If you love something, let it go.
This is a saying that most of us are probably familiar with. Perhaps we've even applied it to a boyfriend/girlfriend that we just couldn’t make happy, or a beloved family pet that could no longer live comfortably.
This is a philosophy that MLS would do well to adopt.
MLS wants to hang on to its high-profile American talent, and the National Team suffers as a result. Keeping the most talented players under contract is in the best interest of the league, but you have to wonder how much it hurts the Americans in international competition.
Taylor Twellman has not been allowed out of his contract at all and the league denied a $5 million bid for Eddie Johnson by Benfica in 2005. Johnson eventually made his way to England, but it took far too long. Twellman signed a long-term contract with MLS before the 2007 season, and the league rejected a $2.5 million bid from Preston North End. His window of opportunity is closing.
I understand why MLS wants to keep top-tier domestic talent in the league. The league is still trying to build an identity and get away from its reputation as a league filled with B-list American talent and washed-up foreigners. What better way to do this than hang on to its biggest names?
DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride and Tim Howard, among others, have all left MLS for richer paydays and tougher competition abroad. Nobody can deny that their game improved considerably as a result of this.
Playing against top-notch talent is good practice for anybody, and they just can't find that in America. At least not yet.
Jozy Altidore was the most recent MLS name to be transferred to a foreign club. Villareal shelled out 10 million bucks for him. If all goes well, he'll be competing against sides like Real Madrid and Barcelona, sides that still far outclass anything MLS has to offer. Brad Guzan might be close behind Altidore in Europe. He's drawing interest from Aston Villa, Celtic and Arsenal.
Ten million dollars seems like a lot of money to pay for a relatively untested teenager. But MLS would have been left with nothing had Altidore played out the rest of his contract and left. Instead, MLS has $10 million that it can invest in the continuing development of the league. They need to begin to see these high-profile transfers as something that will ultimately benefit the league and the national team.
MLS can still find plenty of talent while allowing the top Americans to hone their skills against the top players in the rest of the world. Carlos Valderrama, Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Cuahtemoc Blanco, and the big fish David Beckham have all plied their trade in MLS. These players are all quite capable performers, proven internationals.
The league has also been successful finding quality talent without the superstar reputation of Beckham and Blanco. Amado Guevara, Dwayne De Rosario and Juan Toja have all made important contributions. Why not take some of the big transfer fees being offered for players like Altidore and invest them in players like those?
In a very short period of time, the quality of the play in MLS would improve a great deal.
Once these investments start paying off, then the top domestic talent will begin to benefit from staying in MLS to play. The league is fairly solid when it comes to quality of play, but it has to aspire to challenge the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A for US Soccer to be successful.
Start shopping the likes of Landon Donovan and Brian Ching to European clubs. American goalkeepers seem to find a great deal of success, so let's start sending more and more of our outfield stars abroad. Their impact will be seen at home in the form of a more successful national team and greater exposure of the "Beautiful Game" to the average American.
MLS, if you love your homegrown stars, let them go.