When Toronto FC signed Sebastian Giovinco in January of last year, the move was heralded as a watershed moment for Major League Soccer.
In the prime of his career, and a regular for the Italian national team, Giovinco’s arrival finally seemed to dispel the widely held notion of the MLS as a retirement league. Furthermore, with the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey returning to the domestic league, as well as the additions of promising and established talents like Gaston Fernandez, Erick “Cubo” Torres, and Ignacio Piatti, the Italian’s signing fed into the perception that the MLS was on track to becoming relevant in the Americas.
That perception took a hit on Wednesday when the LA Galaxy announced the signing of Ashley Cole.
At 35, and coming off a long inactive period as a result of a contract dispute with AS Roma (he last played for the club in March of last year), Cole is exactly the kind of signing that inspires MLS detractors to call it a retirement league.
The issue here is not whether Cole can compete in the league. In his prime, the former Arsenal and Chelsea left-back was among the very best players in his position, and while he is very much in the twilight of his career now, the Englishman will still improve the Galaxy’s back-line, which was its Achilles heel, last season.
The problem is that in signing Cole, the LA Galaxy takes on a player that has exhausted most, if not all, other playing options after a failed stint in the Italian capital. The player himself intimated in 2014 that a move to United States would be akin to retirement when he rejected offers from MLS teams and opted instead to sign for Roma, claiming he was “not ready to relax on the beach.”
A signing like Cole’s, which is understandably perceived as a last resort decision, is damaging to a league that, as Don Garber contends, aspires to establish itself as one of the world’s best.
It not only sends the message to players with decorated careers that the MLS will welcome them when nobody else will, but, more importantly, leaves the league open to criticism from influential figures like Mexico national team manager, Juan Carlos Osorio, who can dissuade the kinds of players the league really wants from joining its teams.
Unsurprisingly, Osorio’s assertion that the MLS is “for the end of a career, and not for when a footballer has a lot to give,” did not sit well with the American soccer punditry – especially since he coached in the league. But one cannot begrudge the Colombian for his sentiment. After all, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Kaka will in all likelihood finish their careers in the United States.
At least one can make the argument that those players have the star power to sell tickets.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about Ashley Cole.
Follow Eric Krakauer on Twitter @bigsoccerheadny
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