Major League Soccer’s 2019 instalment kicked off last month. Since its inception in 1996, the US league has continued to grow from strength to strength. It started out with just 10 teams, smaller than the Scottish Premiership. It now boasts 23, more than the English Premier League, and is continuing to expand.
The league, perhaps unfairly, has a reputation for being something of a retirement home, recruiting players who are past their peak. This is nothing new for America and the New York Cosmos in particular. Prior to MLS being formed, in the NASL stages, they had the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia all on their roster at some stage.
Scottish soccer stars
For Scottish players, it can be seen as something of an adventure. Mo Johnston was the first major Scot to play in the States. More recently, the likes of Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller went over, although the pair are now playing back in Scotland with Kilmarnock and Dundee respectively.
Current players include Johnny Russell, formerly of Dundee United, and in the most recent Scotland squad. Former Hearts duo Danny Wilson and Sam Nicholson play together in the same team once more, at Colorado Rapids. The Rapids team also has Tim Howard, most notable for his time at Everton under a Scottish manager, David Moyes.
And Nicholson was quick to praise the shotstopper.
“Tim Howard is a good leader and good guy to have in any dressing room. He takes care of the players away from training too.”
Nicholson left his boyhood heroes Hearts in 2017, initially signing for Minnesota United, before playing for another team in burgundy, the Rapids. It’s a choice he doesn’t regret
“The SPFL and MLS don’t differ too much in terms of the standard of football. The players in MLS are athletes though. They can run all day and they can sprint fast.
“However, the biggest difference is the money available in the leagues. MLS owners have no problem chucking crazy money into something if they think it will help the team win games. In Scotland, it’s more about saving money and making a profit.”
A plethora of playing talent
You can see Nicholson’s point, given some of the household names he’s played against.
“Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bastian Schweinsteiger,” the 24-year-old began. He was also quick to highlight a former Atlanta duo, containing Newcastle United’s club record signing.
“Miguel Almiron is the best out them all, and Josef Martinez. The two of them could walk into a lot of Premier League sides.”
Whilst soccer was never the most popular sport over the Atlantic, the winger insists it’s continuing to generate a growing interest.
“Fans are definitely beginning to get more into football. Atlanta sell out 75,000 most home games so it’s definitely getting a lot bigger. As a player, it’s more evident than anything how much it’s growing with stadiums being sold out every week.”
Retirement home? Absolutely not
It’s understandable why Nicholson, still just 24-years-old with the vast majority of his career ahead of him, is quick to dismiss the idea that the MLS is for ageing players.
“In my opinion, it gets called a retirement league for one thing only: the lifestyle. Players who play in Europe often don’t have the lifestyle they want. There’s no drama and it’s an easy life in America.”
As much as he perhaps misses playing for his boyhood club, his family and friends or the city of Edinburgh, the former Jambo can’t praise the USA and MLS enough.
“I’d highly recommend it for the experience and to open European players’ eyes as to how good other leagues are abroad.”
A league which continues to rise, David Beckham’s franchise in Miami will be a part of MLS soon. It may not be star-studded with players from Champions League football but it contains some talent that shouldn’t be ignored.
And certainly not just because Americans refer to football as soccer, for crying out loud.