CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 06: David Beckham #23 and Robbie Keane #14 of the Los Angeles Galaxy celebrate on the victory stand after the game with Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center on November 6, 2011 in Carson, California. The Galaxy won 3-1 to advance to the MLS Cup. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Many players on all levels of the pay scale are discovering the benefits of playing in a stable league like MLS.
It's been a pretty wild offseason already, but Major League Soccer really doesn't seem to have faired so badly. Sure, some of the league's younger talent like Tim Ream and George John have decided to try their luck overseas, but the marquee names seem to be liking it just fine. David Beckham most famously spurned Paris Saint-Germain to stay with the LA Galaxy and now it appears that Robbie Keane is set to do the same thing with Aston Villa.
While it could certainly be argued that having older players like Keane, Beckham and Thierry Henry choosing to play in MLS only bolsters the league's reputation as a retirement league, the fact that all three seem to be capable of landing jobs in Europe -- and more importantly playing well -- suggests there's more at play than simply looking for a soft place to land. As the trio have obviously learned, the lifestyle in the United States is pretty good.
To some degree, all three can live something that at least seems like a normal life in comparison to how they'd have to live in Europe. While Beckham may not exactly be able to go to the local Starbucks without being asked for an autograph, he doesn't live under anything like the scrutiny he did in the England or Spain. Henry and Keane, while obviously famous, might even be able to sit down at a local pub and comfortably be able to have a pint.
But even for lesser paid players, it's not necessarily so bad either. We've all heard stories about players in Mexico failing to get paid or much, much worse. There's been a virtual exodus of Colombians to MLS in recent years for very similar reasons. It's not even reserved for Central and South America, as Scotland's Kris Boyd was recently considering a move to MLS mainly because he hadn't been paid by his Turkish employer.
So far, 39 players have signed with MLS from leagues outside of the United States and Canada, and that doesn't even include players who first came through various lower-division teams. The bulk of those players have come from Central and South America, with Colombia accounting for six of them all by itself. Conversely, even including John, Ream and Sebastien Le Toux -- none of whom have officially left MLS yet -- the league has lost just eight players to foreign leagues this offseason.
As many mid-level MLS players have discovered, there's something to be said for having a reliable paycheck and knowing that your team is in no danger of losing its home stadium. Clearly, life on the lower end of the MLS payscale is not all puppies and unicorns. Every team has at least a handful of guys making in the neighborhood of $36,000 and a significant percentage of the league's players are making less than $50,000 a year.
It's that lower end of the payscale that is still driving many otherwise qualified players away, but for every Billy Schuler -- a promising North Carolina product who chose to sign in Sweden rather than accept a Generation Adidas contract -- there seems to be a Mauro Rosales -- the former River Plate start who accepted a minimum salary to come to MLS last season. On another level, it's also worth noting that guys like Robbie Rogers and Robbie Findley -- neither of whom were particularly successful during their time in MLS -- were still attractive to teams in England.
Clearly, MLS still has a long ways to go in terms of upgrading the talent here. But as much as any offseason in MLS history, this one seems to be showing obvious signs of progress.