The Impending George John Transfer: Good For MLS?

[Trying something new here with this piece below, not sure it works. Let us know.]

John, headed that-a-way... (you may have to adjust your computer for the pointing to work)

FC Dallas prized centerback George John will soon be playing (red) Rover in Lancashire under the ownership of Blackburn FC of the English Premier League. John is reported to be negotiating the personal terms of the deal, while MLS has already agreed to a transfer fee for the Greek-American in the neighborhood of $1.5-$2M.

As John nears the transfer, it re-ignites the debate about whether MLS stars leaving to compete at a higher level and at a higher pay grade is a positive or negative for MLS. To be clear, the question is about the league, not the player.

It is hard to argue that it’s not better for players to seek out the better competition and better salaries of playing abroad.

The question spurred a furious 140-character debate on Monday amongst a wide spectrum of fellow TSG followers, including Centerline Soccer’s Robert Jonas, SportingKC’s Kyle Rogers and ESPN’s Leander Schaerlaeckens.

Below is the transcript.

Wait, who's replacing me at Elwood?

However before that, the case stated by TSG was this:

@shinguardian: Could be PR bonanza on George John for #MLS. If he replaces or improves upon coveted Phil Jones (now at United), positive marketing abroad.

In fact, if your MLS you have to be downright giddy about where you are as a league. A new TV deal in place, at worst stabilizing attendance, a financial structure that keeps teams at least close to the black while overseas teams struggle with a high cost of product (players). And one more thing on that attendance….less people are going to live entertainment today no matter what stats you read.

More tickets may be sold, but those going, well, that number has dwindled. The new MLS stadia are, in our opinion, the right capacity for a sport that is growing. Make them bigger and ticket scarcity and “feel of the game” certainly suffer–obviously MLS learned that lesson a decade ago.

But what has to be regarded–though not by all per the Twitter rat-a-tat-tat below–is that player movement abroad is really quite a boon. With the broadest stroke, MLS gets to essentially now make cash back on a player and bring it in from leagues where many of the teams are struggling to remain competitive within their cap structures. The exchange rate helps as well (though that’s likely factored into the transfer fee.)

Beyond the financial impact, a player moving overseas–especially a league like the Barclays–further validates the positive trajectory of MLS while presenting the league as a viable option for those seeking to grow their game.

It’s not wonder that overseas homegrown rules have started pushing up like daisies.

The discussion below and add your thoughts:

@shinguardian: Could be PR bonanza on George John for #MLS. If he replaces or improves upon coveted Phil Jones (now at United), positive marketing abroad.

@LeanderESPN: @shinguardian Yes, but another kick in the nads in terms of playing quality for MLS. Yours is a glass-half-full interpretation!

@shinguardian: Fair point, however no disputing EPL > MLS at present RT @LeanderESPN Yes, but another kick in the nads in terms of playing quality for MLS.

@LeanderESPN:@shinguardian Of course. No argument there. But growth comes through better players. Not best talent leaving. Another bummer for league.

@shinguardian Again fair, but consider this…if MLS was *just* pulling from US talent pool, it would be worlds behind where it is now.

@robertjonas: The transfer of promising #MLS talent is a step in the right direction. Feeder league today, power league later.

@LeanderESPN: Disagree completely. Every big prospect leaving is another MLS great that will never be. Thats how you stay stagnant.

@KyleLRogers There’s a fallacy that talented players leave #MLS & no one replaces. Overall, talent is increasing.

@KyleLRogers  Even when #MLS is a top-5 world soccerleague, players will still move. Players leave La Liga etc

@shinguardian Player exchange (Henry/Keane in, John/Holden out) gets league in conversation as viable destination (rising tide, all ships)

@LeanderESPNTrue. But in long run, John and Holden entering prime will do more for level than flame-outs. Level will boost MLS, not names.

@robertjonas To me, shift in balance starting to occur, as US vets havereturned to #MLS, often with enhanced reputations.

@robertjonas Like a Silicon Valley technology incubator,credit is earned as spin-offs gain respect and success.

@shinguardian $$$$$ and $$$$$$$ — How can you begrudge a player from a bigger payday, better present competition?

@LeanderESPN: Not begrudging anybody anything, would do exactly the same. Just saying it’s yet another blow for MLS.

@shinguardian  Agree to disagree. One player does not make league (unlessit’s Landon :>)

@LeanderESPN Deal. One more poke though: Landon became Landon because he stuck around…

The young Deuce's transfer....well it worked out well, no?

@shinguardian  Clint Dempsey wouldn’t agree with that last statement. Nor would Holden, Howard, Michael Bradley, etc.

@LeanderESPN @RobertJonas what good is being an incubator to MLS? Who goes to Rookie League games?

@RobertJonas Today, not so much. But if #MLS gains credit for successfully tapping huge US player pool, then…

@KyleLRogers The Dutch league is doing just fine. It’s a partof the league’s growth. Entering the player markets

@LeanderESPN: But my point is that credit doesn’t buy you much in pro sports.Without the star power, you’re doomed.

@shinguardian: Need to evaluate in aggregate (Henry, Keane, Rosales, Hassli, IN …. John, Buddle, Findley OUT)

@KyleLRogers There are a lot of stars both in world soccer and MLS. Stars move from La Liga to EPL all the time.

@shinguardian One player does not a league make. If John,Buddle all left and none came, that would be bad for MLS.

@KyleLRogers Correct, I would say #MLS has won massivelyon talent in this year across the board. TSG piece?

[Yes Kyle, that ‘s slated for discussion in the production roundtable meeting next week]

@LeanderESPN [in reference to the Henry, Keane, Rosales, etc..tweet]  That’s the wrong aggregate. Make it: Holden, Dempsey, Altidore, Beasley, etc. out. Looks a lot diff.

@shinguardian You cannot include legacy players. Different league. Different financials then. DP count, etc.

@shinguardian  Proper evaluation is trendline and *positivetrending*

@LeanderESPN Retiring (with head high!) from conversation.Must actually write things today. Good chat though.

@shinguardian Yes, head held high, but my arm is raiseddirectly to your right. :>

@KyleLRogers I’ll always be in disagreement that #MLS selling players hurtsthe league. Sign of a maturing system.

@RobertJonas No question in my mind. Definitely agree. #MLS


So your thoughts?

I think Leander does bring up an excellent point here and one we’ll try to find someone to talk to at MLS headquarters.

That is: How does MLS judge which player can stay and which can go and what is a fair offer? In John’s case, is $1.5M enough or fair compensation for a player of his stature.

Our opinion, yes for two reasons. Despite winning the MLS Cup, FC Dallas–apologies–is not the draw of the Los Angeles Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls, both in brand equity and at the gate.

Secondly, John is a centerback. The league doesn’t typically market itself around centerbacks. All of the names that have graced the famed MLS Adidas player promo ads have been attackers or, at the least, offensive in nature. Names like Brek Shea, Teal Bunbury, Sacha Kljestan, David Beckham and of course Landon.

So John? That’s an easy decision.


 I’d like to add that George John is a really lovely man, and when of the nicest pro athletes I’ve spoken to. (I went and found him in the locker room after his own goal lost FC Dallas the 2010 MLS Cup Final — — and he was still incredibly friendly and professional.) I’m really happy for him.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

123 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by 4now on 2011/08/24 at 1:18 AM

    Always a case by case basis. I would say you evaluate it based on price and player popularity in the local market. Is John very popular among the FC Dallas faithful. Would selling him for $1.5 million compromise their loyalty? This is the question I think is most important from the MLS side as I think you need to consider your fanbase. I disagree with Leander regarding the talent question — losing half dozen of your better players a year are not really going to change the level of the league as a whole, and as you note that gap gets filled pretty fast with Robbie Keanes and/or Matt Kassels (in a best case scenario), and that’s fine.

    These transfers are almost always good for the player and national teams.
    Another consideration.


    • Posted by d on 2011/08/24 at 2:26 PM

      The guy was pulling in 42K in Dallas, whatever he makes in the EPL it is likely to be a huge multiple of that. NO WAY ANY 24 YR OLD with his own goals and dreams would make a horrible financial decision to stay in the MLS… especially when the MLS isn’t doing our players ANY favors. One thing no one is mentioning is how crappy the MLS treats it’s players relative to other leagues


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/08/24 at 2:56 PM


        I think that is wholly unfair. In fact, during the recent labor negotiations before 2010, I sided with the owners for many of the issues.

        The reality is–whether other leagues like to run their teams at a massive loss or not–that won’t work in US Soccer. There is not enough brand cache yet to make owning a soccer team a guaranteed spot in the tabloids and to endure the losses as well. The value of a franchise is so low as well that it’s not even a place to appreciate institutional value even with operational value.

        MLS is making huge strides I think to improve both the salary cap and the player conveniences. The only issue that I have is scheduling meaningless friendlies during the season, but is as a hyper-watcher of the league–to many Americans that sparks interest.


        • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/08/24 at 3:25 PM

          While I don’t agree with how D expressed his opinion, I bet that John will be making a multiple of what he earns today (and likely significantly more than he would have gotten via an extension with the MLS). Until that is not true then the MLS will be a feeder system and I am fine with that as I enjoy watching the young guys.


          • Posted by d on 2011/08/25 at 5:46 AM

            I understand the idea that as a fledgling league a certain amount of control must be maintained in order to ensure the league can sustain itself (reminds me of rehabilitating a stream for trout) – but if we wanted to increase level of play domestically we need to pay for talent; I agree with BernieBernier re MLS as a feeder league.


  2. Posted by Jared on 2011/08/24 at 4:26 AM

    I think that selling players to bigger leagues is a good thing for MLS. If the league can prove to be a solid feeder league and not hold players hostage then the good young American talent will be more likely to go to MLS than to Scandinavia. Unfortunately, MLS has a history of holding onto some players longer than the player wants (see Shalrie Joseph, Twellman). Leander should realize that not allowing players to leave would hurt the future of the league more than it will help the present especially since the gap in player salary is so large.

    The key going forward is that MLS is starting to develop its own talent with the youth academies. If those work well then selling a player like John allows for a talented young player to come through.


    • Posted by Jeff on 2011/08/24 at 6:21 AM

      Right, John takes an expensive top-tier Premier League job from some non-American, and an MLS job almost certainly opens up for some young/cheap American prospect.


    • Posted by wides on 2011/08/24 at 7:39 AM

      Jared, you are right on with your point. The more players that MLS holds onto against their will, the more players will choose to move to leagues like Scandinavia where they can still earn a large salary, and the more talent we will lose out on.


  3. Posted by JollyGreenBucket on 2011/08/24 at 4:36 AM

    I think your convo with Leander highlights the common view of player transfer. It’s tough (without educating casual fans more) to explain how the transfer market works. WIthout allowing this kind of transfer to go through, MLS has shot themselves in the foot. By now allowing three mid summer transfers out of FC Dallas, that club can work on further establishing themselves as a stepping stone to bigger things in Europe. The upcoming Brek Shea transfer will really set the tone for the league and the team for awhile to come, as he’d be the first major transfer since what, 2008?

    I especially liked seeing Landycakes talk on Twitter this morning about how the salary cap keeps the league from going broke like the other leagues, and I think that’s a HUGELY important point to make. FC Dallas may not get one for one dollars for the George John transfer, but they do get a sizable amount, and will be able to better the team overall considerably. Perhaps most importantly though, they don’t have the pressure a team like Arsenal does to spend everything they have, which is so much more sustainable long term.

    Bottom line, the parity model works in the long term, but requires this kind of movement short term. Hopefully we can get to a point where the salary cap is raised incrementally and we can compete against some of the other world leagues in a sustainable way.


    • Posted by MJ on 2011/08/24 at 8:20 AM

      Speaking of educating casual fans, and this may be a step away from TSG’s typical commentary (highly insightful, unique observations and not static fact claims), but it would be neat to see a series profiling all the major leagues… and MLS. It could go over how their financial system works, playoff format, unique traditions, a “140 character” description of each team’s history, most famous teams, coaches, players, cultural factors that make it reflective of its country, goals for the league in general, farthest it’s sent a team in international competition, highest paid player/coach/team, etc. I know I’m probably suggesting what Wikipedia has already done but I’m sure TSG could make it better and perhaps include a final piece a la charts that compares all of them. It would make a good series to point casual fans to in order to get more informed and provide a place for more educated fans to brush up/comment.


      • Posted by MJ on 2011/08/24 at 8:23 AM

        To that could also be added descriptions a side piece on what goes into transferring a player & how teams get compensated and the league’s status as a”feeder” or “destination”. I’m sure most TSG readers don’t need such a thing but it would be neat. Okay I’m done.


  4. Agree with TSG on this one. MLS is a feeder league, like most other leagues in the world, and that’s fine. Imagine if there weren’t so many hurdles (work permits, MLS contract structure) that make it difficult for players to go to Europe, then there would be a real talent drain and MLS would have a serious problem.

    How many more players would jump to Europe if they had the option of a Euro passport?


  5. Posted by Rob on 2011/08/24 at 5:44 AM

    Don’t have time for a long-winded response, but I’m surprised the USMNT wasn’t mentioned; because you could argue that there is a direct correlation (how heavy of a correlation would be the exact argument) between USMNT and MLS interest in this nation.

    The way I read the recent history of the USMNT and MLS was that MLS was created so that the US could host a world cup, and thus better its own MNT. So to hold developing American talent back from the best leagues in the world would be counter-productive.

    I think Jonas said it the best in the transcript above: “Feeder league today, power league later.”


  6. Posted by Chad on 2011/08/24 at 5:46 AM

    I think you have to look at the national team to answer this question. I think MLS thinks that what’s good for the US player is good for the national team and what’s good for the national team is ultimately good for MLS. Just look at the strides that the national team has made since MLS came unto existence. And look at the growth of the MLS since the national team has improved. All the guys (well many of them) that go overseas are considered as national team player pool material… At least potentially. So when someone like George John goes to Blackburn it is a short term loss for MLS which hopefully turns into a long term gain for John for the nats and for MLS.


  7. Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 5:46 AM

    I think that its more complicated than good or bad for the league in general. It needs to be looked at on a case by case basis.

    IMO we should look at things like:
    1) What did they give up?

    In John’s case you have to ask questions like; Was he going to leave after his contract was up netting the MLS nothing (ie. Holden)? or Could they have held onto him for a reasonable price within the salary cap? Is John the best use of FC Dallas funds under the cap (my guess is that between John and Shea they would rather use their funds to keep Shea)?

    2) What did they get?

    This to me is more about what do they do with the money. Is it profit for MLS? Is it going to be spent on youth development? Is it going to be used to sign an over the hill Mexican DP to pander to fans?

    We also need to consider that players like Holden and Dempsey might not have turned into Holden and Dempsey if they stayed in the MLS.


    • Posted by Paul on 2011/08/24 at 9:08 AM

      True points about Holden and Dempsey. Let creative destruction reign! As long as player movement isn’t dampering league growth–in terms of attendance and interest, development of youth teams and second sqauds, on field quality–then I don’t see Leander’s point about needing star power for league health. Maybe if MLS was a big league or wanted to become a dominant league, but that is a different issue all together.

      The MLS slow growth model has proven to be succesful. Yes, we want more success, bigger attendances, and for domestic and international stars to play in MLS. We aren’t atthat level yet, so player movement like John is probably a part of growth. Leander’s “Without the star power, you’re doomed” would’ve doomed MLS years ago, as bigger stars haven’t stayed.

      Note for tsg: do not engage Leander about positive developments about US soccer. His class is less than half empty about the US game, whether nationally or internationally.


  8. Posted by Crow on 2011/08/24 at 5:54 AM

    Can someone please tell Leander to shut up?! Kudos for being much more civil with him than I would have been. Can he and John Harkes be “transferred” to cover football in Southeast Asia or somewhere far away.


    • Posted by Jeff on 2011/08/24 at 6:18 AM

      Since this comment takes a shot at both Leander and Harkes, I just want to say that I began writing my own comment before it was posted….


      • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/24 at 6:26 AM

        Yeah, for every step forward (coverage of Euro 2008, WC2010, hiring Ian Darke) ESPN still has a ways to go because of the “coverage” provided by Leander and Harkes.


  9. Posted by Jeff on 2011/08/24 at 6:17 AM

    Leander brings no excellent points, he is wrong, as he usually is with any and all analysis he engages in, whether in his ESPN articles or via Twitter. He writes some decent stories, but that’s it.

    That may sound harsh, but it’s true. Just working for ESPN doesn’t mean that person has any idea what they’re talking about. See Harkes.

    4now: yes, good for the player and the national team. Also good for MLS (which presumably is doing some sort of cost-benefit analysis involving the price (over half of the Dallas payroll for the year) and the star drawing power of the player (let’s be honest: pretty low in John’s case). The only possible loser is the team, depending on how the money distribution works and whether they’re able to find a replacement (unlikely in this case). But then again the league probably benefits yet again because they’d rather have LA or Seattle win the MLS Cup than Dallas!


  10. Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens on 2011/08/24 at 6:23 AM

    Yes, Crow, it’s really awful when people espouse a point of view that’s different from your own, isn’t it? Impossible to process. Completely unbearable…

    For the non-trolls: I’d like to add that George John is a really lovely man, and when of the nicest pro athletes I’ve spoken to. (I went and found him in the locker room after his own goal lost FC Dallas the 2010 MLS Cup Final — — and he was still incredibly friendly and professional.) I’m really happy for him.

    Leander Schaerlaeckens


    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/08/24 at 6:55 AM

      I am not sure how often you come here but Crow is here day after day in the comments section and while he has strong opinions he is most definitely not a troll. Also one of the great thing about these message boards is that there are not trolls (except on rare occasion and when there are, people don’t feed them and they eventually get blocked from posting or leave).

      Fair or unfair working at ESPN means you are held by the public to a higher standard and are expected to be the best. ESPN has great overseas coverage (and average to above average USMNT coverage) but as far as the MLS is concerned it is IMO a large step below sites like this and even (particularly Grant Wahl).


      • Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens on 2011/08/24 at 7:32 AM

        He may well be a good contributor to this blog, I don’t know. And I don’t mean to dismiss him outright. That said, his charge at me was baseless. As was the one that followed it. One of my great irritants about the internet is that people can call you all sorts of names just because they disagree with you. If I’d made a completely outlandish point, this may have been fair. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t. I don’t think saying that a league is better off not losing its best talent is a strange thing to say. Yet it earned me derision. This drives me nuts. (I find it remarkable, by the way, how MLS has gotten its fans to a point where they not only accept that its best players leave but that they applaud it too.) If this is a forum that usually generates respectful discussion, then you’ve got a beautiful thing going and I apologize for fouling it up. I just felt it was my right to defend myself. I did so more viciously than I should have. That I concede.


        • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/24 at 7:39 AM

          The reason MLS fans find it acceptable to lose the best players to better leagues is that most MLS fans are also fans of the USMNT. Given that Europe is rightly viewed as having a higher standard of play (depending on the league) most fans think that having players competing at a higher level is a good thing. Obviously, if the guy doesn’t play then that’s an issue but a different discussion.


        • Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/24 at 8:35 AM

          Troll Here! Anyway I just wanted to say that TSG rocks! This forum is really amazing. I too have strong opinions that differ from many. I will also admit to having strong words for Leander’s assumptions. But I think that he was brought to task for his reactive words in a civil non-threatening way which is great. as was his admission of his words being brought out by anger & frustration. Kudos to Him for this. Maybe I had too much coffee and I’m feeling like a congregant at a Benny Hinn revival, but lets all take a moment to realize what a great site we have here!. We can engage in serious knowledgable debate without calling each other vile names (Look & Learn Congress!)


        • @Leander

          I agree with you to some extent in that it’d be nice to have our own boys playing in our backyard (I’d love to be able to go to a game and see Clint or Stu or Timmy, but I live in upstate NY and have no money or time to fly to England). But I think that, as far as MLS rep goes (especially internationally), having players who go overseas and succeed (that second bit’s important) does a lot more for it than having a few players who are at best a B+ on the international level stay home and dominate the league.

          First off, there’s no guarantee that the players would reach the same level of potential in the States that they would over in England/Spain/Germany/etc. Our training methods are at best equal and are in all probability less effective than those of a good number of first division European clubs (and possibly second division, depending on the country). Our league is likely inferior in terms of talent to any league with more than a single bid for the CL, and therefore players who would otherwise be purchased by teams in these leagues are playing against a lower level of competition here in the States.

          This in turn means that the players we put on our national team who have not gone overseas are likely not being as challenged as they could or should be in training or games. Therefore, our national team is weakened by our isolationism and we don’t play as well in tournaments as we could. Fan support for US soccer is not as strong because of this and since people equate US Soccer with the MLS, the league doesn’t have as strong a fan base. Having everyone home may balance that out, but eventually the product will suffer for it.

          Yes, we currently have a feeder league. I’m okay with that; the league makes money off of it, our teams aren’t screaming bankruptcy and the sport is gradually making headway in the public consciousness in this country, and other nations are starting to notice that we can produce a pretty decent player. The better our national team plays, the more notice teams take in our guys, which means more of them go overseas, which means more of them have a chance to become better than they could be in the MLS, which means our national team plays better…and the cycle repeats.


      • Posted by Crow on 2011/08/24 at 11:28 AM

        Thank you for your defense. If I ever need an attorney, I know who to call.


    • Posted by Crow on 2011/08/24 at 11:24 AM

      Wow! I wasn’t expecting that reaction although maybe I deserved it.

      First, please don’t judge TSG based off me- I’m sort of the village idiot that they thankfully let hang around. Or maybe more like Jose Mourinho- I always say what my opinion is and irritate people constantly. I’m probably just jealous you get paid to state your opinion, and that my only audience is the people who can stand reading my posts. I’ve posted over 500 times on USSoccer as well and my posts are generally less confrontational there for whatever reason.

      Second, I apologize for asking you to “shut up”. I’m a fairly intelligent individual but I definitely can be highly opinionated and emotional. I’ve stepped on toes before in real life and hiding behind my monitor in forums. I usually at least attempt at being more civil.

      As for my soccer pedigree, I don’t really have one- but I am a very passionate soccer fan. I originate from a xenophobic area of rural PA which I came to immediately reject. I’ve proselytized the merits of soccer to many in my area to little effect. Growing up as a kid I watched the 1994 World Cup on my parents’ fuzzy “color” TV. I’ve watched all of the MLS that I could over the years- from the DC United/LA Galaxy finals in the rain to the shootouts and now am a Son of Ben even though I live 3 ½ hrs from Philadelphia (and travel there by myself). My bias may be in the fact that I’m a country over club fan. I’ve attended nearly EVERY MNT game in the last 5 years in the United States with American Outlaws. I’ve watched European soccer on the internet, my phone, and even had DIRECTV’s maxed out plan for 2 years just so I could watch soccer.
      My emotional outburst was mainly caused due to the fact that I disagree with literally every single article you write. It was frustration mounting inside of me. To me, many of your views, if implemented, would hinder the growth of soccer in America in my eyes. That may be a ridiculously vague statement, but I’m frustrated with nearly every article I write. I’ve even said before that you secretly work for the Mexican Federation trying to spread propaganda to hinder the growth of the American team.
      The best way for MLS to grow is to gain a reputation. The best way to do that is to send high quality players to leagues with worldwide exposure. The MLS can make a name for itself this way.
      Part of my frustration just has to do with the direction ESPN has headed in general (pulling a MTV in my eyes). From the magazine (which I used to subscribe to) becoming a poor man’s GQ instead of covering sports, to the Insider content (which I used to subscribe to) becoming less valuable in my eyes, to being constantly told how LeBron James is the greatest gift mankind has ever received, ESPN in general has soured on me. If it wasn’t for Matthew Berry I don’t know if I’d ever visit the site anymore.
      I’ll give you credit that you at least better quality articles than Scoop Jackson. I’ve never read an article that made me angrier in my life than the one he wrote about Tim Howard. Please pass that fact along to him because I never ended up sending him an e-mail. He not once mentioned, in that piece of garbage piece of an article that somehow got through editing, the racial and vulgar taunts directed towards Howard during the game, most of the game, by a large majority of the crowd. In Europe, they may have stopped the game. Some other reasons I’m angry at ESPN is their ridiculous magazine cover of Giuseppe Rossi being the “Greatest American hope at the World Cup”, and the article praising Mexican National Team fans as the “best fans in America.” I’ve met plenty of wonderful Mexican National team fans, but can we get just one article describing the appalling and animalistic behavior of MANY at not only the Azteca, but also the Rose Bowl?

      Okay I think I’m done now.

      I’ve had plenty of civil conversations with columnists from my local newspaper to Bill Simmons so I apologize I was not able to do the same in this case.


      • Crow,
        I agree with you 100%. American soccer does not grow with xenophobia present. Leander’s viewpoint = xenophobia… Furthermore, it does not seem to change even when confronted with logical arguments, so he is fair game for escalation. Take for instance Jared’s comment above, which points out that this move makes it so that all the young players in and around MLS get energized by the prospect that they too might someday make it to “The Show” like George John did by moving to EPL. Until MLS is paying top dollars it should be thrilled to function as a jumping off point for the top dollars with growing significance.

        Men’s soccer is the most competitive sport on earth. The fact that an ESPN contributor does not understand what is so intriguing about that and how George John’s current accession, by way of our own MLS, fits into that picture, is very disheartening. True soccer fans like it for its ultimate competition. The best versus the best… and when there is an American amongst that group then even better for us to watch.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/24 at 2:50 PM

          Xenophobia? Come on. How do you come to that conclusion?


          • Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens on 2011/08/24 at 5:45 PM

            Seriously? How can I be xenophobic when I’m a foreigner? I was born in and live in Europe until two years ago… Do you even know what the word means? Go look it up, “xenos”, it’s Greek, means “foreign”.

            And why do you assume that I don’t know that soccer is the most competitive sport in the world? How you think I wouldn’t know something so elementary is beyond me. I’m aware that the soccer is very strong in other countries, that’s why I advocate for keeping the better players here… So that it can be strong here too.



          • This isn’t xenophobic at all. If anything, it’s isolationism, which is more of a policy than a superiority complex. (which in itself is odd, considering Leander’s a European. Isolationism is probably more prevalent in American history than most European countries during America’s existence)


          • Fear of foreign teams signing domestic players from our domestic league sounds like xenophobia to me… maybe the word “isolationism” works too.

            Foreign club soccer it turns out is business competition to ESPN with high fees and well worn distribution networks. Long ago, ESPN bet on US consumer not caring about foreign club over MLS club soccer. Wrong. So the likes of George John is gone to the ESPN brand. Sure their employees are sore about it.


            • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/08/25 at 7:32 AM

              I don’t think Leander’s comments have anything to do about being sore about the fact that he is going from MLS to EPL. ESPN already has EPL coverage (would like to see a little more US player flair in the game selection and advertising but…).

              If anything its from a misplaced idea (IMO) of how good the MLS could become without going broke. Hopefully being on Versus helps boost the ratings and therefore the next TV contract value. That will allow salaries to increase. Its how it has worked in every league that is successful.

            • ESPN covers EPL unless there is something better on like a Little League World Series qualifier…

              Anyway, you are right to steer the conversation back on track to what is best for MLS. I agree that the goal is for MLS to increase ratings, revenue and then quality. But I’d like to emphasize that the new prospect of a single player making it to the EPL by paying his dues first to the MLS is good and serves to energize all individual players in the league who can now aspire to the same thing… and those aspiring to the league (AKA American youth soccer).

              Come on. The next argument may be to sit the best MLS players from big USMNT games so as not to risk injury to “big draw” players. Fans love soccer for the open competition. That is why we keep coming back… even though we barely understand it, our players look on the verge of grabbing the ball with their hands and running with it at any given moment, our fields suck, our coaches suck, our commentators suck, our networks suck (LLWS fiasco).

              Wait though, MLS has really cool uniforms and logos. I will give them that. Very balanced color schemes and sporty. Unlike some harlequin-like outfits of foreign teams; i.e. Barcelona … but that is not why we like MLS! We like it because it is the most proximal semblance of the height of human sporting competition. The more ingrained our players with the top-tier of soccer, the more compelling the sport becomes to all; diehards and the uninitiated.

    • Posted by Crow on 2011/08/24 at 12:00 PM

      And I think I just figured out where the “SHUT UP” came from. Do you remember in the movie Zoolander where Mugatu just kind of snapped at the end? The level of exasperation he felt due to the fact that nobody seemed to notice that Derek Zoolander only had one look? That is the mental picture I had in my head after I read your sentiments (and others you push the players leaving MLS is bad for the league agenda)


      • Posted by Crow on 2011/08/24 at 1:23 PM

        and others “who” push the agenda of players leaving MLS for Europe is bad for the league. Sorry


  11. Posted by swedust on 2011/08/24 at 6:38 AM

    The Dempsey example shows the importance of what happens *after* a transfer as to whether or not the exporting of MLS players will ultimately serve the better interests of the league. Revs fans have seen nearly a decade of stagnation at their club despite the “windfall” of Dempsey’s transfer fee. So a lot of this will depend on effective club management on the part of the sellers.


    • Posted by MJ on 2011/08/24 at 8:28 AM

      This. Good trades can still be ruined by poor management (literally) of what comes from them. Perhaps a common sense point, but a very good one that doesn’t seem very “common” for a lot of teams, hence their financial situations.


  12. Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/08/24 at 6:45 AM

    Good article. I think Leander takes a very short-term view. I think it’s part of the maturation process of a league to move from not having ANY players interesting to foreign clubs, to being a feeder league, to ultimately being a ‘destination’ league.


  13. Posted by damon on 2011/08/24 at 7:06 AM

    When it comes down to it, the MLS salary cap is $2.65 million a season not including designated players. To put this in perspective this is signifcantly less than the transfer fee for pretty worthless Sebastian Squillaci last season. The MLS is a minor league as long as the dollars involved are so low. If the MLS can increase revenues by developing players as a stepping stone and having them move on to bigger things then the salary cap can continue to grow and the stature of the league will continue to increase.

    And I think its good business for the MLS. Players will be more likely to sign if they know they don’t have to ride out a 3 year contract if they get a better offer elsewhere.


  14. You three are all right. TSG’s right in the upward trend of talent in this league, Leander’s right about John, Holden, etc. entering primes being more effective in boosting MLS rep, and Kyle’s right in that stars help this league. However MLS isn’t at the stage to attract prime stars, maybe stars in twilight of their career. The true sign of progress is when a star who could easily sign for an upper level club in Europe (exclude the big time regular CL semifinalists like Barca, Man U) signs for MLS instead.


  15. Posted by Frank on 2011/08/24 at 7:47 AM

    John is a great guy, my son went to an FC Dallas soccer camp and they got to watch the team practice and John came over to my son and his friend and he asked if they knew who he was and they did not, he laughed and pointed to Brek Shea and asked who he was and they both knew and John laughed and called Shea over to say hi as they knew him and he gave them both hi fives. At the opening game
    my son was excited when he saw John out there, he was “Dad that is the guy who we talked to at camp” He is now one of my sons favorite player and he is really excited that he is going to play in the EPL…..he is a big EPL fan – he is 7 yrs old –
    So it shows that the future fans of the MSL find it exciting that the players they get to see live here that they can watch them playing on TV in the EPL, La Liga or whatever. So it is good for the league


    • Posted by crow on 2011/08/24 at 2:18 PM

      I think this my favorite comment. It’s exciting to see how soccer has taken off with my generation- generation y- but its even more exciting to think how much more it can grow due to the next generation. There is so much more exposure than there was when I was growing up. I really think soccer is going to see a massive and exponential growth in America over the next 20 years. It’s exciting seeing the growing racial diversity at MLS and USMNT games as well.

      I’m a philly union fan but I’ve met alot of great fc Dallas fans and I really like their team. I’m glad the attendance has improved in Dallas.


  16. Posted by Soccernst on 2011/08/24 at 7:49 AM

    MLS is going to be just fine. Consider the efforts in place designed to produce new high level talent. Reserve league, homegrown player rule, young DP rule, academy system. For every John there is a Beckerman or Joseph, who form a rock to build on and occasionally sell off and turn a profit, reinvesting some into the measures listed above.

    Free market sport is a recipe for disaster because men don’t think about sport like they do their 401k. MLS has struck the right balance all the way along. Color me impressed.


  17. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/24 at 7:58 AM

    I think the theme of Leander’s comments were based upon the USA gaining their “soccer independence” from Europe and becoming self sufficient as a nation, and MLS gaining respect as a league, sooner rather than later. And he has a point, although IMHO I think it’s premature. I guess it all depends on how this transfer revenue gets spent, right? Sort of sacrificing one player in the short term to “produce” five more in the medium term. There are good players in this league, but the talent is sporadic, and the quality level is not consistent across a team. Something that will come but it will take time. Short term pain, for long term gain?


    • Posted by John Henry on 2011/08/24 at 8:04 AM

      The problem with this line of thinking, though (and I mean Leander, not you), is that it assumes that there’s something MLS can actually, practically do about it. When presented with the big money, stadiums, fame, WAGS, etc. of the top leagues, 9/10 players (the 1 being Landon) are going to take that opportunity. In other words, it’s either sell him now or lose him on a free. MLS keeping players like John (i.e., those who are wanted in Europe) just isn’t a realistic option.


      • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/24 at 8:16 AM

        It is very hard to gain “soccer independence” from Europe even if the pay is similar (which it clearly isn’t when comparing MLS to most Euro leagues). Take Brazil for example, their economy is doing well and allowing them to pay salaries similar to what players can make in Europe but most of their players have grown up with the dream of proving they can play in Europe. With the Champions League becoming the most important tournament in world football Europe will continue to have an advantage over any league.


        • Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 9:33 AM

          I’m glad someone mentioned Brazil. The money they’re paying is allowing them to keep more of their talent at home longer. Years ago Neymar and Lucas Moura would be in Europe by now; instead Neymar brought a Copa Libertadores to Santos.

          By the by….I’m not the only person who thinks Neymar’s a bit overrated, right? I like Lucas Moura more than he among Brazilian youth and to my mind Mario Gotze is the best teenager in the world.


          • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/24 at 10:34 AM

            Neymar is still in Brazil because you’re not the only one who thinks he’s overrated considering there hasn’t been a club that has really been willing to pay his ridiculously inflated transfer fee. I think he’s overrated too and a bit lightweight which the Vickipedia continues to say will be a major issue for Neymar as he won’t get the same kind of protection from refs in Europe that he does in Brazil.

            Even with that though it’s still only a matter of time before players like that leave Brazil for Europe.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/24 at 11:05 AM

      True. Plus the soft factors such as wanting to play in a country that has a proper football culture, where it is the No.1 sport. Thought that was an interesting point made in the Kreiger interview. You cannot manufacture that sort of stuff.


  18. Posted by John Henry on 2011/08/24 at 8:14 AM

    Isn’t this whole argument more or less irrelevant? Or am I missing something? Whether it’s good or bad for the league (I think it’s obviously good) doesn’t change the fact that it’s just the way it is.

    How could MLS even keep its best players? What incentives are there for an excellent soccer player to stay in MLS? The salaries are mostly pitiful, the teams are mostly mediocre, the players are mostly nobodies in their own cities, and the challenges are middling. Why would anyone who excels at their profession (any profession) want to stay in those conditions?

    And please don’t get all “eurodouchey” on me (I know this isn’t SBI). Is any of that untrue?


    • Posted by John Henry on 2011/08/24 at 8:17 AM

      In other words, Leander wishing that MLS keep its best players is essentially wishing that MLS were the kind of league that would attract the best players, which is, in my opinion, naive and misguided.

      MLS needs to carve out its niche and etc., and that niche makes it clear why selling John is good for the league.


      • Posted by MJ on 2011/08/24 at 8:32 AM

        The expectation and application of it could be naive but wishing it is certainly understandable and likely true of most MLS fans. Heck, I might even go so far as to say it should be true of all fans. Premature to expect, fair to wish for I think.


      • Posted by chad on 2011/08/24 at 10:10 AM

        Does anyone else expect John Henry’s posts to refer to Liverpool or the Red Sox?


  19. It is good for league as long as the league is able to develop young players. Compared to many other leagues, the MLS doesn’t have enough money to keep its very best players in their prime. It’s like Arsenal, isn’t it?

    But there will never be an Arsenal class mass-exodus since the work permit issue limits the number of potential transfers between MLS and other leagues. The best young American players find it difficult to head overseas without having been involved in the national team picture with some regularity. As the National Team improves, many of the top 10-15-20 players will end up playing overseas. It’s the quality of the best American players just outside the national team picture in the league that will ultimately set the level of the MLS.

    Losing a few players who go on to do well in top leagues increases the stature of the league as a source of talent. Don’t underestimate the impact a player like Ryan Nelson (who moved from MLS to Blackburn on a free transfer) on how the league is viewed.

    It’ll be interesting to see when a team offers one of their current players a DP slot/contract to keep them in that window when their current deal expires or there’s a transfer offer on the table. The DP system doesn’t function like that at the moment, chasing established “star” players rather than taking a risk by paying a “Stu Holden” what Bolton thought he was worth to play in MLS in his prime. Maybe there should be a separate pair of DP slots for such “upgraded-contract” players would allow the league to keep the “Michael Parkhurst”-level player who is willing to take their chances in Scandinavia in order to get a paycheck and hopefully a move to a top league.


  20. Posted by MJ on 2011/08/24 at 8:36 AM

    Just noticed the “Let us know” bit regarding the new structure of the piece. Ahem: I enjoyed the format of this article, presenting an issue, followed by the twitter-capades (with helpful color coding too!), concluded by observations and left to the form to discuss. It provides a helpful and unique lens for those not in the media to see who “those in the know” think, operate, interact, and ultimately feel. Kudos.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/08/24 at 9:04 AM

      Thanks for the feedback MJ. Won’t be a ton of them–in some ways I’m not sure TSG has rights to reproduce twitter commentary. But there will be a few more.


    • I’m echoing MJ here, this is a pretty sweet format. Makes it easier to follow a good conversation on Twitter without having to sift through all the other feeds that I follow.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 9:35 AM

      One change in the format is that I’d like a way to present it in a way that makes it clearer who’s replying to whom and what, specifically, they’re replying to.

      Also, I think the conversation is a touch too long to hold interest, if I’m being honest. Which I am.


    • Posted by Joe on 2011/08/24 at 2:30 PM

      Tuesday I would like to challenge your statement: “It’ll be interesting to see when a team offers one of their current players a DP slot/contract to keep them in that window when their current deal expires or there’s a transfer offer on the table. The DP system doesn’t function like that at the moment, chasing established “star” players rather than taking a risk by paying a “Stu Holden” what Bolton thought he was worth to play in MLS in his prime.”

      Seattle did that this year with Fredy Montero. He is not the first player MLS player to be upgraded to a DP slot but he is the youngest. At 23 I think it is fair to say that he has not reached the prime of his career. He is a streaky player at times but a fabulous striker, and fan favorite. Plus if he does move on to a top tier league they are going to have to pay a ridiculous transfer fee. This deal was done before his last contract had expired and after there were rumors of “big euro club” interest.


  21. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/24 at 8:58 AM

    I think everyone makes some valid arguements here but I believe that the question is if its good for MLS.We all assign things to MLS and USMNT, players etc. that maybe aren’t theirs. The MLS is a league which is run in hope of profit. Yes ,there are some involved in MLS who are not motivated by profit alone. but we can’t assume that isn’t a primary motivating factor in all their decisions. Yes they as an entity want the league to be viable, popular, lucrative,etc And the inclusion of talented players will help that. But lets look through the lens of this being (transfers, in & Outs) as being part of a soccer ecosystem where everything gets recycled. Players get a name worldwide in Europe, return brand name to MLS which increases their attraction for new/old players, fans,other leagues etc.
    I think its imperative that players like George John be allowed to transfer to big stages, this will only strengthen MLS and the talent pool of Americans/USMNT by proxy. We, as fans, love to follow story lines & personalities, I mean would a new fan be interested in John Rooney on the NYRBs if he wasn’t connected to Wayne, or does a fan search the TV/Internet to hear about Eric Lichaj/Stuart Holden in Europe? of Course they do ( ok I do). The big question is, will this help US soccer, and it definitely will. The US Soccer seed has already germinated, is it now viable and only will continue to grow, MLS or not.


  22. Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 9:37 AM

    The aspect that I think represents the most positive PR boost for MLS here is that George John was uncapped by the USMNT. If you look at previous MLS-to-Europe transfers, players were either a) capped by the USMNT, multiple times or b) putting up insane offensive stats. So George John was transferred entirely on the strength of his MLS play.

    Now, about getting him a USMNT cap before Greece does…


    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/08/24 at 3:36 PM

      This never occured to me but it does mean great strides for the MLS. This should be more of a talking point.


    • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/24 at 5:50 PM

      There is also the X factor of John’s Greek passport.

      I can’t think of another MLS example but without that passport,no way they let him play in the EPL.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 6:25 PM

        Well, of course that’s true.

        But I think you’re missing my point a bit. The point is that they decided John’s MLS play was so strong that they could take the risk. They didn’t need the outside validation of national team caps or performance therein. They thought the strength of the league was good enough to make a substantive judgment that John might be good enough for the EPL.


        • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/28 at 8:26 PM

          I understood your point perfectly. And it makes sense.

          The trouble is, everything counts when you evaluate a player.

          Blackburn already knows MLS has good players. Ryan Nelsen went straight from DC United to Blackburn back around 2005. Yes, he was New Zealand’s captain but that was New Zealand for goodness sake. He got a work permit only after an appeal after the initial application had been refused due to New Zealand being ranked outside the top 70 in the FIFA World Rankings at the time.

          And he is now their captain.

          If not for the very stringent permitting regulations I believe many more EPL clubs would have spent more time considering MLS talent over the last few years.

          I think very highly of George John but his passport status is as vital a part of his overall appeal to an EPL team as his talent, his character (pretty solid from what I have read, no rap sheet or anything like that) and his price (pretty reasonable from what I’ve seen).

          My point is, it’s not just skill and ability that is keeping more Americans from being considered by EPL clubs.


  23. Posted by Fellaini's_Fro on 2011/08/24 at 10:09 AM

    I wonder how much of the dissent regarding “Is it a good thing”, for star players or up and coming players to leave the MLS for Europe is related to the fact that we are not used to our best players leaving the country to play in another league? Having the best basketball league, the best baseball league and to a lesser extent the best hockey league in the world we are used to players wanting to come to America to ply their trade not the other way around. Are we stuck in the mindset of not wanting to be second class to anyone else?

    As a casual fan of soccer, yes I know supposedly your either a part of the small but passionate group of supporters or don’t care about soccer, I am pleased at where we are headed as a soccer nation and see many reasons to be positive. In the last few years coverage of soccer has grown tremendously, albeit not in a consistent quality manner “I’m looking at you ESPN for that LLWS debacle”. And every weekend while I am at my daughter’s club games and tournaments I see young people, boy’s and girl’s who are passionate about soccer and extremely skilled at a younger and younger age. During last year’s World Cup I had avowed non-soccer fan friends who came to me and wanted to talk about soccer and even go to a local pub to watch the games. I understand and accept that the US is not yet up to the standard of play or skill as a whole compared to the best in the world. I purposely did not use the phrase rest of the world because I believe while the MLS is not up to the level of many European or South American leagues. We are close to or exceed many domestic leagues around the world and this has been accomplished in less than 20 years.

    While I am not sure if I will see our domestic league equal the best in the world in my lifetime. I am hopeful that in time the growth and popularity of soccer in the US will come to a tipping point “thanks Malcolm Gladwell” and I will see many of our best athletes choose soccer over other sports and they will have a real dilemma in whether to choose to stay home or go overseas because the gap in salary, popularity and development has closed significantly. When that time comes, then the question of is this good for the league will have become moot.

    Just my dos cents.


  24. Posted by Robert on 2011/08/24 at 10:49 AM

    Exporting homegrown MLS talent will have a multiplier effect that will help the league grow organically from within. By exporting players for a reasonable return on investment allows MLS to grow it’s infrastructure that will nurture the rest of the league from the bottom-up replacing what’s currently leaving at the “top”.


  25. Posted by Wachhz on 2011/08/24 at 10:53 AM

    The question of quality of play has already been answered by Hyndman: the sale of Kenny Cooper in the summer of 2009 gave FCD the financial resources to build the team we have today.

    Who is going to argue that FCD ’10-’11 is worse than FCD ’09?

    Clearly the level of play has stepped up. FCD ’12 will be even greater, profiting off of the John sale. Future FCD teams will benefit from the sale of Richard Sanchez, Brek Shea, etc.

    Right now, MLS is taking the place of the Scandinavian leagues of just a few years ago. Rather than using Scandinavia, etc. as a stepping stone to the big Euro leagues, guys are realizing that the level of play and exposure in MLS are increasing such that they can play here and step up to the big Euros. This is proved by John who could have picked up his Euro passport and moved to Turkey, Finland, Iceland, etc at any point.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/08/24 at 12:22 PM

      But you still have a major cash shortfall in players choosing Scandinavia. I would say it is still slightly ahead of MLS.

      It’s why Parkhurt, Goodson, Benny (past tense), Rolfe, Tracy (no longer), and more than I’ve forgotten go play there.

      Which brings the next point? To add more talent in MLS, have to grow budgets–I’m sure the TV deal helps that…and this is just how long it’s going to take.

      As an aside, infuriates me when people think the league has to grow *faster* than it does. Measured growth that can weather cyclic economies and different social trends is a much safer, but also predictable and better solution to growth.

      There’s an expression in business when you grow to fast, it’s called, “Running to the fire.” I’m glad MLS is not doing this.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 12:29 PM

        Don’t you mean, “Pulling a Groupon”?

        I hear they’re big in China.

        (For context: )


      • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/08/24 at 3:40 PM

        In the US soccer is also a generational thing. I have no proof but my guess is that the soccer crowd slants very young. Its going to take time before the 60 year old people that think soccer is a communist sport are replaced by the 30 year olds that grew up playing soccer as children.


        • Posted by Fellaini's_Fro on 2011/08/24 at 4:24 PM

          Agreed. Those of us that grew up in the 70’s through the 80’s for the most part did not have soccer as an option to play at your local park and rec. It was baseball, basketball and football. Soccer was taught in middle school PE and played for a month and then that was it. The 90’s and 00’s have been such a boon to soccer as a widely played sport that even some obscure statistic names it as the most participated in sport up until age 14. Here in So Cal soccer is everywhere. You can not pass a park or school that doesn’t have a youth game going on. So when idiots like Jim Rome and even Bill O’Reilly during last years World Cup dump on soccer they are clueless as to the growing impact of soccer in American culture.


  26. My only comment is this: if our players didn’t go/succeed abroad, people would assume the MLS and its players are still not as good of quality.

    It’s like asking if Tyson could beat Ali or something of that nature… Can’t prove it if they don’t go against one another – will always be speculation.

    As such, we will have to send our players to the leagues that have already been cemented as the best in the world and have them demonstrate the milestones our league is setting and surpassing.


    • Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/24 at 11:38 AM

      Good Points Bryce. I concur! I also think we as Americans (forgive me for those I brush with my broad generalizations) tend to only accept the Gold, silver is sometimes viewed as a failure. I call it the Nike effect. The classic black & white thinking.
      We view someone who is playing for a 2nd division or tier league as somewhat as a failure. For ex. Anton Peterlin is playing for Walsall in League One in England. He is a success, if one can make a decent living playing in a sport we all profess to love, then let’s laud them instead of labelling them as lacking. Fellani’s Fro has it right, we as a nation are growing in soccer and its hard not to be number one but we’re making great strides and will continue to get better (call me a jingoist=” the cream always rises to the top”


  27. Posted by John on 2011/08/24 at 11:59 AM

    Isn’t every single club in the world now a feeder club for Man City?


  28. Posted by Andy on 2011/08/24 at 12:26 PM

    The straight line (or perceived straight line) from joining MLS to making millions of dollars will be the ultimate catalyst for improving home grown talent / young MLS players; whether or not that endstate is in MLS or a league that plucks players from MLS is irrelevant


  29. Posted by bennyh on 2011/08/24 at 12:34 PM

    The MLS must allow young talent to go overseas, especially to better leagues like the EPL. If they don’t they’ll lose credibility with young American (and Central American) talent as a place to begin their careers. Who wants to be locked into a rookie contract in the MLS that has the ability to play in one of the top European leagues for a much larger salary?

    Trying to hold onto talent at sub-par wages will only ensure that the best players go to minor Euro leagues rather than the MLS.


  30. I think that talking about players transferring away from MLS as a “blow” to the league implies that there is an alternate outcome that is both realistic and better … but I don’t see it. Three of the four “major” US leagues have had lockouts in the past decade to resolve (alleged) issues with finances and stability, and the fourth league has had obvious financial issues itself (google “Dodgers bankruptcy” if you want to read more). Soccer is most definitely popular up to a certain point here, but is also most definitely not popular in certain ways, like TV ratings and large-scale, high-price-ticket attendance, that would likely be the requirements for a financial system that would allow US players to stay home and make money that would approach European-level money (even if not against European-league talent).

    If our choices are between having a domestic league that is a feeder for European leagues and having no domestic league at all because it went bankrupt (again), I pick the former. Let interest build slowly and naturally: don’t let it become one of those things that ESPN pushes ceaselessly on people who don’t care at all, like the X Games. Build interest in soccer and people will continue to be drawn to the sport; televise more matches across all leagues and people will watch more matches across all leagues. Eventually there will be more money to keep more talent at home – but there should also still be wise decisions about which talent to keep and which to let go, because there will always be clubs run by people with more money than restraint. Let them pay millions more than US talent is worth, and let those lucky players collect that money.


  31. Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/08/24 at 3:19 PM

    Here is an interesting question:

    If you were a U-20 USMNT soccer player with no passport restrictions and significant potential but not good enough to play in lets say a Big 5 league (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France) of Champions League level from another country (Celtic, Rangers, Benefica, Ajax, etc) where would you rather start your career…

    A) MLS
    B) English Championship
    C) Mexico
    D) Norway/Sweeden/etc

    Honestly the fact that the MLS is legitimately on the list should be the proud takeaway not that someone would rather get paid 10X as much to play against ManU at Old Trafford then against Columbus in Ohio.

    Gun to my head I would say the US wins the World Cup before you see in their prime stars forcing there way out of Man City to play for LA Galaxy. Not even much of a choice.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/24 at 5:21 PM

      Is Holland an option? Give me Heerenveen, Feyenoord or AZ over any of the other options. They also understand taht they are feeder clubs.

      I wouldn’t go to Mexico, too much chance to disappear down there (although that is changing both from a national team perspective and a Euro perspective).

      MLS could refuse to let you leave when you’re ready to move on.

      Scandinavia is too cold for me.


      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 6:09 PM

        Good call. That probably should have been E and is the best option on the list. They are very good feeder clubs. Not sure about the teams outside of those three but…


      • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/28 at 8:30 PM

        I guess you’ve never been in Holland in the winter.


  32. Posted by Trip on 2011/08/24 at 3:55 PM

    Leander’s point of view is just bizarre. The notion that the MLS needs stars has proven to be false repeatedly. Look at the Timbers and the Whitecaps. Those are teams with real fa bases who go to the games because they like the scene and the game, not to watch the likes of Jorge Perlaza and Kenny Cooper.

    Dempsey and Donovan playing in the EPL enhance the MLS in not only of those European eyes but those of the MLS fan as well.

    How can someone be so wrong about a subject so close to their job.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/08/24 at 4:07 PM

      How dare you?! How dare you?! Perlaza. PERLAZA! A star amongst stars….!


    • Posted by Fellaini's_Fro on 2011/08/24 at 4:38 PM

      I have heard the Timbers have an amazing fan base as well as the Sounders. I wish we could get the same type of support for the Galaxy. There are pockets of great supporters through the stadium, but nothing like the constant cheering and singing that I see during FSC broadcasts from the likes of Fulham or Everton


  33. Posted by crow on 2011/08/24 at 5:30 PM

    I don’t agree with leander that landon became landon in MLS. I think he became landon when he proved himself at Everton.


    • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/24 at 6:18 PM

      Perhaps to you.

      Landon proved he could play well for ten games or so at a mid level EPL club. Okay. Given his ability, which he developed in MLS and polished while on USMNT duty, I would have been surprised if he had not done as well as he did.

      It was almost a personalized tuneup for his World Cup performance where he did much more for his legacy than he did in his short stint at Everton. It did, however take some of the sting out of his flaccid performance at Bayern Munich the year before.

      If US fans needed to see Donovan do what he did to tell themselves we could play with the big boys then they hadn’t been watching Deuce or Brian McBride, who, in terms of EPL worth, are for more proven quantities than Landon. They, particularly Clint, did not have the perfect storm of a manager rooting for you, a team of players and playing style who fit you to a tee and a lineup of high profile opponents.

      This is not to denigrate Landon, who is probably our most consistently talented player. He did very well. However, his time at Everton was almost magical in how everything broke well for him.

      It’s just that people don’t give Clint, the US’ single most dangerous player, in particular, credit, for how hard he slogged through managers that were not always in his corner, and playing for a team that took a while to figure out how best to use him. And Dempsey has consistently gotten better every year for a few years now.

      His long term performance dwarfs the ten game stint Donovan put in, a proved tht American outfield players can be vital members of their EPL team.


      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 6:24 PM

        Amen on Dempsey. Best non-goalie US player current and potentially the best non-goalie US player of all time.

        Sorry McBride your bar is going to have a new name in a couple years.


      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 6:27 PM

        potentially meaning if he continues to improve and do what he has done for a couple more years.


      • Posted by crow on 2011/08/24 at 7:17 PM

        Deuce is my favorite athlete ever and i think the best player on the team. I spent 200 dollars to make a banner honoring him that was sadly lost at the rose bowl. I love the perseverance he has shown over the years and the passion he plays with.

        Anyway i made that comment because I interpreted leander’s comment as meaning that landon got to the next level by staying in MLS. He was always a good player but I think that stint in Europe gave him the confidence that helped him play at that high level at the World Cup. However, I don’t think he has been the same player since.


    • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 6:22 PM

      That all depends on how you define Landon. Because of all the time in MLS he became the face of US soccer, there is no debating that. The MLS ads, the USMNT games that he played where the European players stayed home, his role on the Galaxy as the big MLS team, etc.

      It took him going to Everton for the socceratti to put him back on the level of Duece in the conversation of best US non-goalie (I don’t think he is there but it is at least an argument) and make him worthy of the hype.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 6:39 PM

        The Dempsey-Donovan debate is an interesting one.

        Donovan is in almost all ways the better player. He’s faster; his vision is much better (though Clint’s no slouch); he has great ideas on how to utilize his teammates and open space. There are two aspects that Clint has Donovan beat:

        1) minor: Dempsey’s a better header of the ball.
        2) major: Dempsey’s got grit.

        If Donovan had Dempsey’s grit, there might not be so many jokes about Neverkusen.


        • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 7:09 PM

          I would say Dempsey is more creative.

          You hit on the whole Landycakes thing to me… Donovan clearly the more talented of the two. IMO Dempsey got to a much higher percentage of his talent.

          Dempsey’s career lacks a signature moment for the generic US “fans”.

          1) Algeria goal
          2) Mexico goal
          3) 3 MLS Cup
          4) 1 MLS MVP
          5) Golden Ball U-17 WC
          6) Best young player FIFA WC 2002
          7) USMNT All-time Goal and Assist Leader

          1) Juve Goal
          2) Liverpool goal – 07 to help stave off relegation
          3) 1 Europa League runner up
          4) 180 games and 39 goals in a Fulham jersey
          5) 2009 Confed Cup Bronze ball
          6) First CONCACAF player with 10 goals in a EPL season
          7) Two time Fulham POY (fan vote)

          Landon’s resume is better but it feels very pre-2004 heavy where as Duece seems to be post-2007.


          • Posted by dth on 2011/08/24 at 7:26 PM

            Dempsey’s creativity–e.g. moments like Juve–manifests itself in explosions where you say, “WOW.”

            Donovan can also do that kind of stuff, but is very good at inventing ways of creating space subtly–particularly for his teammates. He’ll deliver a pass just right–and his teammate will have tons of space. Consider him the exact opposite of Michael Bradley in that way. It’s harder to notice, but once you do…it’s hard not to appreciate.

            The USMNT stats kind of tell the tale for me. Donovan’s got 46 goals and around the same number of assists in 136 appearances. Dempsey has 22 goals and 10 assists in 77 appearances. The goal ratio is about the same–Donovan .33 goals/game to Dempsey’s .28 goals/game. The assist ratio is where Donovan destroys–.33 assists/game to Dempsey’s .129 assists/game.


            • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/24 at 7:51 PM

              Maybe its not creativity but the ability to create a goal out of nothing. Dempsey highlight goals tend to be individual moments of brilliance, Donovan’s highlight goals tend to be brilliant for the 45 seconds before resulting in a relatively easy finish.

              Love the Bradley comment. He never seems to drop a ball for someone to run onto, its usually played to a guy standing still directly and probably to hard at that players feet. After the GC I just picture Bradley taking two dribbles forward, having no idea what to do, dribbling a U turn and 5 dribbles later passing the ball back to the CB.

          • Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/24 at 9:04 PM

            I wanted to add my dos centavos aqui. I think that the discussion on who is better Donovan or Dempsey is an interesting one. Thank God that we now can have arguements like this. I am a simple man with simple analogies to life and soccer. Soccer is like wrestling, we must have a hero for every demographic (Watch Bleacher Report to see if they steal this idea and have an article about wrestlers as players, Marcus Hanheman=Bill Goldberg)
            Anyway the point I meandering too, is that I applaud Donovan but Dempsey creates those Aha moments that true jogo bonito lovers can appreciate. Donvoan might have better stats or moments but when you’re sitting around chewing the fat with your soccer buddies from other countries with a rich history, we can look to Deuce to bolster our low soccer self-esteem. Its like being an Italian or Turk talking to a group of Americans about Basketball, sometimes a Danilo Gallinari or Hedo Turkoglu is the best of your lot, and you want to participate in the discussion. So we have Deuce until someone else and others start to get in the ring.


          • Bernie’s got a very good point. Deuce seems to be getting better as he goes, while it seems that Landon has plateaued and is, if anything, starting to lose bits and pieces of his game, even though the two are separated by only a year.

            Clint used to pout and mope and drift in and out of games for the MNT. Now he’s a workhorse who gets bloody lips and seems to be shooting on a net that’s about five feet wider than everyone else. Landon has also had the tendency to drift in and out of games (in terms of effectiveness), but recently, since WC2010, he seems to be out more than he’s in.

            Also – and this is completely unrelated to talent or anything, just an observation I’ve made – Landon seems like a douche when he plays. I may be breaking from the ranks here, but I get annoyed when I see him petitioning for cards, and it seems like he does it a lot.


  34. Posted by Alex on 2011/08/24 at 8:24 PM

    I have a talking point I would like to bring up. We USMNT fans, who are also MLS fans, for the most part, love when a yank makes a big move from the US to Europe. But if you think about the EPL, how many Englishmen move from EPL to other leagues? The only ones I can think of are David Beckham and Michael Owen to Real Madrid.

    It seems like Leander wants us to have an MLS much like that with Americans staying in the home country’s clubs much like England does, but its so difficult for the MLS to become something like the EPL because of the amount of tradition, culture, and more importantly money, that is invested in footy in England. Until then, I will hope that players move to Europe, because it not only helps develop players, but, if they perform well, brings prestige to the MLS and the US. Plus its hard to argue that players like Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden etc didn’t become better because they moved.


    • I would argue that part of the reason could also be the style of play in the English league is much more leniently refereed than it’s mainland counterparts. Something that’s a niggling foul in England is a quick yellow in Spain or Italy (Germany, maybe not so much). Adjusting to the different league style might be part of the reason that English players stay; that said, I don’t know how many Spaniards and Italians leave their home leagues, either.


    • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/29 at 7:08 PM

      Alex and the bostinian,

      Follow the money

      One reason why the better English players stay in the UK is there are a lot of teams, 20 in the EPL and another 24 in the Championship. And I haven’t even gotten to League One and Two. I’ll let you do the math on the roster sizes and how many jobs there are for players.

      Serie A and La Liga both have 20 teams.

      In the 2004–05 season the Championship was the wealthiest non-top flight football division in the world, and the sixth richest division in Europe. And you can make a good case for the fact that there is not that much difference between the bottom half of the EPL and top half of the Championship in terms of talent and standard of play.

      If you are an English player you can have a very high standard of play and make a pretty decent living in the UK even if you are not an EPL star so why go abroad?

      I guarantee you if we had the equivalent number of teams, with equivalent salaries and high standard of play, most American players would want to stay home.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/08/29 at 7:53 PM

      I think more Englishmen should think about going overseas, to be honest. It would help broaden the experiences of their players and perhaps culture them overall more. I don’t think it’s an accident that, for example, the 2006 vintage’s best player was Owen Hargreaves, Bayern Munich player.

      There has been some movement recently, of course. Frank Arnesen, now the Hamburg sporting director, has brought over a few English players and tried to bring Jack McEachran along with him. (Hamburg are now in last place in the Bundesliga.) Bayern Munich bought Dale Jennings from Tranmere Rovers and tried to buy Leighton Baines from Everton. It’s the last one that’s strangest for me. Baines would certainly earn more money, prestige, and face better competition. Yet he stayed. Is he exceptionally loyal or exceptionally parochial?


      • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/29 at 8:31 PM

        British players do go abroad and have done for years, just not as many, in terms of percentages, as the comparatively nomadic Brazilians, Argentinians, French, Dutch, Swedes, Danes or Germans, etc., etc. or Dutch. As I pointed out their professional possibilities at home are not as palatable as those available to the Brits.,,1404050,00.html


  35. Posted by Fellaini's_Fro on 2011/08/24 at 8:54 PM

    I am enjoying the twists and turns the discussion on this story has taken. Many points are spot on and the reason I think TSG is not only the best soccer blog, but perhaps the best sports blog. Everyone on here explains their opinions with fact and intelligent analysis without the muckraking that goes on in other blogs.

    Re: Donavon and Dempsey instead of saying one is better than the other, how about let’s take them as players who bring different things to the table. Much like Bird and Magic, Brady and Manning (Peyton, not his lesser brother), Lemieux and Messier. They are players with different skills, intangibles and qualities that set them apart from each other but at the same time make both of them excellent soccer players.

    Regarding Donavon’s stint with Everton last year, having watched him before, during and after the loan I would say that he came back different. It was only 10 games, but it was still 3-4 months of training everyday with a team that competes in the top league in the world even if it was just a mid level team. Remember they beat Man U, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea during that period too. Considering his two previous European forays this could have either made him better or destroyed his confidence and I say he came back better. His pace, vision on the field and decision making skills were top notch in the games leading up to the World Cup. The game seemed to have slowed down for him and for a time he looked like he was playing on another plane than his Galaxy teammates. Sadly post World Cup he looked to be the same old Donavon. But that still made him one of our country’s best player’s.


  36. Posted by Paula on 2011/08/25 at 1:47 AM

    Well, as someone new to the soccer thing …

    Is MLS in its current incarnation possible without Landon Donovan playing in the United States? Otherwise this whole conversation about whether a talented, US-born player should stay or go would be something of a no-brainer.

    He made it possible to have superstars that the league needed to cater to and promote. He made it possible for talented guys to ask for more money. I realize that LA and NYC are their own draws, but I don’t see the likes of Beckham and Henry in the A-League. Where the default position might to be ship any and all promising guys to Europe, fans now want their Agudelos and their Reams to stick around MLS for a few seasons first.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/25 at 3:58 AM

      How many Americans since Donovan have been given contracts like that? I’m pretty sure it’s 0. He hasn’t changed much in terms of how MLS is run when it comes to talented Americans. He’s only still here because he’s comfortable in Cali and US Soccer/MLS deemed him the face of the league so he was given a huge contract.

      Do people really want Agudelo and Ream to stick around if they aren’t fans of Red Bull? If they do I think that might have more to do with guys like Jozy, Adu, etc going over to Europe and stagnating than it does with Donovan staying in MLS.


    • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/08/25 at 4:45 AM

      I don’t think you can factually answer your question. My take is that the MLS money and growth was going to happen with or without Donovan and the ESPN’s of the world were going to hype the best American in the league. IMO if Donovan had stuck overseas, someone else would have become the face of the MLS (maybe Twellman?).


    • Posted by Joamiq on 2011/08/25 at 10:05 AM

      “Is MLS in its current incarnation possible without Landon Donovan playing in the United States?”

      Yes. No question.

      Beckham isn’t in the A-League because Melbourne is not Hollywood. Henry isn’t in the A-League because Sydney is not New York. Donovan was irrelevant to their signings.


  37. Posted by Joamiq on 2011/08/25 at 10:00 AM

    I don’t really understand how anyone can believe what Leander believes. Isolationism is not good. MLS has been losing players for years and it would be difficult to argue that the level of play in the league is not higher today than it ever has been. Yes, the old stars brought in to replace the young talent will retire, but new old stars will be signed in their place. The level of play in MLS is only rising, and now every day that he plays you’re going to hear “George John, the FC Dallas man” broadcast out to the world. That’s invaluable.

    I might agree that it would be good for the league if it could stem the flow of MLS players to Scandinavia, but that’s not happening until the salary cap is significantly increased anyway.


  38. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/25 at 10:15 AM

    I have it, lets get a research study going, we can ask a MLS team for their season ticket holders’ email(or they send it out for TSG) and send them a survey via survey monkey to see what they think. Pitch it as a market survey to some teams. Maybe we can get a MLB or NFL franchise to participate as well so we can somewhat of a relative sample. Yeah I’m dreaming again, sorry this forum is like passing a bar with hot chicks inside gettering hammered; makes you think crazy thoughts!


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