When David Beckham signed a five-year deal worth £128 million to join the relatively unknown LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007, the world erupted.
For a league that was founded in 1993, it was only after THAT significant transfer that the footballing world finally took notice of North America’s Football league – Major League Soccer (MLS). The media frenzy that followed this high profile acquisition propelled MLS into the spotlight, with ESPN even airing the film David Beckham: New Beginnings after his signing, which chronicles his preparation and adjustment to a new life in America.
With Beckham’s venture and discovery of the unheralded footballing world of America (and its resulting riches), it opened the floodgates for other of his stature to follow suit. Thierry Henry to the New York Red Bulls, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo to New York City FC, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to LA Galaxy, Bastian Schweinsteiger to Chicago Fire, and the list goes on. You get the idea, MLS was quickly turning into football’s very own premier retirement home, enabling former greats to continue earning a decent amount (if not from the salary due to the MLS wage cap, then from the lucrative sponsorships in America), dominate in the league for a few more years before hanging up their boots with dignity of their discretion.
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The lengths in which America went scouring for retiring football legends for the past decade was to gradually build up the reputation and standard of the MLS, to eventually enough to attract above average European talents to ply their trade there in their prime, whilst also tapping on the expertise, knowledge and wisdom of these title winning greats to groom the future generation of American footballers. To this end, results have begun to show as the narrative surrounding MLS as a mere ‘retirement league’ has shifted, most notably with the signings of top players in their prime such as Sebastian Giovinco and Carlos Vela in recent years. Giovinco was a Serie A winner, only 27 and at his peak when he signed for Toronto FC in 2015.
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Similarly, Carlos Vela was only 28, and a regular fixture of Real Sociedad in the La Liga (averaging a healthy 10 goals per season over 6 seasons) when he signed for Los Angeles FC in 2018. Atlanta United also impressively warded off interests from Arsenal in securing the services of Paraguay’s exciting 22-year old attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron in 2016. All these transfers speak volumes about the current drawing power of the MLS.
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Conversely, Bundesliga teams are also starting to take note of the hottest American prospects in the MLS. Recently, Bayern Munich paid an MLS record £10.5 million to acquire the services of 18-year old winger Alphonso Davies from Vancouver Whitecaps. 20-year old Weston McKennie has become a familiar face in Schalke’s midfield after signing from FC Dallas in July 2016, while his same age compatriot, Haji Wright, had also recently debuted as Schalke’s striker after his move from LA Galaxy in April 2016. European scouts are taking emerging MLS talents seriously.
MLS may long continue to be the preferred curtain calling destination for the world’s greatest footballers, but it is no longer just a mere ‘retiring home’. MLS is now the undisputed premier football league in the North American region, capable of maintaining a constant inflow of foreign talents in their prime, with an outflow of budding American talents being poached by reputable European clubs proving that it is also a stepping stone for some – all signs that it is a healthy and highly competitive football league.
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