By Alan Clark, Tuesday October 24th, 2006.
MLS has often been tagged as a physical, fast-paced league when energy and fitness rule and skill and technique come secondary. To be fair, the USMNT is hardly replete with playmakers and the majority in MLS are from foreign climes.
Only Landon Donovan and Canada's own Dwayne de Rosario could claim legitimate playmaker status in MLS with the balance coming from more skill-driven leagues, namely in South America.
Looking round the league, here are a run down of the primary playmaker(s) on each side:
Chivas USA : Juan Pablo Garcia (Mex), Sascha Kjlestan (USA)
Chicago : Thiago (Brazil)
Colorado : Terry Cooke (Eng), Clint Mathis (USA)
Columbus : Sebastien Rozental (Chile)
Dallas : Ronnie O'Brien (Eire), Ramon Nunez (Hon)
DC : Christian Gomez (Arg), Jaime Moreno (Bol)
Houston : Dwayne de Rosario (Can)
Kansas City : No prototypical #10.
Los Angeles : Landon Donovan (LA)
New England : Andy Dorman (Wales)? Not really a #10 either. Could be Dempsey, but that's not how he is deployed.
New York : Amado Guevara (Hon), Youri Djorkaeff (France)
Salt Lake : Mehdi Ballouchi (Morocco)
There's a few other players poking round the league that could be considered playmakers - Ramon Ramirez (Mex) and John O'Brien (USA) at Chivas would be two. Jose Cancela (Uruguay) at New England another.
Of those on this list I would suspect only the afore-mentioned LD, DeRo, Thaigo, Guevarra and Djorkaeff have earned the right to be a #10. Others could yet grow to fill those boots admirably, such as Ballouchi and Kjlestan, but the majority of the rest are either wingers, or in the role by default. The league lacks some of the big name, creative talent that's been here in the past - the like of Carlos Valderrama, Piotr Nowak and Marco Etcheverry.
Ask many fans who stay away from MLS and the usual line will come back about poor play. What causes the perceived low standard (which in reality is much higher than most realise) is simply a lack of flair players. So, it would seem many fans simply want to see the craft in it's purest form. The individual skill of say your average South American, or African, can be a joy to behold, but not all will work well in any kind of tactical system. Many - even entire national teams - will fail to gel, and collectively they can lack the guile, strategy and workrate that is common place in the average North American player.
A marriage of the two seems to make perfect sense, and has proven effective in the past. I don't think it's any co-incidence that the teams with proven playmakers have been more successful - either with a #10 in the middle or a proven threat on the wings and from set pieces, such as Cooke and O' Brien.
So, that brings me to the point of this thread and the debate I desire; with the impending Beckham ruling, and even without it, MLS seems to desire and need some craft in the middle and to that end I'd like to see your suggestions for players MLS clubs could bring in.....especially TFC!
I'm not on about players like Ronaldinho, a player who could command a considerable transfer sum and wages in excess of an entire team's cap. I'm looking for a crafty older player (although in reality some may be younger, 'unknowns' like Gomez at DC) that could be incorporated into the league. The only real example of this in recent years would be Youri Djorkaeff (especially in 2005).
So, who do you think would work - even out of position, would he come here and why do you think they would be a success.
I'll start the ball rolling with the most obvious one Mr Posh Spice;David Beckham, Fee : $0 if he doesn't sign a new contract. Age : 32
He's a known quantity, but the only thing I'd say on top of all the obvious things is that his preferred position is in the centre of midfield. A move inside would offset his diminishing pace, and extend his career considerably. His passing is precision personified and his set pieces are second to none, both on the cross and as shots on goal. His commercial boon would simply sweeten the deal, as many have alluded, MLS (and the USA in general) and Bex seems like a match made in heaven.Claus Jensen, Fee: $0 if he doesn't sign a new contract. Age: 29 now (30 in 07 when his Fulham contracts expires)
Jensen is a very under-rated playmaker currently plying his trade for Fulham. It's about time MLS took a player from the Cottagers as they've pilfered a few freebies from MLS in recent years. Boca, Elliott and McBride are all MLS ex-pats on their team.
Jensen is a good dead-ball player, can cross and scores a few. His current contract expires in 2007 (signed a 3 year deal in 2004).
He's got a bag load of caps and has played in the EPL since 1998 for Bolton, Charlton and now Fulham.
At 30 - and free - he'd be an ideal choice.Alan Thompson, Fee: Unknown (Low, if not free is my guess). Age: 32 (33 in Dec)
Plays in Scotland so might be an angle their for MoJo, he's creative, left-fotted (always a bonus) got a great free kick to boot.
He's been a little injury prone, but he has excellent experience and the rough-and-tumble of the SPL should have more than prepared him for the physical side of MLS.
He's been in Scotland for 6 years and has yet to feature this year I think so he's probably getting a little restless. I doubt he would command wages that would price him out of MLS.
Decent age and has a few years left. He's probably not quite a #10, but he's got enough technical ability that he could pull it off in MLS. He's certainly worth a shot.
Like Jensen, not a big name, but someone who could work out to be a very savvy pick up, Beckham rule or not.Addendum:
Of course, the approval of the Designated Player Rule should see a spike in the talent in MLS, and likely at the playmaker (and striker) positions.