Photo by Matt West/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
With Michael Bradley on his way, it is becoming more and more evident that MLS is becoming a top destination for U.S. Men’s National Team players.
A current look at MLS’s landscape will show you that. You have, among others, U.S. captain Clint Dempsey at the Seattle Sounders, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez at the LA Galaxy, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi at Sporting Kansas City, and Eddie Johnson at D.C. United. The list goes on and appears to be growing with each passing season.
Whether that is a good or bad thing for the national team program is up for debate, but it has become increasingly clear that MLS is now a more viable option for the U.S.’s top players due to the league flexing its financial muscle like never before. In fact, it seems that players in the U.S. pool who struggle to find minutes abroad are now encouraged to join MLS to not only find consistent playing time but also raise the level and notoriety of the league.
Take a look at Jermaine Jones and Oguchi Onyewu, for instance.
Jones is reportedly interested in latching onto an MLS team in the near future, and that could play out sooner rather than later given that his time at Schalke is all but over. Jones is 32 years old and it is not strange for players to want to come to North America towards the end of their careers, but that he wants to do so despite being on a club that is currently still competing in the UEFA Champions League speaks volumes to the evolving sentiment that U.S. players (of all of backgrounds) have for MLS.
Then there is Onyewu. The veteran center back is on the verge of leaving Championship side Queens Park Rangers after failing to make an appearance for the club. Many observers and pundits are hoping for him to land in MLS, namely his hometown D.C. United, by way of the allocation process.
Onyewu has not come out and said that he wants to be in MLS, but that could very well change given how much money the league is investing in American talent. This is a trend that has really been pushed to the forefront in recent months with the big-money acquisitions of Dempsey and Bradley, but it started well before they arrived via some expensive transfer fees.
Last offseason serves as a reminder. The Portland Timbers were interested in nabbing young midfielder Mix Diskerud before eventually choosing to sign the 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year in Diego Valeri, while Sporting KC were able to re-sign Besler despite interest in him from foreign clubs.
Things were not much different during the regular season. Former youth nationals Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey ended their stints abroad to join MLS, veterans Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra did the same, Donovan and Gonzalez signed Designated Player contracts to assure their futures would be with the Galaxy, and Dempsey made shockwaves by leaving Tottenham to become a member of the Sounders.
MLS may not make a habit of splashing cash like they have on Bradley and Dempsey and though they will still lose some players like Juan Agudelo to foreign clubs, it is no longer unfathomable to think that the league could go after the veterans like Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard, youngsters like Terrence Boyd and Joshua Gatt, or even Mexican-Americans like Joe Corona or Herculez Gomez and have a realistic shot at signing them.
The statement MLS owners are sending is clear: They want as much of the American talent pool as possible and are willing to cough up a pretty penny to do so.
Which U.S. Men’s National Team pool players would you like to see MLS go after next? Would you prefer to see the league splash some cash on a bigger-named U.S. player like Altidore or Howard, or prefer to see them acquire ones struggling to get playing time like Maurice Edu or Brek Shea? Think this trend is good for the U.S. team?
Share your thoughts below.