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TGIF: Is MLS really bleeding talent?

Eddie_johnson_ap

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.

62 comments
  • garbaggio

    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?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Fisher_%28soccer%29

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  • Brian

    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.

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  • aristotle

    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.

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  • Gene

    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.

    Like

  • Joey Joe Joe

    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.

    Like

  • K. Bowen

    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.

    Like

  • Tim F.

    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.

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  • Jonathan

    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.

    Like

  • Jonathan

    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.

    Like

  • Gimmi

    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.

    Like

  • Jeff in Houston

    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….

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