During World Cup 2006 Qualifiers, a young American star by the name of Eddie Johnson made himself a household name (by American soccer fan standards, that is) when he scored seven goals in his first six matches.
The next year, on June 2, 2007, Johnson became the first player in MLS history to score back-to-back hat tricks. He was only 23 years old, and he had what appeared to a bright future ahead.
Word of Johnson's exploits reached the ears of several European clubs, and in the end, he signed a three-year deal with Premier League club Fulham FC. His talent was undeniable, and he was expected to be a star.
Unfortunately, things just didn't come to fruition.
Eddie Johnson failed to reclaim the form that made him a star in the MLS. In August of 2008, he was loaned to second-tier team Cardiff City, and in 25 appearances with that club (mostly off the bench), he has only scored twice.
Eddie isn't the only one with this story. There are several American players that are abroad that struggle to make an impact on their teams. They are confined to the bench and sometimes the reserve squad, where their talent and confidence diminish.
Some of these players aren't given a chance to succeed, but many of them simply don't have the raw ability.
But as the guys' skills atrophy, so does the quality of our national team, and in some cases, so does our domestic league, the MLS.
It is time for MLS team to put their money together and bring back players like Eddie Johnson.
The MLS cannot expect to become popular with American fans unless the league's teams can boast the top homegrown players. Right now, the majority of the best in the MLS are aging international players.
If you ask a young American soccer fan who his or her favorite players are, they will likely mention international stars like DaMarcus Beasley or Eddie Johnson. But kids' interest in these players will fade because they do not ever hear from them again.
By bringing them here to the United States, our youth will be able to see their heroes on a weekly basis.
This article isn't meant to downplay the success of stars like Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley; these are players that deserve to be in Europe and are making an impact on their respective teams.
Nor is this article an attempt to keep American players from going to Europe. Our young talents should try to excel in European leagues, as many of them will become better players for it.
But the MLS is in danger of becoming like the NHL, a league in which the closest thing to "domestic" stars are Canadian. I mean, the MLS team with the second-highest average attendance is Toronto FC, and in 2011, Vancouver will receive an MLS team.
The team with the highest positive change in average attendance so far in 2009 is Chivas USA, a club whose games are primarily attended by Mexican immigrants.
Though it is great that attendance is increasing overall, the MLS is losing American fans. What's truly tragic is that some of those fans could have potentially been national stars in the future.
There is a time to say "enough is enough," and that time is now. If a player is struggling even to make it to the bench after years abroad, it is time to come home.
Come back to the U.S. Get paid as much as the aged international stars, and become heroes for millions.
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