Less than 10 days ago, Rey Misterio and his teammates Patron Alberto and Myzteziz won the First Lucha Libre World Cup. The three wrestlers, who formed the “Dream Team” during the cup, had all been part of the American WWE at one time in their careers and they all left under controversial circumstances (Patron Alberto even won a lawsuit against the WWE). They returned to Mexico to join AAA, which is very popular in the country but does not have the same money or show lights as its American counterpart. Despite having won the Lucha Libre World Cup and continuing successful wrestling careers in Mexico, the three wrestlers cannot escape the category of WWE retirees.
The same thing was said of Mexican stars Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Rafael Marquez when they joined the MLS. For Mexican fans, the MLS is a lesser league than not only the European leagues, but also the Liga MX. The fact that MLS teams struggle to have any impact in the CONCACAF Champion’s League, which is completely dominated by Mexican teams, serves them as proof that professional soccer in the United States is far behind their Mexican parallel.
This phenomenon of branding athletes as playing-retirees when moving to a supposedly lesser league is very common in soccer. The stars of European soccer often retire in leagues all around the world: Spanish legend Xavi going to Qatar the next season, Rivaldo having played in Uzbekistan, Ronaldinho in Queretaro, Beckham coming to the MLS, and Guardiola retiring to Mexican team Dorados are only a few examples.
The MLS seems to be happy in adopting many of these “retiring” stars. This year, international sensations Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, and David Villa arrived in the league. All of them are unlikely to ever play again with their National Squad, apparently confirming the theory that the MLS is a retiree league. In my opinion, however, a real shift is beginning to happen. With very competitive salaries for top stars (around $7 million per season), younger top talent might start looking across the Atlantic, but this time to the west.
Making much less noise than the previously mentioned stars, Italian player Sebastian Giovinco became the highest paid MLS and Italian player when he signed for Toronto FC at the beginning of the season. The 28-year-old player seems to be in his prime, after even starting in the first World Cup game with the Italian squad. It will be interesting to see if his MLS move will permanently affect the call-ups for the National team (he has not been called since).
After Real Madrid decided not to buy Chicharito from Manchester United at the end of this season, he rejected an offer from MLS team Orlando City. Mexican fans-–and players—I believe, have one thing clear: The MLS is not only not the future, but it’s a retiree league. Chicharito, like most of Mexico’s young talent, wants to make his impact on European soil. Starting salaries in Mexico (and Europe, of course) are still much better than in the MLS, which seems to be putting its chips on top players (top players in the MLS make much more than in Mexico).
It is still a mystery whether the MLS’ gamble will pay off, and also if it will be able to change perceptions around the world about its status. Despite arriving in the MLS, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Rafa Márquez made it back to the Mexican national team to play another World Cup, but only after returning to the Mexican League (Márquez even returned to a European league after).
The hope of the MLS becoming not only a league full of former top European talent but a truly competitive league relies on young players like Italian Giovinco and Mexican Erick “El Cubo” Torres, who just signed a five-year contract with Houston Dynamo. If they can somehow make it back to their national teams and have a positive impact, more players will be interested in checking the MLS out.
Similarly, I believe the AAA is also trying to make some changes to refresh its popularity. The organization of the First Lucha Libre World Cup is an example of this. Like the MLS, AAA is using the most well known faces it can get (El Patron, Rey Misterio, Myzteziz) in order to get more looks coming its way.