TGIF: Is MLS really bleeding talent?


Admit it, you have seen the names of various MLS players moving on to Europe and you’ve thought to yourself, "There is something definitely wrong here."

You can relax folks. The sky really isn’t falling. Is the league losing more players than in previous years? Yes, but will the league really be less talented than in 2007? I would go with NO on that one.

You see, what the panicked few who think MLS is losing too much talent fail to realize is that not only is there talent coming into the league, but the window for that talent to arrive isn’t even halfway closed. The MLS transfer window closes on April 15, meaning there are several players, both high-priced and lower-priced, who will sign with the league between now and then.

Even before those players sign, the list of players to already join MLS stacks up pretty well with the players who have left.

Consider these two groups of players and ask yourself which group is more talented:

  • GROUP A                      GROUP B
  • Eddie Johnson             Marcello Gallardo
  • Pat Noonan                  Raphael Wicky
  • Clarence Goodson        Duilio Davino
  • Joseph Ngwenya          Franco Niell
  • Nate Jaqua                  Franco Carracio
  • Marcos Gonzalez         Gonzalo Peralta
  • Chris Gbandi               Ramiro Corrales
  • Clint Mathis                Mauricio Castro
  • Troy Perkins               Jose Carvallo
  • Matt Pickens              Gonzalo Martinez
  • Andrew Jacobson        Ian Joy      
  • Denilson                     Oscar Echeverry                         
  •                                    Nat Borchers

Which group is better? I’m sure some will let name recognition sway their opinion, and it can be argued that most of the players in Group B haven’t shown that they can produce in MLS, but I find it hard to believe that Group A is that much better than Group B, if at all.

Does MLS need to increase salaries? Of course it does, but the current exodus of players has as much to do with there simply being opportunities in Europe for players whose value in MLS has diminished. You don’t think Pat Noonan would have had his option picked up if he had shown he was worth it in 2007? Were Clarence Goodson and Chris Gbandi really that difficult to replace? Was Troy Perkins really that bad a loss for D.C. United, which has replaced him with Zach Wells AND Jose Carvallo? As good as Clint Mathis once was, is he better now than Honduran playmaker Mauricio Castro?

Obviously Eddie Johnson is a high salary player who was going to move to Europe regardless of how much better the salary situation in MLS is, but is there any reason to believe that a player better than Johnson won’t come to MLS this year via a designated player slot (like a Claudio Lopez)?

That’s just it. Players are still coming. With almost two months to go before the window closes, teams have plenty of time to sign quality players. The league has done a good job of replacing the talent that has already left and there are still more players to come. Does the salary cap prevent teams from being able to sign some of the players they really want to sign? Sure, but when we’re talking about the players who have left MLS, it should be noted that, in some cases, teams chose to let players in Group A go in favor of players in Group B.

If there is a position that hasn’t been bolstered its goalkeeper, where Matt Pickens and Perkins have left. It isn’t much of a concern becaues the consensus about this year’s rookie class is that goalkeeper is one of the strongest positions.

MLS defections aren’t any more a problem than they were in years past. Yes, there may be more players leaving, but there are more players arriving and teams have become better equipped at finding talent to replace those departing players. That may mean more foreign players coming into the league (courtesy of the recent MLS rules changes) but that should be a short-term solution until salaries go up in 2010 (when the new collective bargaining agrement kicks in) and until the league’s new player development programs start to bear fruit.

No need to panic folks. Talent is leaving, but it also being replaced and continues to be replaced. You may not know the new players yet, and they may not have played in MLS yet, but the same could have been said for Juan Pablo Angel, Luciano Emilio, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Barros Schelotto a year ago.

What do you think of this issue? Share your thoughts below.

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62 Responses to TGIF: Is MLS really bleeding talent?

  1. Carlos says:

    It is good for the league!! More attention, more money, and more respect.

  2. CommonSense says:

    Great piece Ives, and spot on. We have to deal with the salary rules in place. Pat Noonan is not worth 200K+ anymore, he’s just not. Nate Jaqua, Ngwenya, Mathis, Gbandi, these guys are prob making closer to 300K US over there, let them have their pay day, they’re easily replaceable by less expensive South American and Central American talent.

    Not to mention you left out Babyaro, Frankowski, Kiki Musampa (doing well with TFC thus far), there’s plenty of talent coming in, of all ages.

  3. DigzTFC says:

    Hey Ives,

    great piece and exactly what needs to said to those who feel otherwise. One thing I would like clarification on, is during the state of league address I think Garber said he would be in discussions for a new CBA in 2008. Do you think its possible to see a new agreement before 2010?

  4. andrew says:

    great piece ives!

    I agree with you, we shouldn’t be panicking becuase players are leaving for europe. The only thing I’m concerned about is our straight out of college players heading for europe. MLS needs to come up with incentives for these players to sign with the league for a year or two or three before they move over to Europe. I think we should be developing and getting to know these young americans first.

  5. gaucho says:

    Sure, I can agree with you that the talent level of the league may end up more or less the same, but I am concerned that the league is losing some of its good (but maybe not National Team starters), mid-career, American players. Group A is heavy on Americans while Group B is not.

    Development is always a bit unpredictable and it’s hard to say that MLS will definitely be able to hold onto more of these Americans when salaries go up in 2010. Two years is a long time in pro sports.

    I just think that a 12 year old league needs to be more focused on homegrown players, especially when the teams are still establishing their brand and expanding their fan base. Let’s face it, a casual fan of Manchester United or Real Madrid doesn’t care who puts on the shirt. Can we say the same for a casual fan of one of the less successful MLS franchises or an expansion team?

  6. Mike says:

    I believe that Americans desire more money than their talent generally warrants under the current rules of MLS. I think this spurs moves to clubs in Europe which will pay more for the level of talent the players have. I, personally, do ot have a huge problem with this as I think people should be able to maximize thheir years i sports and get paid what they can, while they can. Nonetheless, I believe that the nature of the American economy where a cllege graduate can make between 35,000-45,000 right out of the gate skews people’s percetions on what they should be earning as a professinal ahlete.

  7. Craig says:

    One person that RSL’s Lagerway has high regards for is Jamilson Olave coming in from Deportivo Cali (Visa is approved and will be joining RSL during their Argetina preseason trip in a week). And, I think he will be a bigger help to replace Pope than Borchers.

  8. Mario in SJ says:

    Lets not forget the US Soccer Academies. These should bear some fruit possibly this year maybe next. I am excited at the number of players that might come through them.

  9. rocky says:

    i agree i think its great that we have solid foreign players coming in. I really believe that when the old cba was signed mls had no idea that the league would be this good and demanding this soon. when a new cba is signed hopefully those players who have gone to such leagues as scandanavian ones, will remain in mls, becoming solid role players for teams. i think we need to be patient even though it is hard sometimes. mls realizes that their needs to be a huge upgrade on the salary cap, and will do so when a new cba is to be signed.

  10. Ryan says:

    Or they could be the next Denilson!!!

    Really sterching it with Jacobson as talent the MLS lost. He was never with the MLS how did they lose him?

    “You may not know the new players yet, and they may not have played in MLS yet, but the same could have been said for Juan Pablo Angel, Luciano Emilio, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Barros Schelotto a year ago.”

    All the players you mentioned in the above quote had been top players in their respective leagues for a number of years. Are you saying this group is equal in talent to Group B listed above? If so please explain

  11. Modibo says:

    I have two comments. First, these comparisons are, in many cases, not really relevant. Is Benny Feilhaber more or less talented than Eddie Lewis, for instance? Hard for me to say since I never see them play, but one is on the field for Derby and one is benched. Does it have to do with natural talent? Motivation? Attitude? Adaptability? What about the attitude of the coaching staff? The other players? The formation used? And so on. In many cases players may end up in situations that are not benificial to them and they don’t perform well (or at all), while others perform above the level expected of them. Is Freddy Adu now a better player than he was at Real Salt Lake? He doesn’t think so – and yet look at his string of goals in or near injury time. Michael Bradley didn’t seem to be very special at RBNY; now who’s going to criticize his Nats selection as favoritism by dad? Likewise, I thought Blanco would fizzle – happily I was wrong. Let’s see what kinds of performances these two pools of players put together over the next couple seasons and then judge.

    Another issue though is players who opt out of MLS completely for overseas clubs or even USL. I’ve been reading the fan forum over at FC Lorient, and they’re still trying to figure out why Andrew Jacobson signed with their team for nothing in a deal that’s really little more than an extended trial since it just goes through the summer, rather than committing to MLS. (Some are also convinced by the assertions of Jacobson’s coach at Berkeley that he is one of the best players of his generation – maybe, after Bradley, Johnson, Feilhaber, Edu, Adu, Zizzo…). the point is that MLS is starting to lose out on good young talent in the US, which could affect the league negatively on the field, in terms of its reputation as a league that fosters young talent and as an exciting destination for foreign players seeking something different from their careers. Or maybe not.

  12. Randy Biernat says:

    I have absolutely no qualms about the player losses. It means more opportunities for young guys (and, I realize, foreign players). The implications of defections are that the overall U.S. player pool is growing. How many Americans had jobs playing soccer 20 years ago? 10 even? The sky definitely isn’t falling. This year’s MLS season is poised to be better than last year’s, and last year’s was the best ever.

  13. eric-dynamo says:

    Ives, great stuff!!!!

    People who panic, are people that dont understand the MLS by now. You coulndt say it any better.

    At times I also feel that theres more to money when players go to “Europe.” It seems like they just want to prove they can play at a higher level. In one of your recent posts you said that some players go to Europe and the life they get isnt much better then what they had here. MLS is playing it cool, they have tricks up there sleeves, this league will be a great contender in the near future. Expect it sooner than 10 yrs. This is coming out of most DPs, that are in the league alrady.

  14. Spencer says:

    As we see more teams, we will see better talent spring up through their academies. The MLS needs to find cities that are hot beads for youth talent and put teams there. I personally think San Antonio would be a great pick for expansion. They only have one sports team, huge hispanic population, and they hold one of the biggest youth soccer cups in the US. They always have great talent from that area.

  15. Ed Ho says:

    I love the direct comparison. I think the new crop of talent coming in is better – right now! Adn, I agree it should probably get better as the window gets closer.

    I think the bigger issue is that most people don’t just evaluate who came in and who left – most US / MLS fans also include any US player that signs overseas vs considering MLS a loss. I think that is an impact that needs to be considered, but is definitely a stretch.

    A better analogy would college football recruiting. Fans in college football rate both the recruiting classes and the local kids that got away. In the end, the only thing that matters is the prodcut on the field. Does the quality of play in MLS continue to improve? That’s the measuring stick.

  16. Mark says:

    Its also worth mentioning that the international window has closed, so no more players will be leaving the league, whereas the number joining can only increase.

  17. Steve says:

    Agree completely Ives, well said.

    We all want MLS to be the Premiership or the NFL tomorrow but its all part of the growing process of this league. And for all its warts and faults and things we complain about, I think the league will continue to improve year over year if everyone stays patient.

  18. scott47a says:

    The “losing-too-many-Americans” comments by some people don’t hold much weight for me.

    One of the original goals of the MLS was to provide a stage for American players so the world can see the quality. The fact that so many Americans are leaving is evidence that plan has worked.

    Meanwhile, we still have rules that provide the majority of roster spots to Americans, so there should be no fear the original goal is going to be lost.

    Americans going to play overseas is a good thing for those individuals and for U.S. soccer.

  19. el fur de ball says:

    I agree with Ives. And besides, whenever a player has a lot of talent, he gets hammered for not testing the water overseas, ala Landon Donavan. Was losing Adu really that bad? Personally, I like the idea of going into South America and plucking young talent like the Dynamo did with that Argentine forward.

  20. bill says:

    IVES Great perspective.


    I think if the salarries were even just a bit higher we’d go to retaining sone of those guys. Are we sad over losing people like Jaqua or Mathis…not really. BUT WHAT THEY ADD TO A TEAM IS DEPTH!! Which most teams are sorely lacking.

    If pay were just a bit higher would Ty Harden (who I thought had a very promising career ahead of him) have stayed in the league? Could we then pay the dev. players a bit more as well to keep them putting pressure on the starters for playing time and keep their dreams alive?

    Salary cap needs to be addressed!

    I also believe that heading to Europe is currently the best way to improve our American crop of players. If we start paying more at home (MLS) then competetion here will improve over time and MLS will become a much stronger training ground for our internationals.

    Love your site Ives.

  21. JMR says:

    Ives, Nice piece. Seems like a response to your fellow writer at ESPN, Andrew Hush. Just read his piece and thought what you wrote. Can’t wait till the cap is increased significantly.

  22. BrianK says:

    Good analysis of an important topic Ives,…but I think you did not point out an important differage between the two teams – AGE: excluding Clint Mathis, I would venture to say that Group A has an average age of 24-25. [that is ‘a quick glance’ estimate,…I don’t have time to do the research], whereas the average age of Group B is somewhere north of 30. Group A is comprised of players who are theoretically heading into their primes which has traditionally been viewed as 24-28. Group B consists of players who are theoretically on the down side of their careers, unless of course they have hired Brian McNamee as a personal trainer. This tells me two things:

    1. MLS is being out-bid by lower level leagues in Europe for players in their prime – not a good sign.

    2. MLS is falling into the trap of becoming a ‘last contract before I retire league.’

    3. MLS will have players of some import (Beckham, Gallardo, Angel, etc.) competing against 18 year old kids willing to accept $25K to play professional soccer.

    I, unlike many of the readers here, think the void in the 24-28 year player will hurt the product on the field and the league in the long run.

  23. Derek says:

    I think this comparison shows that the league is certainly not getting worse. MLS just has to do a better job of retaining guys who don’t end up going to middling clubs for middling leagues in Europe.

  24. Jim says:

    This is perfectly OK. Only natural that MLS gives players the opportunity to showcase their skills, move on and be replaced by others trying to improve themselves.

    The talented foreign players are needed as the American player pool stretches to accommodate expansion.

    I like that mid level and fringe Nat’l team Americans are coming back, Ramiro Corrales was left off your list, BTW. Even if they don’t have a brand name impact their play overseas and improved skills further helps young American players.

    My concern is that the lowest paid Americans are forced overseas before they are truly ready. The cap must increase to allow those players to hone their skills and be prepared for a move overseas.

  25. Amit says:

    There have been many losses for MLS this offseason and equal amount of gains, with some more to come possibly. However, I am happy that some new aquisitions are Americans who took the career path of those in Group A.

  26. Jim says:


    My mistake you have Corrales on the list. OOps!

  27. Barry67 says:

    There is a reason why the term “growing pains” exists. MLS is a young, growing league that is going to go thru things like this. One of the reasons I enjoy MLS so much, is because of it being a devloping, everchanging entity. All we have to do is look back 6 years ago and compare it to now, to know that the league IS moving in the right direction. Lets enjoy the ride.

  28. Rob C says:

    I think this is all part of the evolution of the league. I think the reason people panic is that they want to see the final result right now, when it’s probably several decades away.

    There’s a really interesting dynamic at play. People worry about MLS becoming a retirement league. This isn’t going to happen. The reason is that the quality of the young player has improved and continues to do so, which pushes the older players. While they might not feel that their job is at stake, they can’t simply play the game with a cavalier attitude. Denilson’s experience is a prime example of this. Look at the DPs besides Denilson from last year…all of them played hard and contributed…yes, even Reyna to some extent.

    Let the league grow. Let salaries go up. Let’s see where things are in 2010 with some more stadiums open and a league of 16 teams.

  29. EDB says:

    It beats a league that can’t draw any attention from other leagues. Now the MLS needs to start keeping talent to the point where they only leave for top clubs/leagues. I don’t think the MLS will ever be a Serie A, La Liga, EPL or ever have the major teams like Celtic, Benifica, Lyon etc. But i would like to see them get to a point where they are considered as good at the championship or dutch league.

  30. josh says:

    you’re forgetting Arguez, not to mention recent departures like Szetela, Adu, and Dempsey… old news, but they still count. also, Guzan was as good as gone as far as MLS was concerned, so you could throw him in that group too. if you gave me a choice between homegrown US internationals and obscure talented foreigners, I’d take the US players every day of the week. how enjoyable would MLS be if it turned into the EPL, where there is nary an Englishman in the starting lineups week after week.

  31. Jon E says:

    Ives, you make some persuasive points. But I think a lot of us who are worried (not panicking, not insisting that MLS is falling apart, which it surely doesn’t seem to be), are worried for the reasons that BrianK and gaucho point out. It’s less that MLS’s overall talent level is dropping than that certain kinds of talent seem to be thinning out, specifically mid-career players, especially Americans. Obviously, there needs to be a mix, and maybe this year is a fluke rather than a trend, but it does seem that mid-tier, mid-career American talent is headed for Europe. That’s worrisome for the long-term health of the league if it is indeed a trend. Hard to know, of course. I’ll be curious to see what things look like on April 16 and April 16, 2009.

  32. Big JT says:

    Well, the Crew are a net exporter and don’t look like being anythign different. Depressing.

  33. Hincha Tim says:

    I generally agree with you on your assessment with one exception: the MLS’s player development.
    I don’t see the MLS with or without US Soccer developing US soccer at maybe its most important level: the U-8 to U-11 years. Everyone talks about the relative lack of technical skills of U.S. national team players. The years that technical skills are developed are in that age bracket. Yet the emphasis on finding and training quality coaches and giving kids opportunities to learn the game is very low for this age group. The lack of this emphasis will continue to come back to bite US soccer and the MLS.

  34. Nick says:

    “how enjoyable would MLS be if it turned into the EPL, where there is nary an Englishman in the starting lineups week after week.”

    Please tell me that was a sarcastic comment! I understand that you want to see American players in MLS, I do too, but to get to that point by saying that MLS wouldn’t be as enjoyable anymore if it went out and signed great footballers and became a league like the EPL is the wrong way to go about making a point. If the MLS was as exciting and intense as the EPL the league would be much better off. I enjoy both leagues immensely, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that the EPL has a much better on field product no matter where the talent is coming from.

  35. kpugs says:

    That’s not fair Ives, Pat Noonan represented 75% of the league’s lack of talent last year, he alone makes group B better.

  36. scott47a says:

    The age argument holds no water. We aren’t suffering from a loss of players in their “prime” of 24-28 as described in an earlier post.

    Here’s a partial list of incoming players in the past 14 months or so:

    Fred, 28
    Emilio, 28
    Franco Neill, 24
    Gonzalo Peralta, 27
    Marinelli, 26
    Colombano, 24
    Conde, 25
    Samuel, 26
    Mantilla, 27
    Morales, 28
    Castro, 26
    Joy, 26
    Borchers, 26

  37. ian says:


    Every once in awhile you write some stuff that just doesn’t pass the smell test and this is one of those. The players leaving are MLS quality players, most are fairly dominant in fact. Most of those coming in are cast offs from their current teams, are older past peak players and have not proven they can play in a fast physical league like MLS. I know you have to fill space but try printing some factual articles instead of this dribble.

  38. Fuego Fanatico says:

    Ives, great post – spot on.

  39. Fuego Fanatico says:

    Ian, the word is “drivel” not “dribble”

  40. KCO says:

    Before I read this piece, I was honestly concerned with all the departing talent (including my own Eddie Johnson). But you have convinced me that this progression is not only normal and expected of MLS, but is good for the league and builds our profile in a positive way. Also, your points on the development of young Americans is spot on. Young players will grow up in the system and MLS will benefit from the new bread of American players that are growing up in the MLS era. I am a Believer! Good stuff.

  41. Doq says:

    What bothers me most about this is where the majority of American players end up going. For every Adu or EJ we have half a dozen Gbandis, Jaquas, and Noonans. I know we have a tendency to overestimate the talent level of our league, but surely the difference between the Austrian Bundesliga or Norwegian Tippeligaen and MLS is not extraordinary. Will these moves really significantly impact the progress these players make in their level of ability? Are any of them going to get more looks for the national team or chances to move to one of the more prestigious leagues in Europe than they would by staying in MLS? To me it seems unlikely. They’re quality players, many of them coming into their prime, and I don’t think nearly as many would be headed to Europe if MLS was willing to pay them what they think they are worth.

  42. Steve says:

    Ian, what are you smoking? Who in the world is “dominant” in Group A? Please tell me. Eddie Johnson comes the closest and we all know he was overhyped and overpaid.

    Goodson? Jaqua? Noonan? Dominant? You’re on crack.

  43. paul Lorinczi says:

    One thing to remember is that the weak dollar has made MLS a bargain for Euro clubs right now too. So, yes, there are players moving because they are good value for the money.

    There is actually more resources and talent being developed now than before. Youth Soccer development is transforming itself nationally, so the emphasis on player development is starting to take hold.

    The US is starting to understand what it is going to take to develop talent and we will start seeing the results. With PSA, Bradenton and now the MLS Academies, the US is in a better position to develop talent.

    I have been to PSA (Premier Soccer Academy) and have seen the future. I believe several of their players have already signed pro contracts and others are on the US youth national team.

    I agree with Ives that there is more talent being developed in this country today than before. It is only going to get better and the world better watch out.

    Also, with the stadiums being built for Soccer, more revenue staying with the clubs. This is a good thing. We start paying our players, the talent will stay here and we could draw more talent to our shores when the dollars start arriving.

  44. Scott A says:

    Good piece Ives

  45. scott47a says:

    The other “hidden” topic in this discussion is that some posters and MLS fans just wish the league paid people more and had a bigger salary cap.

    Unfortunately, few MLS teams are even making money at this point. The MLS you dream of where we can match salary for salary with other leagues is still a long, long way off.

    If fans want to make a difference that way, get your friends and family to watch MLS on ESPN every Thursday religously. Higher ratings will bring more money from TV and advertisers.

  46. CommonSense says:

    “Every once in awhile you write some stuff that just doesn’t pass the smell test and this is one of those. The players leaving are MLS quality players, most are fairly dominant in fact. Most of those coming in are cast offs from their current teams, are older past peak players and have not proven they can play in a fast physical league like MLS. I know you have to fill space but try printing some factual articles instead of this dribble.”

    whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!?!? Noonan, Mathis, Goodson, Gbandi, DOMINANT?!?! Mathis was not even a preferred XI player for NYRB, Gbandi a OK LB, Goodson has already been replaced, Noonan was a good player, but not worth the 240K or so he wanted.

    Ngwenya and Jaqua? These are 27 yearold journeyman that couldn’t find success until Houston. They already replaced Ngwenya with a U20 Argentine, not an established started but with Houston I’m sure he’ll do well. Anyone can score goals with that squad.

    We didn’t lose anyone signifigant, IMO the biggest lost (for Houston) was Ngwenya, he really picked it up last year, his pace and creativity will be missed if the young Argentine doesn’t step up.

    It’s economics people. The Euro & Pound are killing the US dollar right now, these guys can go over there and make 400-600k US, more power to em. They’re not worth 10% of the salary cap here, that’s for damn sure.

    Yes, the cap needs to double. That will happen in the next two years, perhaps they just get it done next year to avoid a holdout. Even if it does, I still don’t think we should pay 27 year old MLS journeyman 250K when we can get 1st division Argies and Brazilians for less, not to mention they’re going to be even more flair.

    There’s yet another player missing from the incoming list, FCD’s Andre Rocha, who Buzz from 3rd Degree is RAVING about.

  47. NJ Guy Stuck in DC says:

    Great post Ives. I do have to agree that the MLS may not be the choice of American players who actually have a choice–and it seems this now includes college players–is troubling.

    Another way to look at it is from the plain old business perspective regardless of whether you are talking soccer or salesmen. Is the league refusing to pay good players what they are worth, and then paying unproven players the same (or more) money to replace them? I don’t know the answer to this question but it is probably the most valid one being asked by the players themselves.

  48. Tom says:

    I think its premature to conclude one way or another if the league is more talented or less talented than last year.

    I and, my guess, most MLS fans have no idea how good half the names on the incoming list are. Since, they didn’t play in the EPL, La Liga or Serie A most Americans have not had an opportunity to see them play. I am told some are very good.

    We shall see when the season begins.

  49. jpc says:

    Good story, I was really excited about how impressive the talent level in the league was last year as compared to ever before. and w/ the new teams and player exodus I was worried the league would dip a bit. I hope your right that it doesn’t

    My one issue is that the league isn’t keeping some of it’s young players that are going to lower level European teams. One of the biggest problems in MLS is depth, and if these teams don’t start paying players more- and I’m not talking about buying superstars like beckham or blanco, solid americans like Noonan, Charlie Davies, Lee Nguyen, etc.- then the league will be stuck where it is. I guess the league is just trying to solidify that infrastructure (stadiums, permanent cities w/ solid fan bases, team structures, youth training, etc). I hope this happens soon though

  50. Rocco says:


    You make me feel a little better. I was one of the people who had “sky is falling” syndrome with player exodus.

    The one thing that bothers me is the minimum salary standard which I believe is a reason why some young players just get normal jobs or leave for other leagues without MLS getting any transfer fee, if they happen to be good.

  51. garbaggio says:

    Entry-level salaries are too unattractive for anyone but the few players who get signed to Generation Adidas contracts.

    The culprit is the salary cap.

    In the current climate (and the weak dollar IS probably also a significant factor) up-and-coming young American players will continue to look overseas as their best option.

    I would add all the recent young players who’ve bypassed MLS to go to overseas to the list: the Feilhaber, Nguyen, Davies, Castillo, Lapira, Videira types all could enrich the talent level and team depth in the league.

    The low salaries for the lesser players make MLS teams lack the roster depth to compete in international competitions. Houston, for instance, can put together a very good starting XI. But if you tried to figure out who their 20th best player was you could probably find better players on even the weakest Mexican team (at least in their first division).

    I’ve been an MLS fan since Day 1 and succesful teams have always had to shed players because of the salary cap. It wouldn’t have to be a huge increase -if another million $ were added to each team’s salary caps then teams could individually decide whether or not to spend the money.

    As some other posters have mentioned part of the “problem” is that we live in a prosperous country with lots of economic opportunities. It’s not really a new problem but it seems to be intensifying.

    Anyone remember 1997’s #1 draft pick Mike Fisher?

    link to

  52. garbaggio says:

    Minor correction.

    Fisher was 2nd overall pick in ’97.

  53. Brian says:

    Something that keeps getting lost in this discussion is the fact that List B will have a dozen or so players from the draft. Sure, we don’t know how they will turn out, but nine guys from List A came from the draft so why should we ignore the potential of the new class coming in?

    Also, the cap went up this year. A lot? No, but some people should stop acting like the cap is at 1996 levels.

  54. aristotle says:

    I think what concerns a lot of people is that there is rapid change in place from this being an American league with mostly American players, to that of an American league with mostly foreign players. One of the things MLS said when it started was that this league would not be like the NASL in that it would be a league of mostly American players. So far that has been true. Clearly, in the next few years with the expansion and demand for cheap American players, this WILL be a league of foreign players. You’ll note the considerable change by the league in the rules to allow more foreign players.

    There’s not really much that can be done about it with all of the expansion taking place. There simply are not enough American players to go around. If the league increases in talent and level of play, I guess this really shouldn’t matter. The question is: Will the American public see it that way?

    We still have a lot to overcome as far as bias against soccer in the U.S. It seems like only yesterday the soccer bashers in the press were rooting hard for the league to fail and doing everything possible to make it happen. As it became increasingly obvious that the league was on the upswing and not going to go out of business anytime soon, the soccer haters have subsided considerably.

    Remember all of the identity references made about the NASL players? “Starting today are Pele, Pele 2, Zinho, Zinho 2, etc. You know, it was all about the foreign sport with funny foreign player names that all sounded the same and a tie was virtually guaranteed every game!

    Hopefully, we have moved past that, but I don’t know if changing the league’s identity so fast is a good idea.

    For all of the people saying that American players leaving the league and getting foreign experience is a good thing. Yes, and no. You would think this would be true, but a lot of players are just disappearing into oblivion and not raising their skill level at all. How is that good? This is because most of the players leaving are either going to equal or lower standards of play in Scandanavia and foreign league lower divisions, or they are going to sit on benches. Remember Adin Brown? He was playing for the national team. Danny Califf recently reappeared but he clearly went backwards also. Nat Borchers was being tried on the national team and a promising defender when he left. We haven’t heard boo about him until he just came back. I guess he’s seasoned and ready for National team play now. The number of players being made better by their overseas experience is in the vast minority. I would like to see a list by Ive’s of American players who have left to go overseas divided into two groups. Those who improved and those who did not.

    The other concern with players constantly leaving is name recognition. The players replacing them may be as good or better, but do most American soccer fans know who they are? When the fans that need to be won over and turned into regular fans go to the game are they going to be able to relate to lesser known foreign players?

    Having said all of this, I don’t know what else can be done. I just hope it all works out.

  55. Gene says:

    Ives, I wonder what you think of the idea that MLS will have a better chance to retain good players / attract new talent if it regularly participates in a good international competition like Copa Libertadores?

    As to the question you asked, I don’t see any meaningful distinction between Group A & Group B. I do think the league did well by managing to hold on to its core best players – Emilio, Angel, Blanco, Toja, Schilotto, Galindo, Beckham, etc.

  56. Joey Joe Joe says:

    I think the biggest issue with all these departures is not the net loss of talent, but rather the incredible amount of turnover that occurs in the league. From year to year the rosters must be 50% new. Even teams’ “best” players rarely last a year or two in the same city. Now, I know that soccer is like that, and I know MLS in particular is going to experience that as a “feeder” league. But for the average fan I think it makes it difficult to really bond with a team when you can’t recognize familiar names from year to year. It’s the catch-22 of the league that it wants its young Americans to perform well to draw interest and create names for the league, but as soon as they do, they’re gone. It’s like Minor League Baseball to a degree, only there isn’t a multi-billion dollar league at the top of the pyramid to pay for it all.

  57. K. Bowen says:

    I would say that I agree that the talent switch isn’t that far outweighed either way. Particularly if you give an allowance for the usual top-level departures that happen every year.

    But Clarence Goodson was one of the top three or four center backs in the league through August last year. Playing at that level, he could be difficult to replace. Gbandi can be one of the best left backs in the league for weeks at a time. But he’s streaky.

  58. Tim F. says:

    I agree with you Ives but I’ll be surprised if the international players coming in 2008 play as well as those that came in 2007… I hope I’m wrong.

  59. Jonathan says:

    Am I the only one that thinks America is better off with more Doctors than professional soccer players? I think it is sad that we pay Peter Vagenas more than most doctors.

  60. Jonathan says:

    Am I the only one that thinks America is better off with more Doctors than professional soccer players? I think it is sad that we pay Peter Vagenas more than most doctors.

  61. Gimmi says:

    good article,
    I dont think the MLS will be in par with any big leagues from europe..
    thats just my opinion, I only say that because of their history..
    But I do think in the next 5-10 year MLS will be attracting bigger stars and better talents.

  62. Jeff in Houston says:

    Aside from the exchange value angle, the MLS needs to seriously think about its role within the global player market. ARG and Brazil are exporters, period. So many players of solid quality that each finds the right niche – Tevez & R’dinho to Europe, Bare who killed my Dynamo last nite to J-League. What is MLS? At the same time, MLS needs to think about its reputation, esp. in int’l club cups. DC, NE, and my Dynamo have a solid enuff 11 to do well v. Mexican clubs in a one-off BUT do not have depth to make a sustained drive in multiple cups plus the league. Noonan, Jaqua, etc. are DEPTH. Without keeping enuff of them around, our best teams will not hack it v. Mexican clubs in CONCACAF cup, let alone the holy grail of a SudAmericana or, even holier, Liberadores cup. As a fan, I do not care about the int’l wave coming in – both young (Conde, Toja) and certainly not old (Schletto, Blanco) BUT the Q is has MLS calculated whether it needs a US face to get media/general social respect, i.e., the general US public? If MLS has thick skin and does not care to cater bending over backwards to joining the Big 3 (NFL, NBA, MLB), then the current player movement is likely OK. BUT, if Garber and US Soccer Gulati crave media respect, then they’ll have to keep more US guys here….