Another Beckham Effect? Europe Snatches Up MLS PlayersBy: Laurie | February 8th, 2008
This video shows highlights from the UK show “David Beckham’s Soccer USA.” At about the four minute mark you’ll see DC United’s former keeper, Troy Perkins, save a Beckham free kick in last summer’s SuperLiga semifinal (after being schooled by Beckham earlier in the game.)
Troy Perkins is now playing for Vålerenga IF in Norway. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
MLS players were snatched up by European teams in record numbers during the January transfer window, especially by the smaller leagues like the ones in Scandinavia. Or in Austria, which grabbed Houston strikers Joseph Ngwenya and Nate Jaqua.
But there were some bigger deals as well. Striker Eddie Johnson went to Fulham in the EPL from the Kansas City Wizards, and Chivas keeper Brad Guzan would now be playing for the EPL’s Aston Villa if he’d been able to get a work permit.
So what’s the reason for the sudden interest from the Europeans in Major League Soccer?
Conventional wisdom is that MLS has come of age. The play has improved. We now have credibility in the world. We’re starting to be seen as a legit league at last.
Probably true. But I think there’s more to it than that. Credibility is great, but it doesn’t get you much if you don’t have visibility. MLS got that last year in its twelfth year of existence. And for that I think we can largely thank David Beckham.
Think about it. A couple of years back, even preliminary scouting of MLS players by European teams would have required a lot of effort. Probably a plane trip. Now, largely because of Beckham’s worldwide popularity, coaches can turn on the TV (or go to YouTube) and see Troy Perkins make that save.
Yes, Tim Lovejoy and the brits make fun of our soccer commentators. Yes, they find our play on US football-striped fields appalling. (So do I, so we’re even.) But they also give the rest of the world a window through which they can view our players and see that some of them are actually pretty good. And a lot of them are underpaid, and thus ripe for harvesting.
Of course, there are some downsides to this harvesting. I think a lot of European sides see our leagues as a source for cheap talent. In general, they can pay a player coming from MLS a whole lot less than they’d have to pay a player to get him out of the EPL. This is because the MLS salary cap keeps non-DP pay so low.
And then there’s the issue of losing our best players to other leagues. It’s not like the talent pool of US-created players is that deep. Yet. (Check back in a few years, when all of the MLS youth development programs are starting to bear fruit.)
I see some good coming from this, though. First, it could eventually get our regular, everyday MLS players more money. Contract negotiations between MLS and the Players’ Union take place next year. If there’s been a mass exodus of the best players to other leagues, perhaps MLS owners will finally get the message that the salary cap needs to be raised substantially, and that developmental players shouldn’t be getting paid $12,900 per year.
Another upside? MLS may have seen an exodus of players to Europe, but we’re also seeing an influx of players coming to the league from Central and South America. And not just older players like Blanco, Angel and Schelotto, who are looking to end their careers here, but young players with bright futures. DC United along has signed three Argentinians (including a DP,) a Peruvian and a Colombian. These players bring in an interesting and different style of play to the league, and they also offer up the possibility of getting more of the US latino community interested in MLS. In a league that is still struggling to find fans (and the money they bring with them), this is a good thing.
What do we have to offer these players that they can’t find in their home countries? According to the above Sports Illustrated article:
MLS offers what most South American leagues can’t: a stable playing environment where players can focus completely on the soccer without getting hassled by the media. And they’re given the opportunity to play in a competitive league that provides them with security and comparatively good salaries.
True, but those of us who are a bit less idealistic might also say that they’re coming here because playing in MLS now increases their chances of being noticed by European teams, where they’ll get more money.
But if they can deliver some excellent footy before that happens? Everybody wins.
Thank you, David Beckham.
(For more good reading on this topic, check out this article by Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports.)