A banner unfolds in the Red Bull Arena as the 3rd New York derby gets underway. ‘City Retirement Home’ it reads with two caricatures adorning the fabric. One is Frank Lampard, the other is new recruit Andrea Pirlo who start for expansion team New York City FC. Whilst it produces a good chuckle, it’s easy to get sucked into the ‘retirment home’ stereotype. Over the years many older statesmen have graced the pitches of Los Angeles and New York, but over the summer the league as a whole has taken significant steps to prove that it isn’t just a place for the rich and famous to retire.
Whilst clubs in America continue to attract older players later in their career, this summer has seen those clubs attract a calibre of player which supersedes the original class of designated players. New York City, Los Angeles Galaxy and now the Montreal Impact have taken it upon themselves to progress the league by securing deals for players in Europe who could have continued to play at the highest level. Andrea Pirlo could have continued with the Old Lady of Turin, Didier Droga had offers from across Europe and Steven Gerrard will be greatly missed at Liverpool.
However, the deal which has really demonstrated the ambition Major League Soccer has is that of Giovani Dos Santos to LA Galaxy. At 26 years old, Dos Santos is in his prime and is coming off the back a fantastic scoring season with Spanish side Villarreal. Dos Santos plays a key role for Mexico and starred in their exciting World Cup campaign in 2014, whilst also pushing them to a Gold Cup victory against Jamaica this summer. The Galaxy has granted Dos Santos a 5-year deal, which certainly demonstrates that they are using him to build a team capable of winning not only MLS titles, but also CONCACAF Champions League honours – a cup which has traditionally been dominated by Mexican sides.Whilst Dos Santos is set to earn €6m a year with the Galaxy money may have been an attraction, but the ambition of the league will have been a huge factor in his decision to leave Europe.
As the Premier League continue to establish themselves in their biggest market places across Asia, MLS is finally starting to establish themselves outside of the US and Canada. Major League Soccer has used the Premier League as a blueprint for their league expansion in recent years, and the transfer of Dos Santos finally gives recognition to the Mexican market. Mexican-Americans and Mexicans outnumber American and Candian watchers of the MLS by 3 to 1. The Gold Cup is held on US soil every year due to the huge footballing audience that reside there. The signing of Dos Santos ensures that Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy have even more exposure abroad as well as at home. The move is fantastic financially, allowing the whole league to tap into the biggest market and generating extra income from television rights and shirt sales from across the boarder.
Finally, on the pitch the recall of Kaka to the Brazilian national team for the matches against Costa Rica and the United States this year signals that teams at international level are finally giving the league the plaudits it deserves. Kaka has been the main driving force of Orlando City this year as their Captain and designated player. Unlike David Beckham before him, he has managed to force himself back into recognition, with coach Dunga even stating that he wanted to build around the 33 year old. Kaka is not the only player from MLS who is a mainstay for his national side as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have demonstrated over the past 18 months with the United States.
Major League Soccer is expanding rapidly, and in the near future academy products from across the league will start to make their mark on matches. Dos Santos won’t be the last young player to leave Europe for America because the league means business and deserves all the plaudits it has won so far.
About the Author – Ben Jarman
Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.