Whether it’s a big-name like Kaka or an up-and-comer like Alexander Lopez, MLS has increasingly become the desired destination for soccer stars.
In the last five years, those stars have come in different shapes and sizes.
For MLS cynics, there is the aging star looking to spend the twilight of his career in the United States. Somehow a handful of these transfers—Thierry Henry and David Beckham, for example—have defined MLS as a “retirement home.”
For MLS purists, there is the hidden gem that develops in MLS and prospers in a top-tier league overseas. Just ask Sporting Kansas City/United States Men’s National Team fans the kind of player Wigan Athletic received in Roger Espinoza.
Then there are the modest stars that are unheralded by the media, overlooked by the casual fan and essential for a championship run. The Houston Dynamo can attest to that after signing Oscar Boniek Garcia last year.
All three construct the spectrum of MLS stars.
Rather than fill an entire article with outlandish scenarios based on no credible traction, all three categories will be covered.
There is no room for the “Cristiano Ronaldo to MLS in 2018” slide here.
So from the big-name to the up-and-comer—and everything in between—here are the five current stars bound to play in MLS and their potential destination.
Kaká (The Big-Name Star)
Current Club: Real Madrid
Potential Future Destination: New York Red Bulls
Let’s get the obvious name out of the way.
It feels as if Kaka has been linked to MLS in every transfer window since the beginning of time.
But let’s not go back that far.
Kaka stated his desire to play in MLS in an interview last summer. A variety of factors, however, have kept him from already doing so.
Financially, the move seems impossible for any MLS team to accomplish. Real Madrid is not “budging” on the $27 million transfer fee for the Brazilian midfielder (per Grant Wahl).
Opportunistically, a permanent transfer from Real Madrid to MLS will not boost Kaka’s chances to play for the Brazilian national team. The dream of playing for the World Cup on your native land is an opportunity too tempting to jeopardize.
Even sporadic minutes for Kaka at Real Madrid is more beneficial to his career than playing in MLS.
But the keyword to this article is “eventually.”
Eventually Kaka will not be worth the $27 million transfer fee keeping him in limbo. Eventually his aspirations of playing for Brazil will be unrealistic due to age.
Grant Wahl reported on Fox Soccer’s Goals on Sunday that the Los Angeles Galaxy will make one more push for El Pastor “soon.” Due to the aforementioned reasons, a move does not appear likely.
Eventually he will play in MLS, but not with the Galaxy.
Kaka does not have a brother on that team. He does not have an apartment in that city. There is not a prevalent Portuguese population in that surrounding area.
All signs point to Kaka eventually becoming a New York Red Bull. He has already stated a desire to do so.
Richard Dunne (The Aging Star)
Current Club: Aston Villa
Potential Future Destination: Los Angeles Galaxy
Struggles with injury are the only thing keeping Richard Dunne from being a designated player in MLS.
The 33-year-old center back is yet to play this season as he has struggled to rehab from a nagging groin injury. Dunne reportedly suffered another setback last month during training.
That, however, has not kept Dunne’s name from appearing in MLS circles.
The Daily Mail reported that it was a “Dunne deal.” The Aston Villa defender was set to join the New York Red Bulls.
It was a puzzling report considering Dunne’s troubling past with Gerard Houllier—now the Head of Global Soccer for the Red Bulls.
The Independent reported that the Los Angeles Galaxy had hopes of reuniting Dunne with his Irish countryman Robbie Keane as well.
But a move has yet to come to fruition, and with good reason: There is no need to pay a transfer fee for a 33-year-old defender with a history of injuries.
Not when his contract is set to expire this summer.
If healthy, Dunne would provide either the Red Bulls or the Galaxy with a formidable pair of defenders.
It would be difficult to see goals being conceded with a pairing of Dunne and Omar Gonzalez in LA. That sentiment holds true in New York with Dunne and Jamison Olave.
That’s quite a bit of talent and experience no matter what the pairing.
But a move to the Galaxy is more fitting for Dunne. He has already admitted his desire to end his career in MLS and emulate the path of Keane and David Beckham.
"I think it would be nice to live the lifestyle out there. If the opportunity came at 34-35, I'd definitely take it."
Looks like his opportunity has come.
Robert Earnshaw (The Modest Star)
Current Club: Cardiff City
Potential Future Destination: Vancouver Whitecaps
Rumors surrounding Robert Earnshaw’s potential move to MLS broke on MLSsoccer.com last month.
The 31-year-old striker is in a current state of limbo following his loan spell with Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I imagine Robert will be looking to play matches, which is not something he is going to get here.”
That poses a quandary for Earnshaw.
His fondness for Cardiff City dates back to the start of his career at the age of 16. His stated desire to play for the Bluebirds in the Premier League is well known.
It could be a dream come true given that Cardiff City currently sit atop the npower Championship with 64 points.
But Earnshaw tweeted out one important piece of information just last week: His contract runs until July 2013.
With an expiring contract and a manager opposed to his ambitions at Cardiff, Earnshaw could be looking for a new home this summer.
That home could be in Vancouver.
This interest from Vancouver, however, is nothing new. The Whitecaps’ interest reportedly dates back as far as last year (per Duncan Castles of Sports Illustrated).
Earnshaw is adamant about playing for Cardiff when they are promoted to the Premier League. But with that opportunity increasingly less likely, Earnshaw will have to listen to those offers he said he would.
“If there are offers from other clubs I would have to think about them”
Vancouver appears to be offering, Robert. Try giving it a thought.
Robbie Rogers (The Returning Star)
Former Club: Leeds United
Future Potential Destination: Chicago Fire
After a disappointing stint with Leeds United, Robbie Rogers left the club last month by “mutual consent.”
Immediately following his departure, a rumored return to MLS broke on MLSsoccer.com—the Columbus Crew being the obvious choice for his speculated return.
Rogers spent five years with the crew (2007-2011). His laundry list of accolades include two Supporters' Shields, an MLS Cup and an MLS Best XI in 2008.
The prodigal son was destined to make his return.
That is, until the Crew traded Dilly Duka and the right of first refusal to Rogers to the Chicago Fire in exchange for Dominc Oduro.
Exasperated, Rogers took to Twitter in order to express his displeasure.
“Just read my "rights" were traded to Chicago... Love how the MLS works, pretty funny. #rightlessinthemls”
For MLS' sake, let's hope Rogers' Twitter account was hacked.
Some have argued that Rogers’ cryptic tweet rules out a move to Chicago. But Rogers simply expressed his displeasure with MLS and the allocation process.
There was no disdain aimed at the direction of the Fire in his 140 characters.
With limited options, Rogers’ return to MLS is well-founded. His failed tenure in Europe follows the same narrative as current MLS stars Eddie Johnson, Ricardo Clark and Kenny Cooper.
But for now, Rogers’ agent is “staying mum” on the former Crew star.
Alexander Lopez (The Up-and-Coming Star)
Current Club: Club Deportivo Olimpia
Potential Future Destination: Houston Dynamo
How about a not-so-obvious name?
The Honduran influence in MLS has grown quite considerably in recent years. As I argued before, it is partially responsible for the strengthening of its national team.
Jerry Bengtson, Victor Bernardez, Mario Martinez and Oscar Boniek Garcia are names USMNT fans are quite familiar with following a 2-1 loss in San Pedro Sula last week.
Alexander Lopez will be the next.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder has scored 22 goals with 37 assists in 58 appearances with Club Deportivo Olimpia.
He has been an instrumental part of the Honduran youth national team—including a start and two appearances off the bench in the team’s impressive run at the 2012 Olympics.
Boniek Garcia has done yeoman’s work in selling MLS to his compatriots—so much so that Lopez received an offer from the Houston Dynamo last month (as told by Lopez himself to the Honduran outlet La Tribuna).
Simon Borg of MLSsoccer.com offers a translated transcript of his comments:
“Yes, it's true that I have an offer from the Houston Dynamo. I think it would be a nice experience to play in that league [MLS]. I'm not going to deny that in a way it excites me, but I'm not desperate to leave; I'm young with my future ahead of me. I've been calm about everything."
Lopez is still hoping to "solidify his position" on Olimpia this year, but has not ruled out the Dynamo’s offer.
Given the recent success of his countryman in MLS, Lopez should eventually accept it.
But don’t take my word for it. Take his.
“The Houston Dynamo manager saw me when we played them in the United States. I think it would be a nice experience that other Honduran players are already living."
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