This offseason has seen an influx of Liga MX stars join MLS clubs. The high-profile transfers are obviously good for the development of the league, but only to a certain point.
There has been a very noticeable and significant shift in the business of Major League Soccer this offseason. For the first time in the history of the league, teams are now committing to the way of the wallet. Even traditionally cautious organisations are investing heavily in their teams.
It is a response to the growing dominance of the richest teams in the league. Toronto FC and Seattle played in their third MLS Cups in four years. Atlanta United only fell in the previous round, while the Los Angeles teams bring a level of investment and dominance that most others simply cannot match.
This spending has seen many teams turn to Liga MX for new talent. Sporting KC broke their transfer record by signing Alan Pulido from Chivas Guadalajara. The Vancouver Whitecaps did the same to acquire Lucas Cavallini from Puebla. So did the Columbus Crew when they signed Lucas Zelarayan from Tigres UANL. Edison Flores arrived in D.C. from Monarcas Morelia this week.
And this comes in the aftermath of major moves like Raul Ruidiaz, Darwin Quintero, Brian Fernandez and Gustavo Bou all arriving from Liga MX teams and becoming key players for their respective MLS teams. There is an undeniable growing trend of Liga MX players choosing to ditch the Mexican league for the North American equivalent. But why?
Well, Pulido, who is perhaps the most significant signing of the lot given that he is actually Mexican, was asked precisely that this week. This was his response, which is extremely telling:
"“The first thing is, life is different here in terms of the quality of life. That being said, the league in itself has grown a great amount. There have been names that have joined the league like David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. This motivates players because you want to be on the stage with those types of names.”"
Pulido also spoke about Tata Martino being the head coach of the Mexican National Team and the fact that he has coached in MLS before, thus lending the league more credence with national team selections. Pulido mentions players like David Beckham and Wayne Rooney to praise the growing competitiveness and quality of the league, which, in all reality, is not an accurate appraisal.
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The point is this: the reason why many of these Liga MX players now moving to MLS is because of the greater ‘quality of life’, as Pulido himself concedes. Moreover, with greater investment from many teams, the wages are also rising, which is possible due to now having three designated players. Put simply, the primary reason why these players are moving from Liga MX is not football.
Now, that is not necessarily problematic. The Premier League attracts talent from around Europe and the world because its teams can offer the highest wages and the best quality of life. Even within England, some teams pay a premium for where they are. London teams often find it easier to attract players. Sunderland or Burnley, not so much.
However, the Premier League has transformed in its attractiveness. It built up its quality through higher wages and a greater quality of life, but it now maintains its pulling power because of that quality and greater competitiveness. The Premier League is the best league in the world is because it was the richest and most attractive. MLS is taking a similar path in regards to its Liga MX transfers.
So, for now, the influx of Liga MX is a brilliant thing for MLS. It will bring higher quality players into the league and it will improve the overall standard of North American soccer. But it must translate into a new motivation for future footballers to follow. Forever trying to attract players based on high wages and a cushty life is unsustainable, and MLS will need to figure out how to fix it.