English Players Swapping the Football League for Major League Soccer

Photo of author

(Newswire.net — August 24, 2016) — Ever since David Beckham headed to LA Galaxy in 2007 the MLS has fought hard to be seen as a serious and competitive league. The USA’s professional league is often thought of as a place where Premier League footballers are put out to pasture. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Robbie Keane have all headed across the pond to finish their careers in recent years.

Yet that is no longer the case, with players of all ages heading to the US to carve out a career in the beautiful game. England are currently second, behind Argentina, as the largest exporter of footballers to the MLS. That’s not bad for a country notoriously bad at exporting talent.

So who are the players swapping football for soccer? And why might the US be the best place for English footballers?

Escaping the lower leagues

There are more professional football clubs in England than anywhere else in the world, however, a trip to Port Vale or Crewe on a cold miserable Tuesday isn’t exactly the stuff of dreams for young players.

More and more players find the US a favorable alternative to the English lower leagues – Giles Barnes swapped Doncaster for Houston, Seb Hines left Middlesborough for Orlando, and former West Brom defender Liam Ridgewell now plies his trade at the Portland Timbers. They’re just a number of players whose careers have been rejuvenated by heading West.

Brothers Bradley & Shaun Wright Phillips both play for the New York Red Bulls having spent the majority of their careers in the Premier League. The former told the Guardian why the MLS seems like such a good alternative: “I can see if you were a top Premier League player only wanting to go to another Premier League team, but that wasn’t my situation and to me, playing here is no different than going to a Championship or good League One team … and you wouldn’t believe the number of calls and text I get every week from players wanting to come out.”

An education in the game

Dom Dwyer is relatively unknown in England. In Kansas he’s a superstar.

He’s an English footballer who, after a succession of injuries, was released by Norwich City and told he’d never play professional football. He settled for life in non-league before heading to the US on a soccer scholarship. After studying at the University of South Florida he was drafted by Sporting Kansas City.

Dwyer’s journey from the scrap heap to the White House is one that suits the American fondness of rag to riches storylines. But he’s not alone, Luke Mulholland, Otis Earle and Matt Watson are all Englishmen playing in the MLS having benefited from the scholarship system.

Future Elite Sports, a U.K based sports agency specialising in USA football scholarships argue the American system is a better, more effective way of breaking into the game: “The transition from student athlete to professional athlete in the United States is a lot smoother than that in the UK”

According to Fulbright, a commission whose aim is to promote an educational exchange between the two nations, 2014 saw a record number of British students studying in the US. They see a scholarship system that produced the likes of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Clint Dempsey as a viable pathway into professional sports.

The best female soccer league in the world

For years the women’s game in the US has been considered stronger than the men’s. The National team are ranked number 1 in the FIFA rankings, they took home the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and won the 2015 World Cup.

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) launched in 2012 and is already attracting big name players from across the pond. England International Natasha Dowie recently left the Doncaster Belles for the Boston Breakers.

The wages in the American league are far higher, and much closer to the men’s game. The highest paid female soccer star in the world is Alex Morgan, who earns $3 million a year playing for the Orlando Pride and through endorsement deals. In contrast, the leading paid player in the UK, Steph Houghton, earns just £65,000 a year.

Life away from the spotlight

To some, the US may seem more glamorous than the lower leagues, yet others are attracted to the relative anonymity soccer players are afforded.

When Robbie Rogers, an American playing in England, publicly revealed he was gay in 2013, he also announced his retirement from the game at the age of just 25. He became the first player to do so since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

Rogers initially felt he had to retire in order to avoid intrusion into his personal life. However, he resumed his career back in the US for L.A Galaxy where he still plays. His hometown club welcomed him with open arms and even host an annual ‘Pride Night’ game, a match celebrating the LGBTQ community.

Despite the sport’s rising popularity over the Atlantic, it’s still far less popular than baseball, American football and basketball. Soccer players are can live a life there away from the spotlight and untroubled from both media and fans.

Steven Gerrard, a Premier League player since the age of 18, spoke of how he’s enjoying life away from the intensity of English football, “I couldn’t be happier right now. I’ve gone from not being able to walk down a street without being stopped every five minutes to being a Z-lister out here and that’s cool. I love it.”