The Premier League will see more players come from MLS and America in the Future
Whenever you think about sports in America, football (and yes, we are calling it football in this piece) is unlikely to be the first thing to come to mind.
The United States has a proud history of homegrown sports that have developed and evolved into some of the biggest annual events in the entire country, as well as the world as a whole, with the NFL Super Bowl remaining one of the largest annual sporting exhibitions on the planet, as well as Game 7 of NBA Finals and the Daytona 500.
Yet football (soccer) has never been on the radar for many supporters of the game away from the States, with Major League Soccer only kicking off in 1996 following the 1994 World Cup, which took place in the US.
But things are-a-changing for football in America, and largely for the better.
For some years, MLS has seen as a ‘retirement league’. A division where greats of yesteryear flee too in the twilight of their careers to make a quick payday and play against players of average quality, at best, in some of the world’s greatest and biggest cities, such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago.
A growing game
But now, in 2021, MLS finds itself in a different landscape from the one where David Beckham made his maiden voyage to America via the LA Galaxy, and the league has made some impressive leaps away from the ‘retirement league’ label that has plagued the division for so many years.
Of course, some MLS franchises are still bringing in older players on big wages.
The LA Galaxy last year recruited Javier Hernandez via Sevilla whilst Inter Miami recently signed both Ryan Shawcross and Kieran Gibbs, yet these types of transfers are few and far between, with clubs in the American top-flight now are prioritising signing young prospects from smaller divisions in Europe as well as from major leagues in South America with the hope of selling them off for profit.
And what is more, MLS clubs are finding success in this strategy, and this should be of immense interest to the Premier League heading into the years ahead of us.
With a post-Brexit United Kingdom now making it harder for British clubs to sign youngsters from Europe, the new ruling also makes it easier for Premier League teams to sign promising players from other continents as part of the new international points system brought in as of this year.
Bearing fruit to Europe’s big guns
The Premier League has already seen its fair share of MLS graduates make a name for themselves in the division, with Newcastle United firmly establishing the American top-flight as a bonafide league to sign players from when they signed Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United for a then club-record fee of £20m in January 2019.
Whilst Almiron has done well since his move to England given the leap in quality, with the Paraguayan international hitting 13 goals and five assists in all competitions in 82 appearances for the Toon, the attacking midfielder is far from the only example of an MLS export thriving in the Premier League.
Indeed, Manchester City number two, Zack Steffen, has impressed for Pep Guardiola’s side since returning from his loan spell at Fortuna Dusseldorf last season, with the former Columbus Crew star making 10 appearances for the Cityzens this campaign, keeping five clean sheets and conceding just five goals in total in games against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Marseille.
There’s also the story of Leeds United winger Jack Harrison, who left Manchester United’s academy at 14-years-old to take his footballing ability to America, where he was selected as the number one pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft and went on to become a crucial member of Patrick Vieira’s New York City FC side before being signed by sister club Man City in 2018, with the now 24-year-old attacker impressing so much for Marcelo Bielsa’s side in their comeback season in the Premier League that there have been rumours of an England call-up for the Stoke-born midfielder.
With Orlando City striker Daryl Dike thriving on loan in the Championship with Barnsley, so much so that BBC Sport reported that the Floridian club rejected a $10m offer for the striker from one of the big-six Premier League teams, MLS exports are starting to prove that they have what it takes to impress in one of the biggest footballing nations on the planet, and it is seemingly a connection that will only strengthen from here.
A promising future Major League Soccer
MLS profited massively in the most recent January transfer window as the likes of Bryan Reynolds, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie departed the States for Europe for fairly hefty transfer fees, almost signalling the beginning of a golden era of player development in America that is likely to only grow with the 2026 World Cup set to be hosted in the United States, along with Canada and Mexico, and the Premier League could stand to benefit from it.
With the pull of appealing to an American audience even bigger than ever with football, as a sport, slowly climbing up the ranks in popularity in the States, signing MLS products will open the door for Premier League clubs to expand their fellowship in a nation of 320 million people that is slowly but surely growing fond of the beautiful game after years of being dormant.
Success stories such as Harrison and Steffen’s prove that there is a market for MLS players to thrive in the Premier League, and for clubs in the English top-flight, they should be viewing America as a new and exciting opportunity to make new signings in a new streamlined process that was once a minefield due to visas and EU law, not to mention the vastly cheaper transfer fees they are likely to experience compared to negotiating with a club from a big European league.
MLS was once seen with sniggers and jeers in the fletching years of its life from European football fans, but now, 25 years on from its maiden season, the American top-flight is starting to prove why the US is one of the most promising nations in the game, and graduates of newly formed academies and programmes are beginning to make a name for themselves on the continent, and Premier League teams should be making the land of the free one of their new major markets in this post-Brexit world.