COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Having played for clubs in Germany, Russia and England, Columbus Crew’s Emanuel Pogatetz is in a position to judge Major League Soccer’s growth and he feels it’s close to being one of the game’s better competitions.
Since moving to MLS last September, the 32-year-old Austrian international defender has been impressed with the quality of American players and believes many more Europeans will follow his example and help raise the standard further.
“The American players are getting better, the standard overall here is getting better every year and the players from Europe will have better quality,” Pogatetz told Reuters after the Crew beat Toronto FC 2-0 on Saturday.
”We already see the big names coming like Kaka and I think others, who are still at the top of their games, will come to MLS. It will make a difference.
“Within the next probably five years I am convinced MLS will be among the best leagues in the world.”
Pogatetz, whose former clubs include Bundesliga teams Nurnberg and Wolfsburg, England’s Middlesbrough and West Ham United and Russian giants Spartak Moscow, offers a strong and commanding presence in the center of the Crew defense.
His arrival has been a welcome addition to a team that, under young American coach Gregg Berhalter, has developed a deserved reputation for playing some of MLS’s most attractive football.
“We try to pass the ball and I like that, I like the style of how we play and I think that sets us, a little bit apart from other teams and I think that is a good thing,” said the Graz-born defender with 61 caps for his country.
“Other teams go very direct, I am used to that from when I played in England. Also it is a physical league but I like what we do, keeping the ball well and moving the ball forward, it is fun to play for the Crew.”
Pogatetz highlights one part of moving to MLS that can appeal to European players - the chance to see the United States and enjoy a different lifestyle.
“Obviously you miss some things from back home but there are a lot of good things in the U.S and I am very grateful that I have this experience,” said Pogatetz.
“When we travel you get to see other cities, the variety of this country is very impressive and something really different from Europe. I really enjoy living here so far.”
But the tough-tackling center-half says any players thinking of making the move to MLS need to be ready for the challenge.
“What I have had to adjust to is the fitness side, the physical side,” said Pogatetz. “Everyone in this league is really fit and you have to be prepared for that.”
Editing by Frank Pingue