By Dario Camacho - MIAMI, FL (Jan 30, 2012) US Soccer Players -- When we see the recent success of former and current Major League Soccer players in England, it has to feel good for fans of North American soccer. An ex-Revolution player outrunning a pair of defenders en route to a triplet of goals was a cathartic, ecstatic moment for those of us rooting for Fulham's Clint Dempsey. His performance as the first American with a hat-trick in the EPL will be remembered as a watershed moment.
A week later, it was Landon Donovan assisting on two goals against Dempsey's Fulham in the FA Cup. Two other MLS designated players are also doing work, Robbie Keane at Aston Villa and Thierry Henry at Arsenal.
Keane’s strikes in the 3-2 win against Wolves on January 21st were pure quality, his somber refusal to celebrate showing a tremendous amount of composure. I mean, who wouldn’t be flailing his arms around like a windmill after scoring such beauties? Apparently not Keane.
Not only was it a reminder of what players like Donovan, Henry and Keane can do at the highest level, it’s also a reminder that quality isn’t necessarily lost by moving over to America.
Yes, English clubs are treating MLS like a buffet table, picking and choosing from the players that might have the potential to factor at Premier League level while helping themselves to the sure things. The designated player exemption might as well be a calling card for Premier League interest should those players be made available on loan. Even a couple of months is more than enough to entice clubs in need of a quick fix.
That they step right in is a compliment to MLS. We have to expect that they can perform at the highest level in the world. It's also worth stressing that most of these MLS players are stepping into roles with troubled clubs. With that in mind, success should be even tougher to come by. Yet there are those MLS names on EPL score sheets and statistical charts.
Improvement, evident year-by-year, has been a constant for this League since regrouping in the early 2000's. The introduction of more seasoned overseas players along with an increase in the salary cap has steadily built the quality and resources available for teams to compete.
The speed of improvement might not match what is on display in England, but the constant talk of an equality with the Championship, the second division under the EPL, isn’t a knock on MLS and its quality of play. In fact, when looking at the relative comparison in salary to the Championship, MLS is doing quite well with its limited income.
When that comparison starts to be made with the Premier League itself, we should point to the types of players being transferred overseas. It isn’t just about our National Team players, but also players that until recently might have been considered career MLS talents. That transition began when Ryan Nelsen left an MLS Cup winning DC United squad for the Premier League and it's continued with other players stepping out of MLS and into bigger roles.
Players like Sebastian Le Toux. Having Le Toux be invited over to Bolton for a trial is the sort of story we should be looking at. Le Toux isn't a young player, he spent time in the US second division when the Sounders were a USL club, and he made his mark with expansion teams in Major League Soccer. Now, as a 28 year-old, he's getting Premier League attention.
A would-be cornerstone of Philadelphia's plans, and all of a sudden Bolton are calling him in on trial. A calculated risk perhaps, but evidence that the Premier League is watching closer than some might expect.
With transfer rumors to the EPL and beyond being levied at young players like Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo and Team Bunbury, a guy like Le Toux getting a call-up for a trial speaks of the improvement of competition in MLS.
Of course, the frequency and volume of these types of players has to not only continue but increase to call this a trend. It also relies on the players themselves justifying the attention once they make the move. Tim Ream signing with Bolton - a club showing a penchant for MLS talent - is just part of the story. He and the other players making the transition from MLS to Europe have to show they belong.
It's not all upside, of course. MLS drawing more attention means a greater likelihood of being able to keep talent on their terms. Their terms are usually low. If reports are accurate, it will take Ream less than a month as a Bolton player to make what MLS paid him in 2011. MLS has shown hesitance in fully participating in the transfer market as more than a selling league, and it remains to be seen if they're capable of keeping to a standard along with their budget.
Only then will we know if MLS can take advantage of this situation. Can they use their ability to identify and develop young talent along with recruiting players that might have been overlooked elsewhere to start pulling away from the Championship standard and closer to the Premier League clubs that are all too happy to buy or borrow their players?
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