries around the world, and not all exports stay away for good?
Two of Americas finest talents have now come back to MLS as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have returned. They have recognised the rise of Major League Soccer and Dempsey, in particular, is playing some of the best football of his career.
These are widely regarded as two of the best players currently playing in the US. Both could still be courted by many of the top European clubs, so is this perhaps the start of the changing of the guard?
The US has also dipped its toe into the top leagues in Europe by investing in club ownership, particularly in the English Premier League, with American owners currently at the helm of five clubs in the EPL in Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Sunderland.
The Premier League is seen by many as the best league in the World and as a result, Premier League teams are viewed as hot property. Vital experience of the sport will be learned from this, which will hopefully continue to aid the US progress with the game.
Up to now, the US has relied on importing players from all over the globe, as the quality of players necessary to bring in the crowds have not been available from within the US.
Major League Soccer’s youth academy structure is still in its infancy as it only began in 2006, but when the youth players start appearing there should be an enormous amount of homegrown talent. This could be the catalyst that propels US soccer to the heights they are striving for.
The downside to the academies, perhaps, is that they could be sounding the death knell for college soccer. This has always been the traditional route into MLS but many feel it didn’t fully prepare the young players for the professional game.
The academies are mirroring the successful European clubs in fully training and preparing them for the spotlight from within, and it is difficult to argue against this tried and tested method. All MLS clubs now have youth academies and the benefits of these will no doubt start to show over the next few years.
No matter what is occurring within North American soccer, there is no doubt that this year will be a major test for it. If the US National side has a successful World Cup campaign, the appeal of soccer will increase throughout the country. The rest of the world will take notice, and MLS will be on the fast-road to the success it so rightly deserves.