We’ve heard it repeated that Major League Soccer remains a retirement league, lacks quality playmakers, blah blah blah.
Tell that to the more than 32,000 fans whose “We want Pirlo!” chant gained the wanted response in the form of the genuine article stepping onto the grass at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Coming in at the 57th minute, Italian legend Andrea Pirlo joined fellow World Cup champions, teammate David Villa and opponent Kaká (Orlando City SC), in putting on a show for the ages. Play opened up, the teams scored five goals, and NYCFC treated fans to a thrilling 5-3 victory.
Pirlo’s debut capped a massive month. if not year, for Major League Soccer, as a number of international stars committed to the North American continent.
It all started when both expansion teams, Orlando City SC and NYCFC, signed 33-year-old, world-famous talents. Kaká went to the Sunshine State and Villa became New York City’s first-ever player. Chelsea legend Super Frankie Lampard signed with the Big Apple soon after.
Overshadowed by the incoming veterans, Toronto FC made the biggest move in the 20-year history of MLS. Teams have signed older players before, but luring rising Juventus star Sebastian Giovinco away from European powerhouses such as Barcelona and Arsenal proved colossal. Twenty-five-years young and in the prime of his career, Giovinco plays as easily one of the league’s best talents, already contributing 13 goals and 10 assists.
Thankfully, the flurry didn’t end there. Following Barcelona’s Champions League triumph, a number of players made the move across the Atlantic during the European offseason. Liverpool great, Steven Gerrard, joined the LA Galaxy. Another Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba, committed to Montreal, and Shaun Wright-Phillips will join his brother in a Red Bulls uniform.
More notably, Giovani dos Santos, fresh off of Mexico’s CONCACAF championship, debuts for the LA Galaxy after the MLS All-Star game this week. Dos Santos, like Giovinco, spurned a number of European suitors to play out his glory days in North America, an exciting trend that hopefully continues.
American fans have reacted to the moves, and with league attendance up almost 16%, according to socceramerica.com, the international community takes note, too. Chelsea skipper José Mourinho, reacting to a preseason victory against French champions PSG (played in North Carolina), praised America’s growing support of the beautiful game.
“I think it’s not normal to bring 60,000 fans to a friendly match,” said Mourinho. “The people gave us an atmosphere that is not normal in a friendly match. This is a match where you are not obsessed with the result, we just want to train. The people made this a big atmosphere and we thank you a lot for that.”
“Maybe when we don’t have Stamford Bridge for a couple of years we can come here and play a couple of matches in the Premier League,” he added when asked about his team’s current stadium situation.
One no longer needs to squint to see the action overseas. For many reasons, including the stars overseas bringing the action here, fútbol has been blowing up in the United States.