Can MLS still afford not to align itself with Europe?

Aligning the MLS calendar with Europe’s top leagues is a idea that has been proposed for some time, but now seems the right time to implement it.

There have been well documented concerns about the development of MLS for some time, but now is the time for MLS Commissioner Don Garber to act. Aligning the calendar with the European schedule, starting the season in July or August and finishing in May or June is a must if the league is to improve. Introducing an international break and aligning with the international transfer window would then fall into place and would be hugely beneficial.

There is of course an issue with the cold weather in winter in the northern cities, but the increasing number of franchises in the south makes it workable. And such is the opportunity to attract top overseas talent at the current time, that a change must be made.

There were an unprecedented number of young, talented English players that moved out of the the Premier League this summer, all of which slipped the MLS net.

Thirteen Premier League clubs broke their transfer records this summer, spending a combined £1.47bn and many of those players were brought in from overseas.

Such was that spending that more English youngsters than ever before decided to take their chances away from England. It’s becoming almost impossible for good, young English talent to make the grade in the top flight. And as plenty of Europe’s League’s have benefitted this season, so could MLS.

A move to the European schedule now makes complete sense, add an international break and English talent and other European talent would find the move across The Pond more alluring. Playing MLS matches while international action takes place is crazy. It not only penalizes teams who cannot call upon their best players, but it also turns imports off from moving to America.

Jadon Sancho, named player of the tournament as England Under-17s reached the European Championship final, moved for £10million from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund. West Ham defender Reece Oxford and Liverpool’s Ryan Kent went on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach and Freiburg respectively.

Chris Willock, Matty Willock, Kaylen Hinds, Mason Mount and Charlie Colkett have all moved on loan to European clubs. All highly regarded youngsters in Gareth Southgate’s England set-up, but unable to get game time in the EPL.

Would they have considered a move to MLS – a league that is out of sync with Europe – and that runs from March to October? No.

Align the league with Europe and introduce a break while internationals take place and some of those youngsters may well have opted to take their chance in MLS. That would mean talented, hungry European players willing to play in America – a move that could only be a plus for the league.

There are however a few talented English youngsters already plying their trade in the league. Jack Barmby, Anton Walkes and Jack Harrison are all carving out successful careers in MLS and Stoke-born Harrison thinks MLS could become a destination of choice for more of his fellow countrymen.

TRAVEL WITH GOPLAY TOURS…

Asked if there could be more players following him across the Atlantic: “Definitely, yeah,” said Harrison. “I think the way the game is changing now, you get these clubs that are just buying top players.

“They are paying so much money for them as well and it makes it that much harder for the academy kids that have been there since six-years-old to try and make it to the first team.

“It’s that much harder so I wouldn’t be surprised if more players were to venture out and try different options.”

Harrison, who has scored nine goals in 28 games for New York City FC, is making an impact. And the 20-year-old former Man Utd youth academy player is starting to make some Premier League clubs sit up and take notice.

He left Carrington as a 13-year-old and joined Wake Forest University via an American boarding school and in January 2016 he was the first pick in the MLS SuperDraft, aged 18.

“I definitely have no regrets, especially now,” Harrison told Press Association Sport.

“A couple of years ago, I would always think about what would have happened if I had stayed at United.

“But now I have no regrets, I am happy to be here in the situation I am, playing with the players I am.

“I am learning so much and it can only get better, really.

“It can be tough sometimes for someone my age in England or anywhere in Europe to get the playing time that they want. And to be playing as much as I am, (I am) just really grateful.”

Harrison has almost been a pioneer for young English players looking to make it big in MLS, but a few key changes to the schedule could see dozens more players following his path across The Pond. It’s a decision that needs making and an opportunity that MLS cannot afford to pass up.

Matthew Briggs
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