Didier Drogba in the MLS and What That Would Mean to American Soccer

Louis Hamwey@thecriterionmanAnalyst IIIJune 21, 2011

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 12:  Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on April 12, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When Chelsea signed Fernando Torres from Liverpool for an English record transfer fee, Didier Drogba had to see something was changing.

When he and the Spaniard couldn't link up on the field and Drogba was benched in favor of the new player, he had to begin to wonder about his future.

And when head man Carlo Ancelotti was sacked and rumors about making the team younger began to swirl, he had to recognize that his time at Stamford Bridge may be coming to an end.

Summer transfer rumors mimic New England weather: If you don't like it, wait five minutes. But in the case of Didier Drogba, the reports have consistently suggested the Ivorian will be moving away from the West London club.

There have been links to other EPL clubs such as Tottenham or Manchester City. But the Chelsea front office have nixed all claims that they are willing to sell him to an EPL opponent. Smart decision, considering Drogba only trails Manchester United's Wayne Rooney in most goals scored in the league since joining in 2004.

Other more probable links are to the Italian giants AC Milan and Spanish side Malaga. Both have expressed interest, are not in direct contention with Chelsea, and have the monetary funds to back it up.

But are those the only options? What does Drogba want himself?

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Back in April, it was first reported by two sources in the U.S. that Drogba's people had contacted representatives of the MLS to discuss a possible future for him in the league. This news was of course all hear-say and has not been brought up since.

But with his departure from Chelsea seeming more and more likely, perhaps it is time to revisit the idea.

What he would do on the Field

Many saw Drogba's 2010-11 season as one of the worst of his career. His goal scoring was down, his injuries were frequent, and was he beginning to show signs of aging.

But when he was healthy and wanted to play, he played. Perhaps the stats don't quite support the truth, but Drogba was a constant presence on the pitch. In key games against rival clubs such as Man U and Man City, the striker terrorized the back lines, attracting defenders to him and opening up space for his teammates.

In the second leg of Chelsea's quarterfinal draw against Man U in the Champions League, Drogba was subbed in at half. Once on the field, he made the world-class left back, Patrice Evra, and the 2011 EPL player of the year, defender Nemanja Vidic, look foolish as he split the two and scored a great goal to give Chelsea life.

If he does this against two of the best defenders in the world, what will he do against kids just out of college?

The difference between Drogba and other stars in the MLS is that he is such an all-around player. Beckham needs someone to give the ball to. Henry needs someone to get the ball to him. Both are reliant on others to show their talent. But in the case of Drogba, he knows how to do it on his own.

His size, strength, and skill have made him one of the best strikers in the world. It is a combination that does not come around very often. He is great with his feet and in the air. He is as fast as the fastest forward and stronger than most defenders.

Whatever team he decides to go to will see instant success, as the game plan will be to get him the ball and let him play.

What he would mean to the League

In 2007, the MLS set up the "Designated Player Rule." This was designed to allow teams to bring in marquee players without going over the salary cap. The rule helped bring David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, and more to league. In turn, it helped to spur the sport to new heights in the country.

But the impact on the game was not as wide as fans and experts had hoped. As I already alluded to, these players were only shadows of what they had been in Europe. Not to diminish their talent, but they are much more conventional players who require a team around them to showcase their abilities.

If Drogba were to come to the MLS, he would (more than likely) fall under this designated player rule. But unlike the others, his success would be much more tangible and appeal to a wider audience.

Henry times his runs as well as any player in the world. Beckham has an eye for the field that is nearly unmatched. But these are only appreciated by those who understand the game. The casual fans, those that the game are trying to attract, will not immediately recognize this.

But it does not take a lifetime of studying the art of soccer to appreciate someone who can trap a ball on their chest, spin a defender on their back and outrun another to score a goal. These are the things Drogba has consistently done to make him great.

If the Ivorian were to come to the league, he would attract a whole new kind of audience. One that is more inclined to the NBA, MLB, and NFL doctrine that puts emphasis on individual talent, strength and creativity within a team game.

What he would mean to American Soccer

Drogba's influence on the game in America may help raise interest in the sport. But this is not guaranteed. However, it is safe to say that he could increase the level of competition by what his presence here in the states will do outside the lines.

In 2010, Drogba was named to Time magazine's 100 most influential people list for his charity work in his native Ivory Coast. He has donated millions, done community work, and even helped put an end to their civil war by just asking them to stop. To his country, and most of Africa, he has become a pillar of hope, in the same vein as Nelson Mandela.

If he were to come to the U.S., it would be covered and followed by millions of Africans. From a humanitarian stance, it would open awareness about the plights of Africans in America and hopefully help influence change over there.

From a soccer stance, it could provide a new avenue for African players to break into the international game and new recruiting grounds for MLS clubs.

As it stands now, a huge majority of non-American players in the MLS come from Central and South America. But the talent in Africa is equally, if not more available.

Right now most Africans go to France to begin their international careers. But the French league is a top league, and many prospects are let go because they cannot hang with the best in Europe. This does not mean they are bad players, but simply not yet at the best level possible.

The MLS would be an ideal place for these kinds of individuals to come and grow as players. They can showcase their talents without constant scrutiny and worry of being dumped at any moment.

By bringing in a new style of play, American players will expand their resume of opponents. The raw talent of speed and strength that many African stars play with is something that U.S. players often have trouble defending.

A good example would be last year's World Cup, where Ghanaian forwards twice simply out-muscled and outpaced U.S. defenders. If they were to see that style more often, they would play better against it.

The U.S. could also consider adopting the style as well.

The U.S. doesn't have the discipline to play defensively like the Italians. We don't have the quality to play controlled like the English. And we don't have the chemistry to knock the ball around like the Spanish. What we do have is some of the best athletes in the world. Men and women who run faster, jump higher, and are stronger than any others on the planet.

It would make more sense to utilize those qualities and apply them to our youth to create our own unique approach to the game.

Drogba may or may never join the MLS. But if he were, it could perhaps be the biggest thing to ever happen to American soccer.