When the big boys of the English Premier League dash around frantically on transfer deadline day (September 1) with their trolley trying to pick up any player worth a fee, Major League Soccer clubs will kick their feet up and enjoy the show across the pond.
Although Europe thinks differently, the soccer world no longer revolves around them. For MLS teams, two windows are open where franchises can buy and sell. The primary window kick starts February 18 before shutting May 12. July 8 to August 6 is a secondary window that allows clubs to recover when injury hits or they smell a challenge late on in the season.
Major League Soccer no longer remains a novelty competition, it has genuine pedigree. David Beckham changed perceptions when he joined the Galaxy in his early 30s, a move no one saw coming. The league has progressed to such a degree that current USA internationals don’t feel the pressure to move to Europe to make World Cup squads. The likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are thriving and this hasn’t been lost on the rest of the soccer world.
MLS teams are market heavyweights, simple. Take Sebastian Giovinco and Giovanni Dos Santos for example, current Italian and Mexican internationals respectively. Both men in their mid 20s, they could have had their pick of most of what Europe has to offer, but they chose America. The imports of Gerrard, Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo surprise nobody these days.
But before we get cocky, not every gamble on the overseas superstar has paid off. There was a time when MLS was considered a glamorous retirement league, and the sport paid a price for it. So here we go, let's name and shame the Top 10 Worst MLS Transfer Flops Ever!
10 Kris Boyd
At the time the Portland Timbers probably thought it was a smart piece of business pulling in the Scottish striker. Like a lot of other Oregon franchises, the Timbers don’t have the biggest pulling power and they need to play a lot smarter than the likes of L.A. Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, but this move was just plain dumb!
2012 was a time of optimism entering the competition fresh and the former Glasgow Rangers front man had an outstanding record, scoring better than a goal every second game. For whatever reason, the $1.5 million the Timbers dished out only returned 7 goals. Not a disaster, but for that money you need so much more.
9 Mustapha Jarju
Credit where credit is due for the Vancouver Whitecaps. When Mustapha Jarju’s 10 appearances left no one under any illusion that the Gambian player was out of his depth, they terminated the contract at seasons end with immediate effect. No waiting around, just swift and decisive action.
Signing on at 25, they probably thought there was enough potential to get value, but coming from Belgium’s 2nd division should have been enough to convince the Whitecaps he wasn’t worth the investment. Jarju did make a piece of history though, becoming the first African player to have designated player status in the MLS. He would go on to make history as the first designated player to leave without scoring a goal.
If the club he came from was a mouthful (Deportivo La Coruna), then Toronto FC should have saved its breath on the aptly named Mista. The facts of the case are this – the Spaniard allotted zero goals from nine games, costing the Canadian franchise a cool $1 million for their troubles. That’s daylight robbery, there is no other way of understanding how much someone could get paid that amount of money for flopping so badly. TFC wanted rid so badly they waved his contract and paid out Mista, they couldn’t take any more. Who could blame them?
7 Julian de Guzman
A rare commodity for Canadian clubs in the MLS is securing the services of a local international. Toronto FC must have thought they hit the jackpot when Julian de Guzman signed on the dotted line for $2 million a season. Fast forward four years and 65 appearances later and it would be fair to summarize Julian as being a major flop. Crippling injuries meant he was on the scrapheap to FC Dallas, but ended that stint as a free agent. TFC have been a lot more selective since, picking up American international Jozy Altidore to lead the line.
The attributes that make Brazilians great soccer players can also work against them when their team needs them to put in the hard yards. Unfortunately for FC Dallas their punt on Denilson was a costly mistake because they laid out a huge $1 million for a return of eight appearances and a single goal. Moving from Al Nassr in the Middle East in 2007, he came with a big reputation after earning 60 games for the Brazil national team. Once that was behind him, so was his motivation to put in an effort.
The loan system in soccer can be a lifesaver – paying a percentage of a player's wage while all of the responsibility of the contract terms remain with the parent club. But this rarely works when said player travels to a different continent because the adjustment to a new country and lifestyle overwhelms the individual.
Jeferson’s short stay at Sporting Kansas City in 2011 ended after just eight games. Moving on loan from Vasco da Gama in Brazil, Jeferson was supposed to be the star creator to shoot Kansas to great heights. That intention cost $485,000 for no goals.
4 Adrian Lopez
Let’s hope our next entrant has a sense of humor because if you flop at a team called Montreal Impact, then you have problems. When you can’t sign a Steven Gerrard, David Beckham or Andrea Pirlo, often clubs will have to take a gamble on someone with a less than impeccable fitness record. This was the case for Spanish defender Adrian Lopez.
The Iberian sounded sexy enough to be a hit in the MLS, but his injury record should have sounded alarm bells. 11 appearances for Wigan in two years and 26 games for Deportivo La Coruna in 3, not pretty reading. Sitting 2014 out with a torn ACL was a fitting way to end a sorry spell for Lopez and the Impact.
3 Lothar Matthaus
When a competition like Major League Soccer had a reputation for being a retirement league, then people like Lothar Matthaus has a lot to answer for. What is so frustrating is that out of everyone else, Lothar had so much more he could give. A World Cup winner with Germany in 1990, Matthaus moved from European powerhouse Bayern Munich in 2000 and finished as a club legend.
The problem for the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) was they didn’t get the memo – Matthaus was finished, period! After 16 appearances that were less than flattering, the German courted controversy when he was pictured living the high life in Monaco during a stint in rehab. Lothar never took the league seriously and he paid the price.
2 Freddie Ljungberg
Perhaps the most surprising entrant to the list, poster boy Freddie had his moments for the Seattle Sounders for three seasons, but the franchise’s investment was absurd. The Swedish winger was best known for his spell at North London giants Arsenal where he won the Premier League and FA Cup titles multiple times until he had a spell away from soccer.
Freddie’s contract in the North West amounted to $10 million and while he made the All Stars squad, a string of injuries and rumors of a return to Europe never helped matters. A switch to Chicago only returned two goals, which was the same he managed for the Sounders.
1 Rafa Marquez
The New York Red Bulls put everything on black, but it came up red. Looking back the $15 million investment over three seasons may as well have been flushed down the toilet, because it stands as the biggest mistake any MLS side has made over the two decades the competition has been running.
A Mexican international from Barcelona, Rafa Marquez ticked the right boxes. Experienced in winning and playing consistent soccer, he was intended to be the rock the Red Bulls would build on. Instead, a litany of injuries, red cards and shocking errors made him the most expensive of liabilities. Marquez is adamant the move to New York was a mistake. At a guess we’d say the feeling is mutual Rafa!