There was a distinct progression in North American soccer news this week, from the surreal to the newsworthy – to the newsworthy and surreal.
Out of Florida – site of most of the continent’s outlandish tales – came word that a second-division player had been traded from one team to another in exchange for … travel and hotel accommodations (really).
In Atlanta, the NASL’s Silverbacks announced that they had “eliminated” their head-coaching position, and – in a move they pricelessly described as a “progressive approach to new-age management” – tabbed Fox Sports analyst Eric Wynalda as their part-time, remotely based manager. (He’ll keep his TV gig.)
South of the border, the “Camilo Vortex” gathered steam in Querétaro, Mexico.
While those developments fluttered down around us like confetti (infused with nitrous oxide), Toronto FC grabbed headlines by announcing that they’d finalized their long-rumored acquisition of Tottenham and England striker Jermain Defoe. (The 31-year-old attacker celebrated the news by scoring a goal in Spurs’ 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday. He’ll join the Reds in late February.)
And then came the showstopper: On Wednesday, Taylor Twellman of ESPN tweeted that Toronto FC were “on the verge” of signing US national team linchpin Michael Bradley.
The following day, Bradley’s Serie A side Roma seconded the news.
A Toronto FC source, while not exactly confirming the move, told Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl that acquiring Bradley “would be the greatest day ever in MLS.”
So, with the transfer confirmed today, is this the greatest day ever in MLS? Is Bradley’s signing the biggest acquisition in the league’s 18-year history?
Before we get to that, let’s define the term – or our purposes, "biggest acquisition" means, "an excellent player with the greatest power to impact the game on these shores and boost MLS."
Here, then, are the Postgame’s Top 5 Greatest Signings in MLS History:
5. Thierry Henry, New York, 2010
Wow Factor: 8.5. An Arsenal legend, Henry was one of the best players in the world in his prime, and his signing was a coup for the Red Bulls and MLS. Would be higher if not for the shadow of the David Beckham signing three years earlier, and the fact that Henry was a month shy of his 33rd birthday when he arrived.
On-Field Impact: 9. He has 41 goals in 92 appearances for New York, and helped the club win its first trophy in 18 years, the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. He also returned to Arsenal on loan in 2012 and bagged two game-winners for the North London club, showing that MLS hadn’t blunted his goalscoring sharpness.
Off-Field Effect: 7. Henry has imparted credibility and publicity to the league, but the mainstream US sports fan doesn’t know a whole lot about him, and some fans (read: Eurosnobs) have written off his MLS sojourn as a golden parachute into retirement.
4. Clint Dempsey, Seattle, 2013
Wow Factor: 9.5. No one – but no one – saw Dempsey’s shock move coming last August, when he left Tottenham, and his dreams of UEFA Champions League soccer, to don the rave green in Seattle. Would be "10" if he were still in his 20s.
On-Field Impact: 6/TBD. Deuce underperformed last year, possibly misjudging how difficult it would be to join the Sounders in midseason, without having had much of a preseason at Tottenham. But hopes remain sky-high for 2014.
Off-Field Effect: 9. Dempsey’s move made international headlines and kindled fierce debate among fans about whether it was the right decision. The transfer also doubled as a ringing endorsement of MLS and the strides the league has made.
3. Landon Donovan, San Jose, 2001
Wow Factor: 6. Donovan was only 19 when he joined the Earthquakes on loan from Bayer Leverkusen, where he’d gone after his Golden Ball performance at the 1999 U-17 World Cup. He was regarded as the brightest young US talent, but he had struggled in Germany, and there was no guarantee he would develop into the player he became. (He signed an MLS contract in 2005, shifting to LA.)
On-Field Impact: 10. He helped transform San Jose from a last-place team in 2000 to MLS champions in 2001, and has won a total of five MLS Cups with the Quakes and Galaxy. He’ll be on top of the league’s all-time goals and assists lists when he retires – and he’s proved you can develop into an international-caliber star by staying in MLS.
Off-Field Effect: 9. Donovan has been the poster boy for US Soccer for years now, and after his historic game-winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, his Q rating spiked, vaulting him into the mainstream American consciousness. If you think he’s too high on the list, picture the league without him during the past 13 years.
2. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC, 2014
Wow Factor: 10. We have half a mind to pull a Nigel Tufnel and make this go to 11. Bradley has gradually built an impressive career in Europe, and at 26, seemed on the verge of even greater achievements abroad. Instead, he’s heading back to MLS and TFC, of all places.
On-Field Impact: TBD. But the sky’s the limit. Bradley is the best box-to-box midfielder on the US national team, perhaps the best player overall, and could be the best in US history before he’s done. He’ll have a full preseason with his new team, which now features Defoe, Dwayne De Rosario and talented Brazilian striker Gilberto.
Off-Field Effect: 9/TBD. It’s obviously very early, but so far, Bradley’s decision has set off shockwaves both here and abroad. If he follows up his transfer with strong performances in MLS and the 2014 World Cup, Bradley’s signing will speak volumes for the league, and the game in this country.
1. David Beckham, LA Galaxy, 2007
Wow Factor: 10. Everything about this move was blockbuster, from the numbers bandied about ($250 million? … not quite) to the Tinseltown destination, to the global-icon player. The eyes of the entire world turned to MLS when this one broke.
On-Field Impact: 8.5. There were fits and starts (and injuries and loans), but don’t forget: Beckham played in three MLS Cups during his US stint, and his club won two of them. He notched a team-leading 15 assists in 2011, and bagged nine goals and seven assists in 2012, as LA won back-to-back titles.
Off-Field Effect: 10. Again, we might need a new dial for this one: Beckham’s off-field effect was immense, from sponsorship deals to jersey sales to gate receipts and global recognition.