Football: MLS now a playing ground for stars in their prime

Giovani dos Santos (No. 10) of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with team-mates Robbie Keane (No.7) and Sebastian Lletget (No. 17) against New York City FC.
Giovani dos Santos (No. 10) of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with team-mates Robbie Keane (No.7) and Sebastian Lletget (No. 17) against New York City FC.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CARSON (United States) • Major League Soccer (MLS) has long relied on former European club stars to promote its game.

Two of them, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, graced the cover of the programme in Sunday's game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City FC.

Though City's injured Lampard did not play in the Galaxy's 5-1 victory, there was still plenty of top talent on display at StubHub Centre.

Even luckier for the league - and in contrast with years past - this game also featured a new type of star player. He is one who chose to play in the United States despite being coveted by European teams.

Perhaps more importantly, he is under 30 and in his prime.

It has been an impressive season for MLS as it has brought in David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Gerrard and Lampard.

While older European club players had previously joined the league, it had not really been able to point to a player who chose an MLS team over an opportunity to shine with an established European club.

Sebastian Giovinco, who left Juventus for Toronto FC and has been one of the best players in MLS this year, is one such player.

Another was on display on Sunday: Giovani dos Santos, 26, who represents something of a coup for the Galaxy and the league.

For the league, and his new team, it certainly does not hurt that he is the Mexican national team's star.

"Certainly, Giovani being Mexican and being in LA has added media interest," Chris Klein, the Galaxy's president, said.

From the league's perspective, being able to point to the presence of dos Santos is significant in that he challenges the notion that it is a senior tour for European club stars nearing the end of their careers.

"I just don't believe... that when a player towards the end of his career joins MLS, it indicates he's not going to compete as hard for his MLS team as he did for his club in England, Italy or Spain," league commissioner Don Garber said .

Dos Santos made good on the expectations surrounding him by scoring a goal and assisting on another.

Robbie Keane, the team's captain, scored two goals while Gerrard had an assist.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'MLS now a playing ground for stars in their prime'. Print Edition | Subscribe