When you think of the MLS, what comes into your head? Most probably the big named stars such as Henry, Donovan and Keane that have come to define the league in recent seasons. However, if you put aside the ridiculous team names on the glitzy atmosphere’s and coverage and you scratch beneath the surface you will discover a large hotbed of big talent that has in the past been largely overlooked.
In fact it has only been in recent seasons that the talent pool of the MLS has been well and truly delved into by Premier League clubs- but since they have there has been a significant influx of players from stateside. Just this January has seen beastly forward Kei Kamara and silky midfielder Roger Espinoza join Norwich and Wigan respectively from Sporting Kansas City and mercurial winger Brek Shea join Stoke from FC Dallas.
Of course, the way has been paved for many of these new recruits by success stories such as Carlos Bocanegra, Ryan Nelsen, DaMarcus Beasley, Jozy Altidore and in particular Clint Dempsey, all of whom migrated from the MLS to ply their trade in some of Europe’s top leagues with success, however it is hard to deny that there has been a particular increase in the activity between America and the rest of Europe.
This certainly seems to suggest two things: One that the MLS as a division as a whole is currently enjoying a rapid increase in reputation and two, that the standard of talent within the division itself is on the increase. Whichever way that you look at it, there seems to be a correlation.
In truth, you needn’t look far to find a whole host of players that could make some sort of impact either here or at home. Colombian international striker Fredy Montero and speed merchant Steve Zakuani of Seattle Sounders, classy midfielder Chris Pontius and athletic goalkeeper Bill Hamid of DC United, goal machine Chris Wondolowski of San Jose Earthquakes, beastly centre half AJ DeLaGarza of L.A. Galaxy…the list seems to go on forever. And it’s no fluke that MLS players do have a habit of making success stories out of themselves in the Premier League.
Over the summer whilst on holiday in Canada, I was lucky enough to spectate an MLS match, between Toronto FC and Portland Timbers, and having gone expecting a drab affair I must admits I was impressed with the standard of football being played, comparatively to the Premier League football I am used to watching. After witnessing a pulsating 2-2 draw, I was left completely re-evaluting the standard of play in the division. There are undeniable swathes of talent coming through at most clubs- due to the league’s active youth recruitment system and though not all of it could cut it in the big time- there are some real hidden gems out there for top clubs to find.
Of course there is no way that even the most die hard MLS supporter could argue that the class and standard in the league is near that of the Premier League- however the style of play is physical, pacy and end-to-end, identical to the blood and thunder style of the Premier League. Players can adjust quickly, to the culture and the style of play that we have over here, and play in a relatively familiar environment, allowing them to show their talent in an effective manor.
Obviously I am not arguing that there have not been some MLS flops in the past (Eddie Johnson for £2million anyone?) and I am not necessarily arguing that the MLS is the new “go-to” place for undiscovered world-class prospects, but there has undeniably been an increase in the skill of the players being brought over from stateside. With the correct scouting and the correct expertise, there are some incredibly useful players for European clubs to poach on the cheap- its a big talent, little cost formula that is always successful.
Granted, there are probably no world-beaters in the MLS. There probably wont be for a while. But nevertheless America is an increasing “hotbed of talent” that European clubs should start making better use of. This is a league on the rise, and subsequently so is the talent within the league- with useful players popping up here there and everywhere.
Surely it is time for the prospects over in the USA to be exploited?