For many years, Major League Soccer, more commonly known as MLS, was regarded in Europe as a retirement home – a place where average professionals with tired legs from Europe’s top leagues could play out their remaining days with the guarantee of first-team football and a fat final contract.
But with standards improving and crowds increasing, that reputation is beginning to be shed.
The biggest stars in European football now regularly choose to end their careers in MLS, and more younger prospects are seeing it as a more credible rung on the career ladder.
Slowly but surely, attitudes towards MLS are changing.
David Beckham played a significant part in turning the tide. The former England captain turned heads across the football world when he penned a lucrative deal with LA Galaxy in 2007, massively boosting the profile of MLS. He championed the division during his five years in Los Angeles, and from that point it would never be the same.
Beckham’s transfer demonstrated that MLS clubs had the finances to attract the biggest stars, and top players from Europe such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Steven Gerrard, David Villa and Frank Lampard have all since featured in America’s top flight.
The rumour mill suggests plenty more big names are set to ply their trade in the States soon.
Ronaldinho, Javier Hernández, Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Wayne Rooney have all been linked with switches to MLS, but by far the biggest name linked to it is one of 888sport’s top ten football players in the world – Cristiano Ronaldo.
In many ways, Ronaldo and MLS would be a perfect match. While the standards of MLS have undoubtedly improved, the attraction for many players is the glitz and glamour that surrounds it. The greatest superstars are never happier than when in the limelight, and Ronaldo is certainly no exception.
For MLS footballers, Hollywood – the birthplace of the cult of celebrity – is on their doorstep.
Many major fashion labels are also based in the States, as well as much of the world’s most renowned musical talent. For players wanting to build their personal brand beyond football, there’s no better place to be than MLS.
However, a new threat to the pulling power of MLS has emerged in the east.
Astonishing sums of money have recently been spent by Chinese Super League clubs to attract top players from European leagues that are still in their prime, such as Oscar, Hulk, Paulinho and Demba Ba.
But while the Chinese Super League can surpass MLS when it comes to transfer fees and wages, it can’t compete when it comes to flamboyance, glamour and pizzazz.
As such, MLS looks set to continue attracting big names from Europe, and the signing a superstar like Ronaldo would be a major coup for the league, the fact that it’s a realistic prospect shows just how far it has come.