10 MLS Stars Who Would Not Look out of Place at a Big European Club
Despite surviving 19 seasons and enjoying a very successful 2014, Major League Soccer has a serious perception problem.
MLS points to surging ticket sales as an indicator that the league is flourishing and has bigger, better days ahead of it.
"Major League Soccer finished its 19th season with the highest attendance in league history," wrote Empire of Soccer's Ryan Brister. "The final average crowd of 19,149 marks the first time that MLS has cracked 19,000 fans per game for an entire season. It probably won’t be the last time."
All true. But as any professional sports franchise owner will tell you, television is where the real money is. And the popularity of MLS in person is not translating to television ratings.
"This season, an average of 141,000 viewers tuned in to MLS telecasts on its main channel, NBC Sports Network, a 26% increase over last season, though audiences were one-third larger than the overall average when matches followed telecasts of the English Premier League," noted Matthew Futterman in The Wall Street Journal.
Why aren't American viewers tuning into MLS when they apparently like Premier League soccer? Take one guess. In ticking off the various challenges MLS has going forward, Futterman cited "the league’s level of play." He did not mean that as a compliment.
Like many consumers, American sports fans are drawn to games that feature the best players. MLS is packed full of players who either used to be great in other leagues or never had that sort of talent in the first place.
It will take some work for us to get to 10 MLS players who could play at the higher levels of European soccer, but we will get there.
Admittedly this is a bit of a cheat, using Landon Donovan as an example of an MLS star who could play in Europe. Donovan is retired.
Yeah, but he's only been out of the game for about eight days. Surely he is not deconditioned yet.
And as recently as the winter of 2012, Donovan was a starter for Everton. The way the Toffees are playing now, Donovan could definitely help them if he wanted to.
But then, that's always been the problem with Donovan, hasn't it? Surely Jurgen Klinsmann thought so.
As many married men would tell you, once you start cheating it can be kind of hard to stop. After putting Landon Donovan into this piece, it is just too tempting not to put his old running mate Clint Dempsey in here.
Dempsey played at Fulham last season, going goalless in nine appearances in all competitions. It was not Dempsey's fault that Fulham were relegated from the Premier League, but he did not do much to halt their descent, either.
Around better players on a bigger club, though, Dempsey would be a valuable second-half substitute especially for a side trying to find a goal late. And as he proved in the Seattle Sounders' U.S. Open Cup victory, he still has both the stamina and the proper level of clutch to come through when it matters.
"Before his return to Major League Soccer this offseason to play for Toronto FC, Michael Bradley was what has become more and more of an anomaly: an American playing top-flight soccer for a top-level club in Europe," wrote Stanley Kay for Sports Illustrated in February.
Bradley told Kay that being an American playing soccer in Europe carries with it a lot of unique and perhaps unjust difficulty. "There's no doubt that as Americans we continue to have to fight for respect," Bradley said. "We have to continue to show that we have teams and players who can play at the highest level."
As the great Jimmy Dugan put it in A League of Their Own, "(i)t's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard...is what makes it great."
Bradley didn't want that, which is why he's playing on AstroTurf in Toronto.
D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid would not look out of place on a European soccer team for two reasons, neither of which have much to do with his play for his MLS club.
Hamid is 23 years old. At 6'3" and 227 pounds, he looks like an undersized National Football League tight end. Physically, then, he looks the part of the goalkeeper in Europe.
Hamid is also a United States men's national team player. Tim Howard's career at Manchester United and Everton and Brad Guzan's time at Aston Villa have proven that American goalkeepers translate easily to European play.
As with Bill Hamid, Omar Gonzalez's credentials for playing in Europe begin with his physical dimensions.
At 6'5", Gonzalez is built to contend with the aerial attacks that English Premier League teams favor. The season he just turned in for the LA Galaxy certainly would not hurt his cause, either.
"Gonzalez anchored a Galaxy defense that recorded 10 shutouts and tied D.C. United for the fewest number of goals allowed with 37," noted the club's website. "A finalist for (MLS) Defender of the Year, Gonzalez was vital for both the US men’s national team and LA Galaxy in 2014."
Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler has accumulated a series of MLS honors in recent years that lend credence to the idea that he could play abroad.
"Besler was at the heart of the Sporting Kansas City defense that helped the team win MLS Cup 2013...(and) was an integral part of the US men’s national team’s defense at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, starting all four matches as the team advanced to the Round of 16," noted an MLSsoccer.com report.
Besler has been an MLS All-Star three times and in 2012 won the league's award for Defender of the Year.
Of all the selections listed here, Yedlin is the only one for whom European soccer is a given.
"Yedlin expects to arrive in north London in December after a short break at the end of the MLS season, with Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino hoping he will be available for selection from January," wrote Tom Hopkinson for the Mirror about Yedlin's impending debut at Tottenham Hotspur.
Judging from Spurs' season thus far, Yedlin cannot get to White Hart Lane fast enough.
Dom Dwyer has emerged from anonymity at Sporting Kansas City to claim a place among the premier strikers in MLS.
Dwyer scored 24 goals in all competitions for Sporting. He was born in Cuckfield, England, so he surely could find his way around to all of the Premier League grounds if he were acquired by one of those sides.
Perhaps most importantly, Dwyer has already mastered the art of linking up with a high-profile WAG. Good times.
Another week gone by and we know no more about where Erick Torres will play next season than we did last week.
Tom Marshall reported for MLSsoccer.com last month that "(t)he 21-year-old Mexico international told reporters this week in Guadalajara there will definitely be news on his future by Dec. 15, and that he is proud Major League Soccer would like to retain him for the 2015 season and beyond."
That date has come and gone, and as of this writing we cannot say where Torres will play next season. Nevertheless, a young player like Torres with a knack for scoring goals (15 in all competitions this year) is a valuable commodity in just about any league.
Admittedly the inclusion of Patrick Mullins on this list is a reach. Sometimes you just have a hunch about a player, and that is why Mullins is in this piece.
Mullins' college career at Maryland was remarkable. Perhaps most notably, Mullins has exhibited an ability to score important goals and make valuable plays in his team's most important matches.
As noted in his Maryland biography, Mullins scored the match winner against UC-Irvine in the 2013 NCAA tournament third round. He then scored twice in Maryland's semi-final win over Virginia, and had the Terrapins' only goal against Notre Dame in Maryland's loss in the NCAA championship game.
Mullins' 2014 season with the New England Revolution was unconvincing to the club, who exposed him to the recent MLS expansion draft. New York City FC grabbed Mullins with their second pick (third overall in the expansion draft). Note, though, that Mullins assisted on the Revs' only goal in the MLS Cup final.
"Mullins figures to build off of his rookie season and see the field regularly for NYC FC," wrote Jason Davis for ESPNFC.com.
It may take a few seasons, but the idea of Mullins playing in Europe is not out of the question given his career to date.