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Day 44: Breaks – MLS Can’t Catch One, But Players Do

September 21, 2010

I’m pulling for you, MLS.  I really am.  I’m all for broadening the American sports landscape and domestic growth in the world’s most popular game.

But you guys might want to reconsider the whole “bring the world’s favorite players once they’re older and cheaper” strategy.

There was a glimmer of hope with Cuahtemoc Blanco upon his arrival to the Chicago Fire…to the point where he revived interest from the less financially-restricted teams in Mexico where he initially gained popularity.

The groundswell of interest surrounding David Beckham’s journey to the L.A. Galaxy was off-the-charts…until he got hurt then, during off-seasons, decided to spend more energy playing part-time in Italy for AC Milan.

It’s happening again with Thierry Henry.

I was extremely pumped for Friday’s contest between the Galaxy, boasting Beckham AND World Cup dynamo Landon Donovan and Henry’s New York Red Bull.  For American and international fans, it’s a dream showdown between the two men who, at one point, were the most famous and recognized athletes on the planet.

That, in and of itself, is a problem.  That one point was arguably about 8-9 years ago when Henry and the English Premier League’s Arsenal club put forth what is considered the most dominant performance by any team on the planet by bulldozing through the entire 38-game EPL season without losing a single game.

Age, controversy and the younger, newer, brilliant modern starts of the game such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have all conspired to put both men in the shadow of the spotlight.  The soccer world kept turning but Beckham and Henry’s stars grew dimmer.

MLS has long sought to establish itself as a viable option for world-class players and the signing of Beckham and Henry both confirmed the viability of that effort.  But the timing is off.  Beckham has missed more games for the Galaxy than he’s played and now, when MLS expected a boost from the attention, Henry will miss the head-to-head contest with Beckham with a sprained MCL.

The soccer fan in America is as passionate as fans of any other sport in the country.  The mythical “casual fan” so sought after by just about every sport and marketer out there tunes in and remembers players they’ll see only once every four years.  They drop off their radar once they play overseas for wonderful clubs in Europe and elsewhere.  For a fraction of the cost, MLS could bring those impact players from the US Men’s National Team back onto home soil and place a true sports brand name into each of the league’s markets.  Additionally, you’d bring the overall quality of the league up by bringing in more of those world-class players.

Having our World Cup stars in better domestic leagues in Europe is great for American visibility abroad but it does little to connect with the pride felt by fans in the U.S.  Guys like Beckham and Henry are great for the quick public relation blitz in the short-term, but after that, what’s left?

England’s leftovers.

DR

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