With the arrival of more and more high caliber players to the MLS who have played in European leagues, the most recent being Steven Gerrard and David Villa, it seems that the MLS is finally becoming respected as a league that is worth playing in.

What about the MLS makes it more attractive to these players to play in the United States than Europe, and how do the statistics (viewership, stadium attendance, salary...) compare between European leagues and the MLS?

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    I'm not seeing any world class players moving to MLS. I'm seeing players at the end of their careers grabbing one last payday - how many current European / South American international players are playing in MLS?
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 6:28
  • @PhilipKendall Exactly. Players are going as they know they can play at a much more leisurely pace as the quality is generally lower (The salary cap ensures this). If they can go and wind down their career with a large paycheck and an easier life, why wouldn't they? The only younger european player I can think of off the top of my head who plays in MLS is Bradley Wright Phillips... a flop in the premier league. Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 14:42
  • @Philip I suppose world class was a bit of a strong adjective, and I have edited the question. I do still think that there must be something more than just a desire to get paid to play against easier competition that is driving players to the MLS. Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 15:33
  • Robbie Keane is still quite prominent for the Irish Republic--he's been crucial in their qualifying group against Germany and Poland. But he's a very distinct exception.
    – user9090
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 19:52

3 Answers 3


Some change of scenery is also nice at some times. But like the previous answer already said, I don't think players at age +30 are still considered really that high caliber players in Europe. (Except the exceptional players off course.)

But I also think if club owners can sell those players the idea of promoting the MLS, helping to grow it, they would be interested in such a case. Football isn't nearly as popular in the US as compared to the rest of the world. A lot of players are egocentric enough that the would think, well I want to help to change that.

But I don't know if that's the case for players like Gerrard. He's still playing at a high enough level to already quit, but

  • he's too old to move to another European club/Too expensive
  • Doesn't probably want to play at another Premier League club to not disrespect Liverpool

So, he has limited options.

Also it's extremely difficult to compare statistics between the European leagues and MLS. Salary is a bit of a non-factor I'm afraid. Medium teams all around Europe can offer the same wages as MLS clubs. So if a high caliber player is good enough for Europe, he's going to Europe. That's why South-Americans go to Europe. The same amount of money, but they're playing in Europe. Much closer by the big competitions like Bundesliga, Premier League. You've got the Portugese and Dutch competitions that have good reputations to "prepare" players for the next step. They play at the top in those competitions, show them at European games to reach their dreams maybe and play for Bayern, Barcelona or Man Utd. That's what's pulling them toward Europe.

MLS is one competition that's static (I mean no relegation/promotion) which is a really big factor in European football. That might be something they should look into. Two (or more) connected divisions, that would maybe make football more popular in the US, more spread around the country as to 20 teams now. If it's popular, there are higher attendances, there is more income, you get more money => better competition + more money = better players => start the last sentence over (and over, and over, ...) It has come already a long way the MLS, given its rather short length.

The thing that they've got going for them is I think the overall accommodation. It's all newer, brighter, shinier than some of the old stadiums over here(while we still love thos :) ), the US is at the top of the world for that. And that could be an important factor in the future growth of the MLS. But you don't need the exceptional European players to become a big competition I reckon. If you don't need them for the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB. Why so for football? Invest in the youth is my advice ;)


I'd disagree that MLS has really begun to draw high caliber European players. Both of the two examples you cite, Steven Gerrard and David Villa, are players approaching the end of their careers, which isn't that different from the previous higher profile European players who have played in MLS like David Beckham or Thierry Henry.

I'm not aware of any current European internationals who play in MLS. There may be one or two from some smaller countries, but I think that's fairly indicative of the level of players currently in MLS.

  • How about somebody like Obafemi Martins? Not a European international, but somebody who could have continued to play in Europe and chose to come to the MLS instead. Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 15:27
  • And do you think the reputation of the MLS is growing or is this just the next round of old players coming to the MLS for a payday? Do you think the MLS will be able to attract actual premier talent anytime soon? Is it at least headed in the right direction? Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 15:29
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    As long as the salary cap exists I am not sure how they can attract top players. The top players want to play in a team of top quality, not 2 other quality players and a load of unknowns. Hard to compete with the European teams with seemingly infinite budgets. The preferable (but extremely unlikely) solution would be for the major European leagues to also have a salary cap. Might reign in some of the waste and decadence that they exhibit nowadays! Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 15:35

none of you guys get it do you. The players come to live in America, play in the equally nice facilities, be a part of something huge emerging from its infancy, and also players all over the world hear stuff about mls not by the media but by word of fellow players who have come from Europe or South America. All the media talks about as well as you ignorant people is lampard villa Pirlo Drogba Gerrard keane kaka and whatever other quality but aging big paychecks. There's a whole lot more to it than those guys and if you only thought old farts were DPs you'd be wrong. The average DP age is 27 and the reason why the league is getting better is because of all the players from everywhere but Europe the league has signed. Once you go to Europe it's like you can't leave for mls or South America until your 30+ cause once your on a payroll of a European team your salary becomes unattainable. Nobody really talks about all the young mls stars because not enough people really even know who they are. A lot of them make modest amounts of money and were signed from a foreign club cheaply and developed or they were an academy product. South America exports many players to mls and young players from there seem to have no problem moving to mls for an important stage of their career. These players coupled with the first real crop of club academy talent emerging have accelerated the growth of the league and quietly built it up, making the level of play better and attractive to more worldwide superstars rather than just the occasional one previously. Also keep in mind NYCFC was just trying to sign the biggest possible names without regard to the future because they wanted to make a splash and put their brand out there. I'd imagine in a few years their DPs will be younger than 30. Bottom line is players all over the world realize something, it is subtle at the moment, you don't about mls. They are intrigued by its bright future and believe now or soon is the right time. The players who have already made the jump are getting their phones blown up by former teammates with questions

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    Interesting answer, if you have any sources to back up your assertions like The players who have already made the jump are getting their phones blown up by former teammates with questions could you edit them in? Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 16:28

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