If you can’t love the one you want, love the one your with.
– Stephen Stills
Rejection sucks. Anyone who has ever been spurned by a lover, had a terrible date, or been fired can tell you that there is very little good that can be had out of being told you are not good enough. There is a certain feeling of inadequacy that creeps into one’s mind that cannot be erased by cliched words.
This is the feeling that many MLS supporters have had over the past two weeks as Frank Lampard and Manchester City (or City Football Group, you choose which shell to call them today) informed NYC FC supporters that he will be staying with City until the end of the season.
But with every rejection, there is a silver lining. Very few situations in life are as bad as we perceive them to be and more often than not when we focus upon the one negative thing, we lose focus of the many positive things going on in our lives.
While this week saw MLS sustain a very heavy black-eye in the footballing world, there was a bit of good news that happened that largely went unreported – New England Revolution forward Diego Fagundez was named to the Uruguay U-20 National Team. He will be playing in the South American U-20 Championships with a chance to play at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
Now these two players are obviously not on the same level right now. Lampard is a 19 year veteran of the Premier League, has won countless club titles, and been capped by England over 100 times.
Fagundez is an 18 year old kid who is just coming into his own with the New England Revolution (88 appearances and 22 goals is not too shabby to be fair) and is just starting his international career with Uruguay. No one is comparing the achievements of the two and I am sure there are plenty of NYC FC fans who do not care about the success of one of their fellow Eastern Conference competitors.
That being said, it is still a tremendous achievement for a league that gets called a retirement league and gets knocked about its quality of play. The fact that Uruguay, who finished second at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, are confident that a player like Fagundez, who came up through the New England Youth Academy system, can help them get over the top shows that the league is burying these two tired myths.
Fagundez is not the only youth player being called up for international duty. New York Red Bulls academy goalkeeper Santiago Constanzo will be playing for Colombia at the same tournament. Meanwhile, Justin Meram of the Columbus Crew will be representing Iraq at the AFC Asian Cup and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Gyassi Zardes is currently being courted by Avram Grant to play for Ghana. This of course also does not include the hundreds of MLS players that are called up routinely for senior and youth national team duty for ‘lesser’ CONCACAF nations .
The Fagundez addition underscores another cool trend that MLS supporters (or at least those that aren’t bilingual in Spanish or Portuguese) seem to not picking up on: that the league is catching up to South American club teams and becoming a desired destination for footballers from the region. Anyone who follows the fantastic BBC World Football Phone In knows that South American football writer Tim Vickery has spoken at lengths in recent weeks about the fear officials in the region have over MLS.
Although MLS has always been interested in South America – Carlos Valderrama, Marco Etcheverrey, and Jaime Moreno spring to mind – it always more of an interest in established names. Now players like the Montreal Impact’s Ignacio Piatti (San Lorenzo,) the San Jose Earthquakes’ Matias Perez Garcia (Tigre,) and Vancouver Whitecaps’ forward Octavio Rivero (O’Higgins-leading goalscorer in Chile) are coming over in the prime of their careers.
This is not to say that the league is perfect. There are certainly many things that need to be corrected to make MLS a league that with some of the other top leagues in the world. But North American football supporters are often a jaded lot who focus only on the negatives and not on the positives. That South American scouts and players in their prime are looking at MLS as a step forward and not backwards is a sign that the league is doing something right.
It is understandable that supporters in the United States and Canada want players like Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard to come to MLS. They watch these players for years and would like to see them play live in a match that matters and not have to pay $4,000. A swanky British Airways seat can only be worth so much.
But MLS has a lot of great things going for it right now with a lot of very good quality players looking to play in it. Rather than pining for Lampard, MLS supporters should enjoy players like Fagundez who are a better representative of their league and where it is going.