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Monday, July 19, 2010

MLS Designated Players 2009

Is it silly season yet? In Europe, it is. Fabregas is flirting with Barcelona. Drogba is being lured out of Chelsea. Efrain Juarez is now a Celtic man. Carlos Bocanegra has moved to St. Etienne. Roy Hodgson is now the Liverpool manager and Fulham are about to pick their own. It doesn't stop there: MLS also has its share now.

Yes, no longer a pushover league after the success of the US national team and the rise of its players abroad, MLS is quickly becoming more interesting to the international audience. Not too long ago, MLS was a league akin to that of Qatar or Saudi Arabia: big name stars in the twilight of their career. We are talking about Valderrama, Stoichkov, Zenga, Matthaus, Djorkaeff, Donadoni, Hugo Sanchez, Luis Hernandez, Leonel Alvarez. Not now: Freddie Ljunberg, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, Marcelo Gallardo, Nery Castillo, Blanco, Nkufo. These are all players capable of working at the highest level in the toughest leagues. Note that Beckham missed the World Cup due to injury while Henry had some minutes for the ill-fated French squad and Blanco scored on a PK for Mexico.

Consider the fact that Nery Castillo is by no means a grade B player. He had a monstrous time with Olimpiakos before an ill-advised move to big-pocketed Ukranian team Shaktar Donesk. He's 26, not a 32-year-old retiree. Also consider that both Beckham and Blanco were recalled by their respective nations given their play in MLS. I can't say the same for a team in the Middle East, not yet. Also, Henry is no pushover. His time in Barcelona was winding down given the accuracy of Pedro, the consistency of Ibrahimovic and the arrival of David Villa. Few people want to sit on the bench. Henry wouldn't be the first.

Then there are the Omar Bravo, Ronaldinho and Rafa Marquez rumors. Some probably truer than others. For Marquez, it would be change in scenery for one of the best Concacaf defenders of all time. He has ascertained that he has already won everything in Europe and is ready for something new (New York is a possibility). Omar Bravo has been released by Chivas Guadalajara and is rumored to be on his way to Kansas City. Ronaldinho is another matter entirely: he has been rumored to be going to the Galaxy ever since Becks made his way there.

Perhaps the most important signing is Thierry Henry. He is by no means done with the sport. He knew from 4 years back that he would be a Red Bull eventually... this was just the right time. His recent bad press with the "Hand of Gaul" against Ireland, limited time on the pitch with Barcelona, and the French debacle in 2010. Americans love outlaws and controversies and redemption stories. Henry should fit the bill. Added to that is the fact that he will be paired with Juan Pablo Angel, with the possibility for another DP (Marquez?) to manage the midfield. How fun does that sound?

So there you have it. Even if Landon Donovan were to leave MLS, the league would have newer and younger (Castillo) stars to continue the growth of the sport in this country. I'm looking forward to seeing them in action with their teams. Nkufo already played for Seattle (impressive, although the team hasn't been). Henry will debut next week in MLS action (this week versus Tottenham in a friendly match). Castillo is likely to do the same this week or next for Chicago.

1 comment:

Alastair McCandless said...

It is a tough tightrope to walk for American soccer. We want to have our own league be strong and successful, but we also need to have some of our homegrown talent play and succeed at the very highest level in leagues like the Premiership so our national team can take the next step and join the elites. Its a position unique to soccer among sports played in America, since our main league is the top of the world in others like baseball, football, basketball, golf, etc.