Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are big dream signings for MLS, but some other players would likely garner high levels of hype should they make it to North America. Many Major League Soccer clubs consider bringing in players from various European leagues before the transfer window shuts down within a few weeks, with the likes of the sensational Wales winger Bale joining this year.
As has been detailed in numerous pieces at The Athletic over the past few years, several different reasons are attributed to the increased numbers of players being transferred for fees by MLS teams to overseas clubs. The fact that MLS has a less robust domestic transfer market than most other leagues (MLS players under contract are restricted from being moved to other MLS teams only in exchange for other players, allocation money, or other assets that are only available to MLS teams) plays a part, too.
In contrast, many other leagues worldwide are halfway through their campaigns, making MLS teams comparably more open to moving their players in this winter. The departures have also coincided with the significant decline of American and Canadian players playing in major European leagues. The number of players playing in the Bundesliga has been relatively steady over recent years; however, the MLS has seen a significant decline in players. Since 2012, the league has seen a notable decrease in players coming from North and Central American countries, which takes on more meaning when one considers that in 2016, the MLS expanded from 19 franchises to 20.
Compared with the high of 14 players in 2007/8, just five combined American and Canadian players saw playing time in the MLS 2016. In 2011, 14 clubs (out of 18) allocated over 50% of playing time to American players. Only five clubs showed a rise in US players playing timeshare from 2011, and only two of those existed in 2011. There are many Brazilian players in the MLS, and their numbers have been relatively steady since 2010.
It is difficult to compare, but a few players in Major League Soccer are just that much better than top players in Swedish leagues. MLS is a melting pot of players worldwide, in Europe, South America, and Asia; MLS is a global league with global reach. MLS is doing something right, undoubtedly more competitive and unpredictable than any of Europe’s big four leagues. We have learned that players in the MLS are playing entertaining football the same way as they are in the European scene, although the buzz surrounding them seems different.
Having had Designated Players, MLS has seen players such as Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and Carlos Vela all signing with the MLS, earning European-style wages. Now, the playoff system is flawed. Even if limited budgets per club allow the MLS clubs to play together very well, the limited funds prevent MLS from competing against European clubs, so MLS has The Beckham Rule, more commonly known as The Designated Player Rule. MLS is not different because the MLS mostly caps or limits spending on wages and transfer fees across all teams.