Hey everybody! It's been a long time since my last entry, so time to make like Juan Pablo Angel at Chivas and start contributing.
The inspiration for this post originated from a usual source of frustration. During the average MLS broadcast, a TV personality or play by play announcer of some kind says a lackadaisical comment deserving of scrutiny but accepted by most as fact. In this case, said announcer mumbled the words, "Sean Franklin's contract is up, will he maybe go to Europe?"
Indeed, Franklin's contract is up at the end of this season. Before his recent knee inflammation, Sean was having a career year, producing a significant offensive contribution of four goals and three assists in addition to his rock-solid defensive duties. He was an All-Star for the 2nd year in a row, made his international debut in January and is undoubtedly one of the top right backs in the league.
So I'd argue he deserves a raise on the $110,000 he's making this year. But to make the transition to Europe?The status quo regarding talented young Americans in MLS has been that if a player is good enough, he should go to Europe.
However, as the league has grown by leaps and bounds, that equation has become increasingly complex. Thanks in part to salary cap changes and other positive developments, the level of play in MLS has improved and the advantages of playing abroad nullified somewhat. (Kind of a miracle too, considering the league's been stretching the talent by adding a team a season for about a decade now)
Franklin's situation is similar to other top Americans in MLS playing at a high level: Good enough to play in the lower-level European leagues where the differences in salary and skill are marginal, but too much of a risk/reward factor to make the jump to a Top 4 European league. Scandinavia in particular, and where Franklin would likely end up, has become the region for promising young American careers to disappear, except for perhaps the consistently average Clarence Goodson.
Europe has to call for the player, not the other way around, and even then, success is difficult to obtain. Jozy Altidore is an example of an American with great talent who bounced from club to club unwilling to invest in that talent. Only with the right club in AZ Alkmaar has he finally began to score with regularity and improve his game.
And unfortunately, for every success story a string of failures has emerged. The infamous 2007 U-20 World Cup trio of Freddy Adu, Danny Szetela and Sal Zizzo all signed with major European clubs then stubbornly sat on benches and endured loan spells waiting for an opportunity that never came, only to eventually slink back to MLS. Kenny Cooper and Benny Feilhaber were the latest to return to America this year after disappointing results abroad, and then there's Eddie Johnson, who MLS simply wasn't interested in.
Not to say going abroad isn't beneficial as long as the right situation emerges. (I'm always in favor of Americans playing for a half-decent Dutch club, for example.)
Besides, going abroad isn't exactly the Anthony Bourdain, money raking adventure it used to be. The paycheck might be bigger, but not significantly bigger. (Not counting the high tax rates) And if the beginning of Jurgen's reign is any indication, an uninspiring career in Europe isn't exactly going to help your chances with the national team.
As for players craving the experience of playing in Europe? As it turns out, the fan culture in MLS has grown tremendously. The atmosphere at venues such as PGE Park and LiveStrong Sporting Park, just to name a few, are similar in nature to Europe, but even better, because they're American. The fans are more passionate and knowledgeable, the stadiums are built, and the supporter's culture is in full swing. To play in MLS is to not be missing out on a lot.
And then there's Sean's tradition of a haircut and car wash the day of the game, which probably wouldn't translate too well in Sweden.