from Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports activities Soccer Author
When 27 years previous Sebastian Giovinco left his hometown membership Juventus ABOUT Main League SoccerS ‘ Toronto FC in 2015, it was seen as a sport changer.
By no means earlier than has a real European star in his prime – “The Atomic Ant” had 21 caps for Italy when he switched Serie A to TFC – left the continent to play within the high flight in the USA and Canada.
Up till that time in its historical past, MLS had a considerably unfair repute as a spot the place growing old European stars might play a couple of further years and earn a couple of further million earlier than calling it a profession. Whereas the overwhelming majority of the league’s international gamers have been in actual fact of their 20s, the sight of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard working round MLS pitches as 38-year-olds did nothing to vary that notion.
Giovinco was completely different. The Torino man was an immediate hit, successful league MVP honors that season and anchoring the assault for a crew that might go on to elevate the MLS Cup two years later.
Certainly different blue-chip European gamers can be trying to emulate Giovinco’s success and transfer to MLS.
Seven years later, it is truly taking place. On Thursday, LA Galaxy introduced the signing of 22-year-old Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig.
Puig’s shock arrival comes on the finish of one other month, when 28-year-old Italy worldwide Federico Bernardeschi adopted Giovinco’s path and swapped Juventus for Toronto. The subtext is obvious: If this summer time is any indication, MLS is slowly however absolutely rising as a official choice for gamers who nonetheless have so much to provide and no scarcity of alternate options on the high stage.
MLS isn’t there but. Puig was solely accessible for the Galaxy as a result of he’s not in Barca coach Xavi’s plans. Like Bernardeschi, who was not re-signed by Juve, Puig didn’t ask for a switch payment.
It nonetheless says one thing, although, that each gamers discovered MLS enticing sufficient to signal on the dotted line. Leaving Europe might come at a value; the transfer to Toronto successfully ended Giovinco’s worldwide profession.
That is why a lot of the massive names that landed in MLS this season are nonetheless of the older selection, stars whose finest years are in all probability behind them. Lorenzo Insigne, Bernardeschi’s teammate with the Azzurri and the Reds, is 31 years previous. LAFC’s Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini are 33 and 37, respectively. Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, who was transferred from Atletico Madrid, is 32 years previous. Chicago Hearth striker Xherdan Shaqiri is 30 years previous.
League legends similar to David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Kaka and David Villa have been additionally of their early 30s once they made their North American debuts.
As extra funding pours into MLS forward of the 2026 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico, MLS might grow to be an even bigger draw for Europe’s youngest stars.
It has already grow to be a vacation spot for a few of South America’s latest expertise. Paraguayan winger Miguel Almiron, who helped Atlanta win a title earlier than being offered to Premier League facet Newcastle for round $30m in 2019, is the obvious instance. The 5 Stripes gave Almiron a tidy revenue — Atlanta paid simply $8 million for him three years in the past — although they’ve but to discover a substitute that good.
May Puig have the same affect? He scored simply two objectives and three assists in 57 appearances for Barcelona, most of them off the bench. However he has additionally proven flashes of brilliance. Given his pedigree, he might be anticipated to be among the many finest forwards in MLS as soon as he settles into his new environment. (The Los Angeles Occasions already refers to Puig because the Galaxy’s “savior.”)
Puig can also be younger sufficient to return to Europe and notice his full potential on the highest stage. Whereas his contract with the five-time MLS champions runs till 2025, it incorporates a clause that provides Barcelona first precedence to deliver him again. Barca would obtain half of any switch payment if one other membership comes on the lookout for Puig’s providers.
Puig would not be the primary former Galaxy participant to return to the largest stage after a goal-filled stint in Southern California; nearly three years after leaving MLS, 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic not too long ago signed a one-year extension with Italian champions AC Milan.
Many eyes on either side of the Atlantic might be watching carefully to see how Puig fares in MLS. If he succeeds, it is arduous to think about Europe’s subsequent younger star being far behind.
Considered one of North America’s main soccer journalists, Doug McIntyre has coated the USA males’s and girls’s nationwide groups at a number of FIFA World Cups. Earlier than becoming a member of FOX Sports activities in 2021, he was a employees author with ESPN and Yahoo Sports activities. Observe him on Twitter @By DougMcIntyre.
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