Not so long ago, MLS was deemed a “retirement league” by the rest of the soccer world as the likes of David Beckham and other older European players would come over to earn a “nice paycheck” in the twilights of their careers. Back then, the league was unstable and not very many people cared about supporting a soccer team in America. So the very first of the MLS teams had no other option but to bring in that European star power in order to get people in seats.
Now the tides have turned, and the league is prospering thanks to soccer specific stadia, academies, dedicated ownership groups, and an increasingly growing American player pool. MLS’s policies of centralized control are creating a system where every team involved in the league plays a crucial part in developing soccer in America.
However, the league is still fairly old in terms of squad age and it still feels as if teams need that “marquee” European signing in order to compete, or for that matter, earn sustainable revenue from ticket and merchandise sales. So in some sense, MLS is still a “retirement league” but there are signs that the league is maturing and getting younger.
In the past few years, MLS as a league consciously shifted its transfer policies and clubs. This winter, those clubs have started buying younger players. This is due to the increasing competitive nature of the league and the continued success of FC Dallas-who has consistently been one of the best teams in the league thanks to their dependence on developing their youth.
Perhaps the best instance of this shift came earlier this month, when the LA Galaxy team, (usually known for landing old European legends like Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard) chose to buy Joao Pedro Machado, an unknown 24 year old defensive midfielder from Vitoria Guimaraes. This surprised a lot of Galaxy fans who are used to seeing European legends play in the StubHub Center. The Galaxy front office appears to be moving the team in a completely different direction.
Galaxy, however, isn’t the only team buying younger talent. Just during this winter alone, the Huston Dynamo bought 20 year old Honduran striker Alberto Elis from Monterrey and 25 year old attacker Rommmel Quioto from CD Olimpia. Meanwhile the Columbus Crew bought 19 year old Panamanian midfielder Christian Martinez from Chorrillo FC.
Overall, the league still has a long way to go before it can reach the heights of “The Best League in the World.” However, MLS is slowly showing signs of maturity as the retirement league label starts to become less and less applicable.
Article by Zachary Lehman