A number of England-based players should consider a move across the MLS pond
/ Fox Soccer Channel
The off-season acquisitions of Youri Djorkaeff and John Thorrington provide clear evidence that the pipeline from Major League Soccer to England flows in both directions.
Certainly some of the most talented players in the history of MLS have moved on to clubs in England — from Stern John and Brad Friedel early on to Brian McBride and Ryan Nelsen more recently. But it is also true that current stars of the league such as Preki, Jovan Kirovski, and Jaime Moreno arrived here directly from English sides. I won't bother to elaborate on Chris Woods and Steve Howey.
Last year in this column, I presented my ideal candidates for a move from English football to the American first division. Bolstered by the fact that Djorkaeff was on my list, I'm offering up a new round of names to be considered.
Keep in mind, the players on this year's list seem like realistic options to me, based on a number of factors including age, current contract, and salary demands. This is not meant to be a true wish list for MLS, thus names like Giggs, Henry, Gerrard and Robben are nowhere to be found.
Club: Newcastle United
I'm not sure if I really believe that Alan Shearer is actually going to retire at season's end, but I do believe that the former England captain is getting close. At age 34, Shearer is still one of the top strikers in the Premiership, and if healthy, could score 25 goals in an MLS season. He certainly doesn't need the money, so perhaps, as a final challenge for his playing career, Shearer could be enticed to bring his incredible finishing skills to America, and help expand soccer's popularity.
This is one older superstar that would not just be content to cash his check (see Lothar Matthäus), but rather would play every match as though it were a Cup final (see Mo Johnston).
Country: Trinidad & Tobago
Shaka Hislop has the opportunity at age 36 to help lead Trinidad & Tobago to their first ever World Cup as their first choice goalkeeper. Now out of favor at Pompey, and on a free transfer at season's end, the Howard University alum might just jump at the chance to be a regular selection at club level once more in the starting 11, and move to MLS. It's often claimed that MLS is an outstanding 'keepers league, but I still think that there is plenty of room for improvement. Maybe not a long-term solution for an MLS club, but Hislop could still come in and dazzle for two or three seasons.
A star for the Reggae Boyz at World Cup '98, Deon Burton has now fallen out of a regular role with Jamaica, and out of the Premiership entirely. Currently playing in League One, the 28 year-old striker could certainly use a career rejuvenation, as well as a fresh start. Enter MLS, with a style and pace more suited to his skills, and perhaps providing the opportunity to link up with one of his countrymen, such as Andy Williams or Damani Ralph. Although he currently ranks as his club's top scorer in league play this season, I'm sure Brentford would be willing to accept a transfer fee for Burton that is both reasonable and well within the MLS budget.
Club: Leicester City
Since moving to Tottenham from the now defunct Calgary Storm, Lars Hirschfeld has had a very difficult time establishing himself as anything other than a talented backup goalkeeper. Currently in that position with Leicester, the 26 year-old would greatly benefit from a switch to MLS, where he could more readily secure a starting role. The heir apparent to Pat Onstad at the international level, Hirschfeld is an excellent shot-stopper who could become one of the league's best with regular work.
Okay, I can hear the groans already. I know that Les Ferdinand is 38, and that he very rarely lasts to full-time. But still, the former England international has maintained the ability to finish his chances. I know, I know, is Tom Finney unavailable? But seriously, Ferdinand will be on a free transfer at season's end, and could be a very exciting player in MLS capable of making an impact for 45 to 65 minutes a match. Think Hristo Stoitchkov without all of the negativity and cheap shots, but with the spectacular goals.
Yeah, he's 37, and yeah, his days as a dominating force in England's midfield are well behind him. But honestly, what club in MLS wouldn't want Paul Ince? On a free transfer at season's end, the Governor would add a toughness and stability in the center of the park that is always in demand. Despite his advanced age in the sport, Ince will still go in hard on every challenge, and fight for every 50-50 ball. Plus, he can still create the spectacular on occasion, and would provide a great example of true professionalism.
Of course with so many fantastic players simply needing the right opportunity to rejuvenate their careers, we thought it a good idea to throw out a few more names which MLS should consider chasing in the near future.
The first and most obvious choice is American captain Claudio Reyna
. His last few years beset with injuries, a return to a shorter MLS season might prove the tonic to keep him playing for the Stars and Stripes for years to come — in addition to the fact that it's a lot easier to fly to Guatemala or Panama from New Jersey than from Manchester.
What about Nolberto Solano
? Now a thirty-something (albeit a fresh one), the skilled Peruvian has plenty of game left. The speed of the American game is more suited to his South American style, and he could also do well with less travel back to Peru for international matches. Patrik Berger
was as sublime a player in his prime to ever grace the pitch at Anfield, but a number of injuries and a transfer to south coast side Portsmouth seems to have zapped some of his zest for the game. Perhaps sunny California could reinvigorate his ever-weakening knees and ankles. A few other names come to mind, such as Middlesbrough's Ray Parlour
, Southampton's Graeme Le Saux
, or former Columbus Crew talisman (now with Leicester City) Stern John
. All these players still have more than enough skill and fitness to compete and seem the types who would relish the challenge that increasing the profile of the sport in the States could provide.