Why British Footballers Are Moving to the MLS

With National Governing Bodies such as the FA investing money in grass roots football along with the billionaire business of the Premier League, the state of football in the UK has arguably never been stronger.

Becoming a professional footballer is a distant dream for the majority of children in the UK and the wealth and notoriety that comes with it is an aspiration many children with any ounce of footballing talent long for.

The increased riches however make the competition to become a successful professional footballer in the UK pyramid increasingly intense with professional football clubs, shattering the dreams of children in their academies on a daily basis in their pragmatic pursuit of success.

However, with the game in the UK at its strongest, it has given many talented footballers the opportunity to look elsewhere to fulfil their footballing dreams – if things don’t work out for them in the UK.

The MLS is America’s professional football league and as it enters its 24th season – the number of English players plying their trade ‘across the pond’ has never been higher.

Soccer in America has historically been placed on a pedestal below the traditional big 4 American sports of Baseball, American Football, Ice Hockey and Basketball.

The staging of the World Cup in America in 1994 sparked a sea change in mentality however with the men’s national team going on to achieve their best ever finish at a World Cup in 2002.

The MLS was founded in 1996 and the game has continued to grow ever since, with David Beckham’s move to the league in 2007 seen very much as a landmark moment for football in the US.

On the surface, Beckham’s decision to move to America was seen as the England captain ‘retiring in the sun’ as he was only 32 years of age at the time and had been performing well for Real Madrid.

During his tenure in the States however, Beckham quashed those suggestions with a 5 year stay in California which grew the game massively both on and off the field.

Premier League and international greats such as Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and David Villa are just some of the headline names to have followed Beckham’s lead in the MLS but all of these heroes of the game came to the MLS at a stage in their respective careers where they were winding down.

The legacy these players have left however is that training and playing standards are at an all-time high, the league has grown to 24 teams, huge stadiums regularly sell out for MLS fixtures and it is one of the most watched leagues on the planet.

The current standard in the MLS was compared to by Frank Lampard (former New York City player) as equivalent to the English Championship – a glowing testament to exactly how far the league has come.

This status in the world game has attracted the attention of many English footballers who perhaps didn’t reach the dizzying heights of some of the aforementioned players but are looking to forge a career for themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the English lower league.

However, it isn’t just the big stars who are moving to the MLS. Other lesser-known British players such as the Scottish forward Steven Naismith is being linked with a move to Sporting KC. Bookmakers such as Bet 365 were offering odds of 7/4 (2.75) on a single bet to make the move to the MLS this summer.

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The MLS provides a huge fan base and is a world of sponsorship opportunity and wealth for players who perhaps struggled at times in the UK system. The biggest example of this is Dominic Dwyer.

The former Norwich City trainee never made a first team appearance for the Canaries and left the UK to forge a career in college football – combining his playing commitments with his studies. His goal record for Tyler Junior College encouraged Sporting Kansas City to sign the striker who has subsequently joined Orlando City and has registered over 80 goals in the MLS across both clubs.

In addition, he has now gained American citizenship and has gone on to represent the Unites States at international level.

Whilst Dwyer’s story is perhaps the headline transition made by any English player to the MLS, there a wealth of other success stories. Former Manchester City and Southampton striker Bradley Wright-Phillips failed to live up to his huge reputation (set by his father Ian Wright and brother Sean) in the Premier League and sought pastures new back in 2014 when he joined the New York Red Bulls.

He has gone on to score 107 goals in 172 appearances for the Red Bulls, making him the MLS’s all-time record goal scorer.

Whilst Wayne Rooney needs no introduction to any football fan, the likes of Michael Mancienne, Nedum Onuoha and Jack Price were all until this season playing in the English Championship but have joined the MLS in search of experiencing football from a different perspective whilst not having to face the pressures of jostling for a place in a Championship side desperate for results.  

America also provides players with an opportunity to move without having to worry about any language barrier and the lifestyle in the States can seem a world apart for players originally from the UK – from the improved climate to the increased opportunities living in America presents.

With football continuing to grow in America and the opportunity for young players to study at an American college whilst getting access to professional training and facilities, the lure of America has never been bigger for English footballers.

Football (soccer) in America is growing rapidly, and with the ever-increasing speculation that the game will start to embrace betting, which is a major source of revenue for big European football clubs, soon MLS sides may be able to compete financially with their European counterparts.

This coupled with the existing trend of older players opting to finish their careers in the States in search of a more comfortable lifestyle means that it looks as if English players of all ages will be opting to move to the MLS for many seasons to come.