For some time, the notion that ‘The MLS is a retirement league’ has been floating around. This idea came around rightwhen guys like David Beckham started taking some pretty large salaries to join MLS teams. Apparently, when one switches leagues later in live, it is only for a fat paycheck and the ability to do whatever you want and not be held accountable. Yet the last two games I have watched, Beckham and Thierry Henry have both looked like they are at the top of their game. Tonight Beckham was spraying around brilliant passes with ease, to the point where it looked like he could have stepped out of his Galaxy jersey straight into one of his perfectly tailored suits, head straight into any of the finest nightclubs in Hollywood, and melt the panties straight off of all of the beautiful women in the building. Henry on the other hand, is at his finest when he is working his ass off, constantly creating scoring chances to the point where he makes his teammates look bad because they do not capitalize on what he creates for them. For example, Henry here versus the LA Galaxy, creating for Luke Rodgers:
Certainly my eyes can be deceiving and one game is an awfully small sample size, so I looked into the statistics for what each of these guys do best. Henry scores goals, Beckham sets them up. Currently Henry has 14 goals, Beckham 15 assists. They are both in the top 3 in their respective category this year. Could be an off year for the MLS though right? In 2010, Henry would have been tied for fourth in goals and Beckham would have been second in assists. In 2009 Henry would have been third in goals and Beckham would have been first in assists. In 2008 Henry would have been tied for fourth and Beckham tied for second, bumping his past self out of the top 5. As you can see, each of them easily average a top five spot in their respective categories. Does this mean that *gasp* maybe they moved to the MLS to actually continue playing and not just collect a paycheck? The horror! Certainly their production this year indicates this is true. Even more relevant is the fact that each of them have only played 26 games this year, reducing their opportunity to boost their stats with more games. They have each produced with less opportunity then those they are chasing in the stats column.
Okay, so clearly Becks and Henry aren’t here just to collect a paycheck. Maybe the MLS as a league just sucks? It must be an easy league to do really well in without much effort! I mean, if a guy as famous in world football as Henry can ride the subway to the stadium and not be noticed by very many people, the league must be trash. Yet, in the past year, Real Salt Lake lost in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, three MLS teams are in position to qualify for the knockout round of the CCL (and two more are on the cusp) and an MLS team won in Mexico for the first time ever. To dismiss the MLS would mean you would have to do the same with all the central American leagues that compete in the CCL as well. The race for the playoffs will go down to the final game and 64,000+ attended Saturday night’s Seattle Sounders – San Jose Earthquakes game. The league has been more competitive this year then previously, and the level of play has been at the highest it has ever been. Teams like PSG are still interested in acquiring David Beckham’s services, and players like Brek Shea will be making moves to clubs in Europe based on their performance in the MLS. Between travel and play on turf, the MLS is likely the most grueling league in the world on a player’s body. I’d say this makes a pretty compelling case that MLS is not an easy league to play in and not an easy league to compete against. It is a league that is on the rise in a country where soccer continues to become more popular.
At this point, it is safe to say calling the MLS a retirement league would be a false statement and there is minimal evidence to support such a claim. No one would argue that the MLS is not at the level of the EPL, but it is a competitive league that fits in nicely on the map of world leagues. So please, stop with the claims that players just come for a paycheck and Disneyland trips, and save your breath and my time.