For quite some time now, the ‘Yankee’ brand of soccer that MLS produces has not been too highly viewed by the more ‘established’ countries that are of the belief that since they’ve done it longer, they must do it better. Style and flair does mean everything, after all. Just ask the redcoats that so stylishly strode into the open plains hoping to do battle in the traditional ways.
America thought differently. And they still do, just this time it’s far less bloody and far more entertaining to watch. I assume.
Many foreign stars that come and ply their trade in America are very outspoken about the misconception inherent in the overseas’ views. Steven Gerrard admitted, almost in remorse, that MLS is not some ‘retirement league’ like many accuse it of being. The physicality and the athleticism in the league makes it hard for guys like Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard to survive.
The best cases of foreigners surviving are David Villa, Kaka and Sebastian Giovinco. None of whom are severely passed their prime.
One of the major steps in finding international relevance is possessing players that are at the top of their game for club, while also being pieces of a reputable international outfit in major competitions. There are U.S. internationals running all over MLS, but to have someone rise to the international level for a European powerhouse would be a huge indication that MLS does provide quality. Not only that, but it would give MLS a crucial leg up on China, who are still overpaying for everyone. China may have the money, but they do not yet have the relevance.
MLS can have that relevance if Sebastian Giovinco rises to international acclaim for Italy in Euro 2016. The atomic ant is widely agreed upon as the best player in MLS, and as such the best hope the league has as is. He was far and away the MVP last season and this year he is continuing right where he left off and he is enjoying every minute of it.
“Some believed that I wouldn’t return to the national team, but I did well here,” Giovinco said, via Goal.com, echoing the sentiment that to come to MLS is to limit oneself and hide from international notice.
For MLS to grow as a league, it needs to attract more Giovinco’s and less Gerrards. Nothing against Gerrard, but the league needs players with prolonged relevance, not just a year or two and then retirement. More long-term superstars will heighten the appeal beyond money and relaxation, the latter of which is already being eliminated. As far as money, China has taken the upper hand so MLS needs that new draw. And this is where they can find it.