This piece authored by frequent TSG writer Jay Bell
MLS fans have grown accustomed to losing their favorite players to Europe.
A lot of them who are also US Soccer fans actually want the best American players to leave MLS for the benefit of the US Men’s National Team by gaining game reps at the world’s highest level leagues.
US fans love to see when Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden step right in and play with the world’s elite players.
It gives them a sense of pride to see former MLSers like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, and Ryan Nelsen doing well.
It is when MLS players go to lesser European leagues when US fans are disappointed to lose them. Clint Dempsey to Fulham? Good. Jozy Altidore to Villarreal? Awesome. Edson Buddle to Ingolstadt? Not so much.
Money was apparently a big part of the deal. Buddle was reportedly being offered a sizable pay increase by MLS. Reports say that Ingolstadt’s offer was twice the size of MLS’s biggest offer.
It is hard to begrudge a guy for jumping the pond for a big raise. This is where it is tough for MLS to compete with the rest of Europe even outside of the top leagues. Until MLS is able to compete more financially, American fans will continue to see their favorite players go to the Danish Superliga, Norwegian Tippeligaen, 2.Bundesliga and the nPower Championship to tuck away more coin.
Another common belief for players jumping from MLS to the lower leagues in Europe is that the belief that there is a greater chance to be discovered by scouts from the bigger leagues in Europe.
It is believed that players signed with lower leagues in Europe with the intentions of working their way up the ladder. So when fans see Buddle sign for Ingolstadt, he’s not just signing for a relegation fighter in the 2.Bundesliga. He is signing for the next team or two he plays for on his European journey. In theory, for most, each club and league they transfer to will be better than the last.
Is exposure a viable benefit?
MLS has a high profile internationally, at least when it comes to scouting. European teams continue to find top players from Major League Soccer. The English Premier League has long been a popular transfer destination for top MLS players. Former MLSers have played for the entire spectrum of EPL teams; from Manchester United to teams that were relegated. If they are not snatched up by teams in England or Germany, then near-top teams in other leagues want them.
MLS players have signed for Villarreal, Benfica, Anderlecht, Rangers, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, and more. These types of clubs, along with the EPL and Bundesliga, are where players are trying to get to when they leave MLS. How many of them actually do it?
Michael Bradley is the most successful example. He signed as a teenager with a Dutch team that is usually fighting for a spot in Europe and jumped to the Bundesliga.
Bradley’s next move will likely be to a better club in England, with Sunderland the popular rumor lately. Stern John played for multiple teams in England and made it to the EPL with Sunderland. Clarence Goodson also moved up from IK Start in Norway to Bondby IF.in Denmark. And . . . who else? For a myriad of reasons, MLS players very rarely move up the ladder in Europe whether it is because of injuries, financial reasons, personal reasons, or even just a simple lack of quality. Here is a small list of players who signed outside of the top clubs or leagues in Europe and stayed at or below the same level:
Peguero Jean Philippe
These players may or may not be trying to buck the trend:
It does not make their careers failures if they do not move upward. Also, this is confined to MLS oddly enough.
Recent Americans to move up the ladder in Europe are Oguchi Onyewu, Charlie Davies, and Jay DeMerit.
But they didn’t jump from MLS..
Initial data suggests that moving to Europe does not increase a player’s chances for moving up the ranks.
Oddly enough, even this transfer window Benny Feilhaber has had a hard time moving up leagues, be it in one of the Nordic leagues or even back near home in the Primera…..despite playing in the top Danish league last year.
Players may move closer to the target area where they desire to play one day, but they may be moving further away from the ability to do so because MLS has more visibility and a higher profile than plenty of lower European leagues. Chances are the salary is already commensurate with the ability.