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MLS and Aging Euros: The Way Forward?

March 20th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Galaxy, soccer

One of the worst teams in Major League Soccer has signed German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Five years ago, this would have been an enormous coup for the Chicago Fire, which has not won a playoffs match since 2009.

But the Schweinsteiger the MLS club signed is 32, with skills fading in real time, who appeared in only one match in his final six weeks with Manchester United — which no doubt was quite pleased to offload an expensive but unwanted player.

Which brings up, again, the topic of MLS and its reputation as being an old folks home for Euros looking to cash in one more time before they return to their country of origin and get a job in punditry.

Is this the way forward for America’s domestic league? Or does the system for signing players need to be blown up?

Andrea Pirlo, who is 37 and something of an exception among the geezer-Euro ranks. The Italian midfielder signed with NYC FC ahead of last season and looked like value for money — in his case a reported $5.2 million for 2016.

He falls in the “blow it up” camp.

Last week, Pirlo said MLS needs to give up its system of salary limits if it wants to be seen as a player on the international stage.

He told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport: “Certainly I would get rid of the restrictions on the transfer market … Enough with the three exceptions to the salary cap, which is too little to convince other stars to come here. They need to develop a liberal system where you can buy and sell players without restrictions.

“Now there is even the competition from China. Especially if you want to compete with other leagues, at home and abroad, you have got to get rid of any restrictions.”

Pirlo is arguing for an open system like those in Europe’s elite leagues.

MLS, of course, has a salary cap, one that can be evaded in the three “designated player” signings.

Clubs often use those exceptions on well-known players from Europe, who usually are in the final years of their careers.

The hope is they will bring quality to the field, but all the MLS can really depend on is a big name on their roster who might help sell tickets.

Some players do both — contribute to winning and bring attention to the brand. David Beckham and Robbie Keane of the LA Galaxy were perhaps the most useful signings from out of the Premier League.

But then there are those, such as Steven Gerrard (Galaxy) and Frank Lampard (NYF FC), whom age or injuries had hobbled, who were little help to their MLS team.

More than one 10 worst MLS signings lists can be found online. Here is one.

While an affable chap, Schweinsteiger stands a good chance of being a candidate for one of those lists. The former Germany and Bayern Munich star has looked like an old, tired and probably injured player since he arrived in Manchester — having been cast adrift by Bayern Munich (notoriously unsentimental about moving on from their own legends) within a year after he turned 30.

It seems that MLS has reached a point where the future of the league is fairly solid. The league is up to 22 franchises now, with several big cities (including San Diego) hoping to join the league.

But it seems a bit premature to throw out the hard-cap rules. Many (most) of the soccer clubs in the world spend more money than they take in. England has a club or two or three on the bring of bankruptcy at even given moment. Clubs in Asia and Africa often are late in paying out salaries because they, too, are hurting for cash.

If X number of late-career players want to go to China instead of MLS, so be it. Let China spend crazy money but don’t follow that example.

Meantime, MLS clubs ought to think more seriously about signing young or mid-career internationals whose best days probably are still ahead of them. (South Americans may be good targets; they are poorly paid, even in Brazil, and some of them would be happy to escape the threat of kidnapping for ransom that is a real concern.)

Bastian Schweinsteiger, nice guy, means well, great history …

But he seems beyond unlikely to lift the Chicago Fire out of their funk.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Mar 21, 2017 at 3:43 PM

    Actually many MLS teams are doing exactly what you suggest, signing young Central American and South American players. The Fire signing of Schweinsteiger is an exception.

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