Despite continuing growth, soccer-specific stadiums and a fantastic MLS Cup final last weekend, Major League Soccer still faces some significant questions.
For one, how did the MLS Cup final, chock full of superstars in Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane get beat in the ratings by a rerun of the Chelsea-Liverpool game?
Another question is how will MLS keep the quality of play, already in question by many soccer fans, from dropping as it continues to expand?
And perhaps most importantly, how will a post-Beckham era MLS raise its profile while losing its most famous player?
The quickest, and easiest, answer is to bring in more superstars under the league’s designated player rule. But DP’s can be a double-edged sword especially if the high profile players a team brings in lack the quality they once had or become destructive to team chemistry. Both of these issues have recently been faced by the New York Red Bulls.
The trick, of course, is to bring in players who still have the quality to bring a team to another level without becoming disruptive to the framework a team has already built. And finally, to enhance attendance and interest, the player must have some level of name recognition. Here are 10 Superstars who fit the bill.
At 35, Seedorf is coming to the end of an amazing career. However, as was evident in last summer’s trip to the United States with AC Milan in a series of preseason friendlies, he still has plenty of world-class talent left. Best of all, his contract with Milan expires this summer.
Seedorf can play as an attacking or defensive midfielder, can score goals, and will bring instant credibility and attention to any team he joins.
After an impressive career including nearly a decade at European giants Bayern Munich and Chelsea, Ballack, at 35, may be ready for a new challenge.
His contract with Bayer Leverkusen will be up this summer and he has already said this will be his last year with the club. Several potential moves seem plausible with a move to a big market team in Los Angeles or New York, or even a reunion with his former German teammate Torsten Frings in Toronto.
Ballack can play as a defensive or attacking midfielder, would fit in well with the physical nature of MLS and the former German captain’s leadership and experience would be welcomed by almost every MLS club.
It’s hard to believe Owen is only 31 because he emerged as a superstar at such a young age playing for England in the World Cup at only 18. Owen’s career has spanned such European greats as Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United, but now after numerous injuries, and playing on a deep squad, Owen rarely sees the field.
His contract with Manchester United expires this summer and he would be a fantastic addition to any MLS club lucky enough to land him.
Anelka’s contract expires this summer and both he and Chelsea management seem resigned to the fact that he will be leaving the London club. One of his representatives also admitted that he came very close to signing with MLS this past summer.
The stage seems set for the former PSG, Arsenal and Real Madrid man to join his former French strike partner Thierry Henry in America.
While fans of Chelsea have surely noted he has lost a step from his best years, Anelka still has fantastic passing ability, a nose for the goal and a great sense of the game.
Although it seems unlikely having been at Manchester United his entire career, there are a number of factors which make this switch a possibility.
Giggs has proven he can still play the game at a very high level, but with competition from Nani, Ashley Young, Ji-Sung Park, Antonio Valencia, Danny Welbeck and sometimes even Wayne Rooney being deployed as an outside midfielder, Giggs is finding his name on the team sheet less each season.
Giggs has spoken about the benefits or raising his children in America and after last spring’s expose about his alleged philandering, he may be looking to escape the British tabloid environment. His contract with United expires this summer.
Married to an American model and having spoken about ending his career in America, Shevchenko, now 35, seems an ideal fit for the league.
Shevchenko has proven, now in his second stint at Dynamo Kiev after several world class seasons at AC Milan, that he still has his scoring touch and would become an instant goal-scoring threat wherever he landed.
The legendary Spanish striker has 102 caps for the Spanish national team and an amazing 550 appearances for Spanish football giant Real Madrid. He has won the Champions League three times and is the competition’s all-time leading scorer.
At 34, Raul is near the end of his amazing career and would easily be the best footballer to ever play in MLS. His wife has publicly spoken of her desire to live in America and his contract with Schalke expires this summer.
At 30 years old, Berbatov is still at the top of his game and was the Premier League’s leading scorer just last year. However, this season he has struggled to get on the field behind Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez.
A player of his quality won’t be happy for long sitting on the bench and with his contract expiring this summer, he may be looking for a way out. He would instantly become the most dangerous goal-scorer in the league.
He has often spoken of his fondness for America and MLS could be the perfect ticket for both Berbatov and a league looking to add some star power with Beckham’s departure imminent.
With his contract at Stamford Bridge expiring and competition for the team’s lone striker role intense, Drogba may be on his way out at Chelsea. At 33, Drogba is still one of the best strikers in the world, but seems to be at his best when in the spotlight. At Chelsea, he is no longer an automatic starter.
Drogba’s size, strength and pace would be a huge draw for any MLS team and he would terrorize MLS center backs with his physical play. According to reports, he has also spoken with several other European-born MLS players to inquire about soccer in America. While MLS got a great passer with David Beckham, with Drogba it would get its first goal-scoring superstar.
At 37, Del Piero is remarkably still playing with a top European club in Juventus. After a long, storied career with the club including an amazing 498 appearances and 205 goals, he will be looking for a new club come this summer.
In October, Juventus confirmed that this will be Del Piero’s last season with the club leaving the door open for a possible move to America. His agent is claiming Chicago, Seattle and LA are interested.
Follow me on Twitter @AmerTouchline