Jumping The Pond? It’s Really All About The Euro

This piece authored by frequent TSG writer Jay Bell

MLS fans have grown accustomed to losing their favorite players to Europe.

Buddle: All about the bundle....of cash?

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?

Bradley...waves made at Heerenveen

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:

Wade Barrett

Nat Borchers

Adin Brown

Danny Califf

Joe Cannon

Jimmy Conrad

This..is not...happening...to...me!

Kenny Cooper

Ramiro Corrales

Hunter Freeman

Chris Gbandi

Benedict Iroha

Nate Jaqua

Will John

Will Johnson

Dema Kovalenko

Joseph Ngwenya

Pat Noonan

Peguero Jean Philippe

Troy Perkins

Matt Pickens

Scott Sealy

Gonzalo Segares

Alejandro Sequeira

Khano Smith

Khari Stephenson

Daniel Torres

Greg Vanney

Josh Wolff

These players may or may not be trying to buck the trend:

Edson Buddle

Parkhurst, looking to get elevated abroad?

Robbie Findley

Amaechi Igwe

Ryan Miller

Yura Movsisyan

Michael Parkhurst

Chris Rolfe

Bakary Soumare

Juan Toja

Josh Wicks

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.

27 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by euroman on 2011/01/24 at 5:22 PM

    Goodson move to Brondby which is a huge club in Denmark that plays in Champion/Europa League football every year. As you say that’s a big jump up from Norway but Clay actually turned down 2 Bundisliga teams so he could have gone to a top four league….we must remember that it also comes down to business and that means money! Who will pay the most and that has rarely been the MLS.


  2. Posted by JasonPrice on 2011/01/24 at 7:12 PM

    The only thing missing in this otherwise excellent article is the idea that living abroad might make them more interesting people, and that they might value the experience of an elsewhere, too.


    • Ah, very true. I remember talking to Steven Lenhart and he said he just wanted to experience life abroad. He did not even have preferences. He just wants to play outside of the US.

      Also, a lot of players simply want to play in Europe. They want to experience playing soccer in Europe. With the way MLS clubs are being supported better and better, maybe that will die down some though.

      However, I do think that notion of just playing soccer in Europe is at least partially affected by the belief that playing anywhere in Europe helps a player work up the ladder.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/25 at 6:41 AM

        When talking about the lower European leagues, it could be a case of ‘perceived quality vs quality’, no?

        Plus playing in a “proper” football culture would be a massive draw I would imagine, and like Jason said, living in another culture would be an attractive proposition.


        • Perceived quality of MLS, the lower European leagues, or both?

          I know Ljungberg said he enjoyed the relative anonymity whenever he was in Seattle, then he said that part of his signing with Celtic was because of the football culture. So who knows?

          Its hard to begrudge a player for wanting to play in front of 40,000 in the Bundesliga, but in front of 4,000? Hopefully as time goes, the supporters of Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Kansas City, New York, Salt Lake, Seattle, etc. will help build an atmosphere that not only keeps players in MLS, but also lures them here.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/25 at 8:30 AM

          Sorry Jay, I wasn’t clear. The perceived quality of football in Europe vs actual quality. So what I am saying is that, yes, there are many leagues that are a much higher standard [than MLS] for sure. But there are some that are not, but because it’s a European League it some people automatically feel it must be better.

          And re. football culture, I wasn’t necessarily only talking about the fan attendance – I was talking about the way some countries live and breathe football…

          It will come here, but I think it will take a generation and it starts with us [to take our kids to more MLS games, rather than NFL, NBA, MLB etc] – your country needs you!


        • Posted by John on 2011/01/25 at 8:40 AM

          Er just to add,

          Were I a USA professional footballer, there are very few places in the US that would attract me more than being able to…. say… live in Copenhagen for a few years, or for example..


          I mean c’mon, who wouldn’t take a chance on double wages there instead of making around 179k a year which won’t even buy you a condo in LA.


        • Agreed George. It definitely depends on the player’s personality.

          Ljungberg apparently liked having his own space for a while in Seattle. Maybe he wanted to go back to being a rock star in Europe. Steven Lenhart has a very outgoing personality and not everyone is as ready to explore the world as he is.


  3. Posted by Justin on 2011/01/24 at 10:47 PM

    Like the article. I think it will be hard to out bid these european leagues for along time as long as the MLS has revenue sharing. But at the same time the revenue sharing helps the MLS to survive. Interesting FC ingolstadt is able to pay so much with an attendance of just 4,300 at their last game.

    ps does anyone one know why the yanks are coming blog hasn’t posted anything for the last month?


  4. Posted by nelson on 2011/01/24 at 11:18 PM

    The Euro will most likely decline with the collapse of Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Greece’s economies imminent. Will ballers still choose to play there if the exchange rate is worse. Furthermore, will Europeans come for the dollar?


    • Posted by matias on 2011/01/25 at 1:51 AM


      The dollar would have strengthen enormously for less than $5k / month (~60k/year which seems to be quite close to the median wage in MLS) to be attractive to European players – this is comparable to wages in third or fourth tier European leagues, like the Norwegian league or League One in England.

      I’d like to believe the quality of play in MLS is higher than that, so the flow will likely keep on going towards Europe, excluding the veterans cashing in of course.


  5. Posted by Ryan on 2011/01/24 at 11:56 PM

    Another point to add is that any half decent MLS player will think twice about signing an extension with MLS after seeing how the Revolution screwed over twellman and shalrie joseph over transfers along with several other examples over the years.


    • MLS held them to their contract. In most places, that’s not considered being “screwed over.”

      Despite what some think, MLS wants to keep its stars, develop young talent, and sign international superstars all at the same time, not at the expense of another.


      • Posted by Tim on 2011/01/25 at 10:56 AM

        This is the first thought I had too. If you sign with the MLS and develop into a good enough player to move elsewhere, the MLS has shown they will hold you to your contract to grow their league (which is not “screwing over” as you point out). If I were in that situation, and had a choice to sign for a different league know to be more of a feeder league, I would do that to keep my options open. Even if the quality of the league is similar to the MLS.

        Of course there are many other variables, but this seems like something I’d consider as well.


        • I think part of it is a culture difference. American sports is about free agency. In soccer, it is about the transfer market. Buddle may sign with Ingolstadt who may want to cash in by selling him. MLS appears to believe in keeping quality players instead of making $200,000 by selling them. They are trying to improve their product on the field.

          The transfer market is a vicious circle of teams trying to get themselves out of debt and teams actively plunging themselves into it. Since MLS teams aren’t in either one of those categories, they are not as desperate to buy or sell.


        • Posted by Ryan on 2011/01/25 at 2:00 PM

          Does the league or the individual teams have control over their player transfers? I remember the Revolution blocking Twellman but D.C. United let Troy Perkins transfer to Norway.


      • I believe the teams control everything about their clubs, including transfers.

        It just seems that the league seems to have veto power to block things they don’t want to happen.


  6. Posted by Yank on 2011/01/25 at 10:14 AM

    Wouldn’t it be better to take a look at all the transfers of players going “up/lateral/down” in leagues, then see if the American as a subset experience the same ratio/percentage of “up/lateral/down” moves from the current leagues they are in.

    For example, how often are teams in the EPL buying Championship players to move them up? Are Americans playing in the championship moving up with the same frequency?

    How many players move up from MLS to better leagues? Does it compare to how many American players move up when they are in other leagues?


    • Please explain further. The mantra of this piece was intended to be “if you’re good enough, you’ll be found in MLS.”


      • Posted by Yank on 2011/01/25 at 12:29 PM

        It was stated “Initial data suggests that moving to Europe does not increase a player’s chances for moving up the ranks.”

        Just taking the few examples of MLS players wanting to move up to other leagues and not being allowed by MLS contracts. Shari Joseph, Taylor Twellman both wanted to move to European clubs, but wouldn’t be let out of their MLS contracts to make the move, even Dempsey had to wait till his MLS contract ran out before he could make the move.

        In order to make that statement, wouldn’t you have to compare how many players move up the ranks in Europe, with how many Americans move up the ranks in Europe, and also compare that with how many make the move up from MLS directly?

        Wouldn’t you have to compare how many times Americans were able to move up from european clubs, to how many times Americans were able to move up from MLS clubs to get a handle on whether MLS allowed you the ability to be plucked by bigger clubs, just as easily if you were playing for smaller clubs?


        • That’s a lot of questions and a huge set of data.

          The simple fact is that many players move directly from MLS to bigger leagues, whether they are sold or move after their contract runs out. On the other side, there are about 3 players who have worked their way up after leaving MLS.

          The proof is there in the numbers.


  7. Posted by FutbolAmerica on 2011/01/25 at 4:59 PM

    Robbie Findley could be an interesting one to watch over the next 6 months or so. Forest just moved into the playoff ranks and with wins with their games-in-hand could be as high as second; so we could be seeing a premier league Robbie Findley next year.

    Also, Ryan Guy had some great years at St. Pat’s in Ireland which isn’t a top league but he showed well in the couple of european exploits they played in. I really would love to see him in a Timbers jersey this season, wish he would come trial.


  8. […] Why Americans leave MLS for European lower divisions. Hint: It’s about money. [The Shinguardian] […]


  9. Posted by ACM on 2011/01/26 at 4:10 AM

    MLS fans shouldn’t really worry about their big players going elsewhere, the MLS is still quite a new football league, and a new concept (players signing with the league, a draft etc)

    look at brazil, granted they allow 3rd party ownership that can afford huge stars to go back, but they are getting a more noticed league in the press. there are some big players playing in the “2nd division” in brazil (again they have a much different designed league format). Football is all swings and roundabouts. When the MLS starts to have more of an impact on football, older players will move back, and young American footballers (soccer) will want to train with these guys before moving off, IF they even move off.

    maybe its just you guys over the pond.


    • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/26 at 7:33 AM

      acm son, didnt romario play in the third division in the usa a couple years ago? im not really sure what your point is, which is really the case for me with a lot of these posts.


  10. Posted by ZMW on 2011/01/26 at 9:36 AM

    The money would have to be significantly higher in order to justify a move abroad, if money was the only reason a player moved. The reason is taxation. When you are an American that is working overseas you get the pleasure of paying the income and other taxes in the nation you are residing and working in (with very few exceptions), as well as paying US income taxes, even though none of your work was done in the US. So doubling of the salary could possibly leave a player with less actual cash depending on exact taxation rates in his new country, and climbing the tax rate ladder in the US.


  11. […] Why Americans leave MLS for European lower divisions. Hint: It’s about money. [The Shinguardian] […]


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