Editorial – Being that this week is a bye week for the Boys in Blue, the Man in Seat 9 has decided to use his extra time to jump into the “Who are the most important MLS Foreign Born Signings” debate.
To be clear, I am not in the Zlatan fan camp. Is he a great player? Yes. Will he make an impact? Of course. But the laurels being placed upon his head by, it seems, almost all of my fellow sports writers have bothered me a bit. They are premature. Yes, he did have an amazing first goal in the league. And he did change the game when he came on the pitch, but one of the top five MLS FB signings as Grant Wahl tweeted? No. Not yet. He might end up being so, but right now it is based on hopes and dreams, and two aging knees.
It is also the opposite direction I think Major League Soccer should be heading. The era of the aging European hero coming to the league to find glory in their sunset days should be coming to a close — Except for Messi at some point in the future — instead, the teams should find exceptional young talent and use the money to attract youth into the league.
And so that got the Man in Seat 9 thinking. Who do I think are the five most important MLS foreign born players? The list might surprise you. It did me. The list changed many times over the week, in both players and ranking. I think I was most surprised by the number one spot, which to be fair is not where I originally placed him. It was one of my LWOS colleagues, a Red Bull supporter no less, who made the successful argument that led to the final rankings. And so, to the list:
The Man in Seat 9: The Top 5 MLS Foreign Born Signings
1. David Villa: New York City FC
It is not bias that has put David Villa on the top of the list. In fact, in my original list, because of my love of New York City FC I had him as number 3. It was only after some pretty convincing arguments from my colleagues that I realized I was unfairly knocking him because of my respect for him.
No other foreign born signing in MLS has had a team built entirely around them from scratch. David Villa was the first signing of New York City FC and was made captain before a game was ever played. He created the work ethic and ethos of the organization while destroying defenses. He coached the younger players in nuances of the attack. And carried the team offensively in his first year and won the Most Valuable Player award in his second. Incredibly active in the community, he is probably the best all-around ambassador of what Major League Soccer strives to be. Unlike the abject failure of Frank Lampard, who came to the team out of shape and not even on the bench, Villa has extended his contract and was called back to international duty for Spain.
2. Robbie Keane: LA Galaxy
Like Villa, Robbie Keane is responsible for the heart and soul of LA Galaxy. Maybe more difficult than building a team from scratch is changing an embedded culture. It was under his tenure that the club won three MLS Cups as well as a Supporters’ Shield. In five seasons with the side, Keane became the league’s 13th all-time scorer as well as winning the MVP title in 2014. I think it was his influence and professionalism that tempered the Donavon / Beckham bad blood.
3. Sebastian Giovinco: Toronto FC
Sebastian Giovinco came into a historically poor Toronto FC and was instrumental in turning the team around to a side that would be the first club in MLS history to win a treble — the Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield, and MLS Cup. MLS Newcomer of the year in 2015, he also won the MLS Golden Boot and MVP awards.
4. Thierry Henry: New York Red Bulls
Thierry Henry was already a legend when he signed with the Red Bulls. Bringing someone of that stature onto a rebuilding team is a risky move, but Henry came with all of the legend and none of the ego, turning himself into an unofficial player-coach. Working with the younger players and evangelizing about the importance of a youth academy system which I will say, is the main reason that the Red Bulls are the team they are today.
5. Bradley Wright-Phillips: New York Red Bulls
This is the surprise of the list. But the Man in Seat 9 has to give credit where credit is due. Bradley Wright-Phillips wasn’t a DP signing. He came to the Red Bulls under the reign of Thierry Henry, worked hard, and raised his game to a level where he was made a Designated Player. In short, he worked for it, proved his value, and earned the promotion. Now an anchor on the team he has shown that there is possible career progression in MLS. You don’t need to go to Europe to get a big paycheck.
Wait, No Beckham?
You’ll notice that David Beckham is not on this list. That was a very tough decision because he absolutely changed MLS. His signing rebranded the LA Galaxy and made them an international brand. His performance as a player during the first few years was a disappointment, as well as his loan to AC Milan. He cared more about his brand than the league. The Galaxy did go on to success in his last years with the side, but that, I think, had more to do with Robbie Keane.
You can flame me now.
The Man in Seat 9