With David Beckham leaving Major League Soccer, the question has been repeatedly asked—who will be the next big player MLS brings over?
While Beckham’s legacy has been thoroughly debated, there is no doubt that he transcends the game—not only here in America, but worldwide.
So, replacing him may be impossible.
The trick is to find players in the last year of their contracts (it is very unlikely MLS would shell out a substantive transfer fee) who are still viable AND can draw in the crowds.
While there are very few, if any, players MLS could attract who are as popular as Beckham has been, here are eight players who can still get it done on the pitch and bring people to the games.
Michael Owen’s professional footballing career has taken a sad turn in recent years.
Once one of the most feared strikers in Europe, Owen has suffered repeated injuries, which have resulted in only six starts in the English Premier League over the last four seasons.
However, at 32, Owen may still have a year or two of magic left and might fancy getting away from England after years of sitting on the bench.
He certainly isn’t a sure thing and might not even draw the fans, but Americans do love a goal scorer. And, if Owen started finding the back of the net on a regular basis, his popularity, at least in the soccer community, would begin to rise again.
Reports out of Spain today via ESPN are making this move look increasingly possible.
Kaka, who was once considered one of the world’s best players, has seen few first-team opportunities with Real Madrid over the past few seasons.
This year he has been limited to one league start.
At 30 years old, Kaka surely has more than a few years of good football in him, but one wonders if he would thrive in MLS with its preponderance of the 4-4-2 and direct style of play.
If he were to join MLS, Kaka would certainly rekindle the interest of the fans who once adored the Brazilian midfielder.
Brad Friedel, a native of Ohio, appears to have permanently lost his starting position at Tottenham to Hugo Lloris and might be primed for a return to the U.S.
As with Brian McBride, who returned home to play with and eventually retire from the Chicago Fire, the hometown draw can be strong.
There would be a few obstacles, however, to an MLS move for Friedel.
MLS would likely have to shell out designated player dollars to compete with what Friedel is making in England. And that may not make a lot of financial sense considering that Friedel is 41 years old. One wonders how many fans would drive out to a game just to see him play.
Frank Lampard, at 34 years old, has only started four of Chelsea’s 15 league matches this year. With turmoil at Stamford Bridge again brewing and in the last year of his contract, Lampard could take hold of the moment to make his exit from the club.
Rumors of Lampard coming to the U.S. have been swirling since this summer, and they have started up again.
Lampard’s clean-cut looks could easily be used to promote the league, and his goal-scoring talent would make him popular with the fans and many MLS clubs.
It seems like an unlikely move from the world’s premier club to MLS, but there are a few reasons it could work.
Carles Puyol is in the last year of his contract with Barcelona and has won every award for club and country that a player could want to achieve in his career.
Puyol would become an instant star in MLS. Based on his playing style, there would be few of the attitude questions that players like Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez have been beleaguered with.
Still, at the age of 34, Puyol might have enough in him to still be manning the center of the Spanish defense at the 2014 World Cup and may have no desire to move to America.
There have been rumors of Didier Drogba coming to MLS for several years now, and Major League Soccer revealed this fall that it tried to convince Drogba to come to America this summer with a record-setting offer.
However, recent comments from Drogba make this move look far more likely in 2014 than in 2013.
Although Oguchi Onyewu has seen a few starts for Malaga in Cup competitions, he has found league starts almost nonexistent, only starting one La Liga game this season.
Furthermore, he has been widely criticized by the Malaga fanbase and press for his performances when he has played.
Onyewu’s career has been a bit enigmatic.
With Standard Liege in Belgium, Twente in the Eredivisie and Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, Onyewu was a regular starter and won three trophies.
However, when Onyewu has reached for the top clubs in stints with Newcastle, AC Milan and now Malaga, he has struggled.
At 30 years of age and only on a one-year deal with Malaga, it is unlikely another top club will be coming in to snatch Onyewu up this summer.
And, closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he has little incentive to start over with a new club in Europe where he would have to prove himself all over again.
Surprisingly, despite representing the USMNT more than 60 times, Onyewu has never played in Major League Soccer.
Despite the fact that Onyewu has struggled at the highest levels of European football and even in some of his recent appearances with the USMNT, he still has many admirers in America and would no doubt be a top-class MLS center-back.
Donovan’s contract with MLS technically runs until the end of the 2013 season, but with Donovan repeatedly talking about retirement in recent months, MLS should do everything it can to get him back for the 2013 season.
For most of its existence, Donovan has been the face of MLS soccer. If he does leave the league, it will have a negative impact. USMNT fans from all regions still go to Galaxy games to see Donovan play.
MLS needs to do whatever it can to keep Donovan (who has repeatedly talked about burnout), even if that means allowing him (if he were interested) to start with a new team in a new city in 2013.
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