The FIFA World Cup affects Major League Soccer in two significant ways: World football’s biggest party causes the domestic league to go on a break, and it also leads to transfer rumors involving the MLS, some of which are unrealistic and not to be believed. Not all of the speculation that comes out about World Cup players potentially joining MLS is, however, ridiculous. As the league has grown in popularity, talented players such as Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jermain Defoe to name several, have chosen to call MLS their home. Here are 10 players in this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil who could one day find themselves in the ranks of Major League Soccer.
Honorable Mention: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden
Ok, so his native Sweden didn’t qualify for the 2014 edition of the World Cup, but Ibrahimovic is a worldwide phenomenon, and not just because of what is a brilliant “#DareToZlatan” social media campaign that has helped spread the brand of the player all over the world. The superstar who will turn 33 years old this coming October remains one of the best pure strikers in all of world football, a true difference maker who can feature on and star for Champions League clubs. Ibra has also, in the past, spoken highly of MLS. Ibrahimovic is the type of player coveted by the North American top-flight. He may no longer be in his prime, but he still has the goods to play for some of the true giants in the game. Ibrahimovic is able to make headlines with highlight reel hits AND with his personality. Put him in New York, MLS, and let the fun begin.
9. Frank Lampard, England
Lampard is, if certain reports and rumors are to be believed, already on his way to MLS. It was leaked earlier in June that Lampard will sign for 2015 expansion club New York City Football Club, but the former Chelsea man who captained the England side for that country’s final 2014 World Cup contest has not yet officially been introduced by the league or the new New York side. It’s possible that there is a good reason for why Lampard is still technically a free agent. There have been whispers that Lampard will not, at 36 years old, get a designated player deal in the United States. Assuming that is the case, he would make more money signing for a lesser Premier League side. The wait continues.
8. DaMarcus Beasley, United States
Beasley could join Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan in MLS. While it feels as if Beasley has been playing professional football since the day before forever, he turned only 32 years old last month. The man who can feature at left back and in the midfield is showing in the current World Cup that he still has the legs to make an impact in key matches. It’s been speculated that Beasley, seeing the success had by other US internationals in MLS, could return to the league as quickly as this summer. Whether or not he would rejoin Chicago Fire is not yet known. Chicago have, for what it’s worth, been one of the more disappointing sides in the league this season.
7. Xavi, Spain
Xavi was, when at his best, arguably the greatest play-maker of his generation. While the 34-year-old is unquestionably no longer in the prime of his career, it would be absurd to say that he could not start for every team in MLS. He would also produce some dazzling moments on the pitch in front of North American audiences. Not so fast, however, as Xavi recently squashed rumors that he was on the verge of joining NYCFC. It has been speculated that David Beckham could also be looking to obtain Xavi’s signature for the new Miami franchise that right now has no name and no home. Do not at all be shocked, however, if Xavi inks one more massive deal overseas and not with an MLS side.
6. Diego Forlan, Uruguay
Forlan is one of several big-name players who have, for years, been linked with MLS without ever having joined the league. Forlan has, since 2012, reportedly been coveted by the likes of FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Chicago Fire, Toronto Fire and New York Red Bulls. He signed for J-League side Cerezo Osaka earlier this year, but he has not ruled out ending his playing days in MLS. Forlan, 35 years old, does not bring with him the name-power had by other players on this list. He could, so long as he is fully fit, still be a key man for several teams in the league for at least a season or two. The question is now about money. Would MLS and a team fork over the cash necessary to sign Forlan?
5. Giovani dos Santos, Mexico
The former Tottenham Hotspur flop and Mexico international has had his name mentioned alongside MLS clubs in headlines multiple times over the past few years. Sporting Kansas City reportedly chased after him in 2012. There were, last year, a variety of rumors involving LA Galaxy and Giovani, some of which may or may not have been true depending on what versions of what stories you want to believe. Dos Santos would be the perfect MLS signing. He’s an exciting player in his prime (25 years old), and he has enough of a name that he would be a draw if in the right market. It’s been speculated that he has an interest in signing for MLS at some point during his career. Whether that’s right now, while he is playing in La Liga, is not known.
4. Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast
Oh, it’s the traditions of summer. The weather is warmer. The smell of cut grass is in the air. Flowers are in full bloom. Drogba is being linked with MLS. Seattle Sounders. New York Red Bulls. New York City Football Club. These are just three of the teams who have, at one point or another, looked at the possibility of acquiring the former Chelsea star who has hoisted the Champions League trophy and who is a household name for Americans who follow the beautiful game. Drogba will cash in on one final contract after playing in what was his final World Cup (Ivory Coast were eliminated on June 24). He could do so in MLS.
3. Javier Hernandez, Mexico
The forward known as Chicharito who reportedly wants out of Manchester United would be, among the names listed in this piece, the ideal signing for MLS that is also realistic. Hernandez is still just 26 years old. He brings with him plenty of drawing power because of what he has achieved while wearing Mexico colors and also due to the fact that he featured for what is the most-popular EPL club among American fans. Hernandez would not come cheap. He would also be as worthwhile an investment in a single player as the league has had in several years, a player who could compete for the MLS Golden Boot starting in his first season in the league. Houston. Either New York club. Miami. Los Angeles. Hernandez would be a real star in any of those markets.
2. Mario Balotelli, Italy
The polite way to say it would be to suggest that Balotelli is his own worst enemy, a striker who seemingly cannot get out of his own way. Another way to put it is that he is kind of a pain in the butt who is about to get himself shipped out of his third club since 2010. Balotelli has the talent and the personality to be a worldwide superstar in a tier just beneath that which contains Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He is still only 23 years old. That said, he must consistently be more like “Super Mario” rather than “Average Mario who sometimes produces an incredible goal” on the pitch if he is to meet the expectations many in Europe have for him. Balotelli still has plenty of money to make in Europe, and thus he is a potential MLS player for the future. If he continues to underwhelm on big stages, however, he could end up receiving a big paycheck from the North American league before he turns 30 years old.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Two things need to immediately be pointed out before anybody has any response to this.
Yes, Ronaldo joining Major League Soccer is a real possibility.
No, it’s not happening in 2014. Or in 2015. Or in 2016. It may not even be a possibility until after the 2018 World Cup.
Ronaldo is, at 29 years old, the best player in the world. He has plenty of football at giants such as Real Madrid left in him, and multiple trophies left to pursue. While in the United States on a pre-season tour with Real Madrid, Ronaldo told reporters that he would consider joining MLS before he calls time on his playing days.
Ronaldo doing so at 33 years old would make plenty of sense for a player who would, at that stage of his career, no longer be at his best, one who could be looking to expand his brand as did David Beckham at LA Galaxy. Ronaldo and Balotelli. Put those two in your pocket for the future.
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