CARSON, California (Reuters) - Major League Soccer, once mocked as a ‘retirement home’ for European players, has grown into a competitive league, says LA Galaxy’s Irish striker Robbie Keane.
Keane, who will be looking for a third title in four years in Sunday’s final against the New England Revolution, believes the stereotype that MLS is an easy place to end a career is outdated.
“Maybe six or seven years ago it was but it certainly isn’t now,” he said.
“The one who kicked it all off was Becks (David Beckham), he was the one that put LA Galaxy and MLS on the map and the result was that a lot of people want to come over here. It is a league that has grown massively. If you look at the competitive games, most of ours are played in front of full houses."
MLS will feature two new clubs next season with Orlando City and New York City, bringing in a new crop of big name players with Englishman Frank Lampard and Spaniard David Villa in New York and Brazilian Kaka with the Florida club.
"I think it is going to continue growing for a long time," said Keane. "If you look at the players coming and the players who want to come here, there a lot of players that I know personally, big players who want to come now. I can’t tell you who they are but it tells me how far this league has come."
Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman, who won three caps for Wales, played in MLS from 2004 to 2007 before spells in Scotland and England and returned to a very different league when he signed for the New England last year.
“It has changed so much. The caliber of players that they brought in since the designated player rule, the new stadiums, the growing fan-base for each team, it has improved dramatically,” he told Reuters.
Galaxy’s Swedish midfielder Stefan Ishizaki says that while the skill level may not match the top leagues in Europe, MLS is far from being easy to play in.
“It’s a very athletic league. In Europe it is more tactical here it is more physical and a little more direct at times. Even though some of the players aren’t the best soccer players, they are really strong and fast and very athletic, they are tough to beat”.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Gene Cherry