Chasing The American Soccer Dream

MLS Talking Points

Back in 2007, England icon David Beckham brought an end to his 4-year stint in the Spanish capital in search of a new challenge. The new country would be the USA, his new club the LA Galaxy and the new league was the MLS. He would be the first high profile name to grace the league since it officially began in 1996. The hope for Beckham was to play in a new league, in a big country, big possibilities to enhance his global  ‘Beckham Brand’. For the chiefs of the MLS, the hope was that Beckham would put the league on the map, bring in bigger talent, better competition and put the MLS among the worlds elite. To be fair to Mr. Beckham, he certainly done the league no harm at all. But the MLS was joked as becoming somewhat of a “retirement home” for top players nearing the end of their playing days. The likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Ashley Cole would all make the move toward the end of their trophy-laden careers. Moving on a decade an almost reverse of the Beckham effect is taking place. There is now a new wave of English talent making the 4000+ mile trip to the US. They call America “The land of opportunity” and that is exactly what these young stars are hoping for in order to kickstart their career.

England first team secured qualification to next summers World Cup with two less than convincing 1-0 wins against Slovenia and Lithuania respectively. I sat from the stands for the Slovenia game. The game was lifeless and boring. One pass forward followed by 3 passes back. It lacked imagination, not an ounce of passion. A huge gap in the middle of the pitch left vacant by a suspended Dele Alli and injured Adam Lallana. Sat alongside my young nephew, for who’s first ever England game this was, he was more excited by the paper airplanes being thrown onto the pitch than the game itself. This isn’t the England we should be seeing. We’re home to the Premier League, the most exciting League in the World. The final whistle answered the question of Qualification. But as a fan, it posed more questions. Where has the excitement gone? Who could have come on to fill that void in midfield? Our Under 20’s are World Champions, the best in the world at that age group, so why are they not knocking the door for a place in the first team?

News of youngster, Jack Harrison, breaking into Aidy Boothroyd’s England under 21 squads made the headlines recently. The Stoke native, now plying his trade in the MLS with New York City FC. It’s a rare sight to see any Englishman move abroad to play their football, let alone a young lad do it before his professional career had even begun. Was it more luck than judgment that he still made it pro? Well, it was no coincidence, as Harrison clearly has talent. A product of Manchester United youth academy, much like Beckham years before. It was a wise move, one that clearly had some careful consideration about the way football in England was heading. Because the pressure on managers to deliver is now massive. Mainly due to the finical aspects of the game, there isn’t time to wait around for a young player to develop into a star anymore. A costly mistake away to Stoke on a cold, Monday night could cost your entire job. Managers now scour the globe, willing to pay £30million or more for a player who is already the finished article. Pushing our young players down the pecking order or even worse, out the door. But Jack Harrison isn’t the first player to have the foresight to make this move. He joins a line of frustrated teens making the trip in order to realize their dream of making it pro. After a little research, I was put onto a lad who is on a similar journey. He was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions, as I wanted to delve a little deeper to find out why he made the move, and for an insight into life as a young Brit playing college soccer in the United States.

Liam Moore is 19 and from Milton Keynes. He is currently playing his football in the US at the The University of Montevallo, Alabama, for their soccer team, Montevallo Falcons. I asked Liam what made him decide to move to the US to pursue his football dream and this is what he told us;

“I came to America because I was playing at Northampton Town FC and was in and out training with the youth team. It was clear that path would not lead to what I wanted to achieve. I was then approached by an agency, I had my trials and they told me that I should really consider the US as my next playing opportunity because I would get a lot of good offers from a lot of good schools. As well as that I felt ready to try something new, move away for four years and experience a completely different lifestyle (which it is!)”

Montevallo Falcons play their football in the Gulf South Conference, Division II. It seems a far cry from what Liam must be used to from back home. But I wanted to get to know how much it really differs;

“I think the biggest difference for me is the defenders, in England, the defenders were a lot more smart and technical, more rounded football players. Whereas over here the defenders are so fast and strong, they are real athletes. Another difference I can think of is the pace of the game, and this is just college soccer I’m talking about. You are allowed more subs so there is a lot more rotation, the coaches tell you to go out and give 100% effort and you can come off, have a breather and go back in, so the game is played at lightning speed throughout.”

“The last thing is probably the professionalism. You are treated like a professional and are expected to act like one. We travel, stay in hotels, train every day, scout the other teams, gym and pool session. We even hundreds of people come out to watch us play. So they are some things I really like about the game out here.”

Now the idea of a young player moving to the States to fulfill his dream is not necessarily a new one. Back in 2009, Dom Dwyer left Norwich City FC to continue his football at Tyler Junior College, Texas. Fast forward nearly 8 years, now Dwyer is at Orlando City as well as representing and scoring for the USA national team. Many of you may argue that Dwyer may have been good enough to make the England national squad. But the hard facts are, if anyone is good enough to play at a national level, we should not be losing them to another country, period! It got me to thinking and asking, what Liam thought of youth football in England;

“Obviously with all the money now in the game from the new TV deals clubs can go out and spend whatever they want on whoever they want so it is harder for the youth players to come through.”

Now, this isn’t a scathing attack or my disdain for the English game. More praise for those lads who take the gamble to realize their dream of playing football. They know the difficulties of making the cut and lads like Liam, have made all the decision to try their luck elsewhere. You could easily become content with playing in the reserves, driving around in an Audi TT, with a Z-list girl band member on your arm. But these guys are chasing a dream, whilst living the American one. Also, let’s face it, why wouldn’t you want to play football in America? After all, it’s English speaking, it’s taking very seriously, the weather, for the most part, is out of this world and there is a real chance of actually making it. I take my hat off to these young lads for taking a giant leap. Their determination should be rewarded from clubs back home. But I do feel it will have a positive effect on the National side. These players will get the chance to play regular football, develop into decent players and not fall down the pecking order rapidly. For Major League Soccer, it can only be a positive outcome also. In a country where football (soccer) isn’t the number 1 sport. Now, young, hungry and ambitious players from the UK will come and give their everything in order to just be playing regular football. What would be The Premier Leagues loss, would be the MLS’s gain.

Before I left Liam to get back to his football I had one more question, this time about his career goals. His answer screamed out everything I expected from a lad who just loves to play football;

“Honestly, just to play at the highest level I can for as long as I can. If that means stay here I will stay here, if it means to go home, I will go home. The dream would be to play pro and that’s what I am still aiming for, but yeah, I just want to play at the highest level I can.”