From an outsider’s perspective MLS looks like a comfortable league many foreign and domestic players should easily adjust to. I have seen many foreign players and young domestic talents that have come to MLS to ply their trade or to ‘retire’ and struggle mightily. Truth is MLS is harder than it seems and a large majority of these foreign and even our own domestic talents struggle to succeed. Here are a few factors to consider:
Travel is something most foreign and collegiate players don’t deal with to the extent of MLS players. With the league adjusting this year to a semi-regional format this becomes a little less of a burden but nonetheless a real factor to consider. When you add mileage (Vancouver in 2011 traveled 60,000 miles) to altitude changes, drastic temperature changes and humidity (think Houston in the summer at 4pm or Colorado at a mile high in altitude) the travel and long season can add up.
Sadly the varying venues can also play a role in games. I can’t say it was as easy to get up for a game in New England’s Gillette Stadium as it was to go to Seattle and play in Century Link Field. And while many leagues have different atmospheres and stadiums we certainly contain a vast array of stadium experiences. Turf, grass, college stadiums, soccer cathedrals, and small empty venues litter the playing experience with a different stadium experience each week. And while good professionals should be able to adjust, it is fair to say that it isn’t as easy as we might think.
The athletic play of American soccer and the focus on developing youth athletes into soccer players can be a surprise to many who come to the states to ply their trade. MLS might not be the most technical league in the world, but it certainly is an athletic one. To keep up players need to either be athletically gifted or produce a work rate to match. I have seen various stars and accomplished professionals come to this league and be surprised by the blue collar attitude and work ethic. Columbus in 2008, Salt Lake in 2009, Colorado in 2010, LA in 2011 all had a hard working core group with a few special players mixed into the squads.
However, these special players, like Schelotto and Beckham inspired their teams with hard work and production. Had these players not exhibited a determination to hard work certainly these championships would have been much more difficult to attain. Often lazy players that are given large pay checks and playing time can have negative effects on MLS teams and create resentment within squads. Certainly coming here to take it easy or ‘retire’ isn’t as easy as many pro’s would think.
There are many factors that contribute to the difficult nature of playing in MLS and succeeding. Certainly I struggled to find my footing and learned many lessons along the way. This is my first post and hopefully an intuitive perspective on the many challenges and stories of playing in Major League Soccer.