If you step foot on European soil and ask about the perception of Major League Soccer, odds are you will have the term "retirement league" enter the conversation. While many MLS fans might disagree with this assessment, there are certainly enough examples to give the title some credibility.
It is true that some of the biggest names in the League's history joined in their early to mid thirties, and as long we continue to rely on aging stars like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa, and even Kaká to carry the league, MLS's identity will remain the same.
We all want MLS to grow its own stars and change the current label that has plagued the league for so long. Thankfully, there are a couple of Orlando City SC players who just might start the movement to redefine Major League Soccer.
Rafael Ramos and Estrela are both incredibly young Portuguese internationals with enormous potential. The fact that Orlando was able to steal these two at their age says wonders about the club's ambition and are the types of signings the league needs to target to grow from the bottom up.
Adrian Heath's two Benfica signings could have spent a few years developing in the Portuguese club's youth system, enjoyed a couple of loan spells to lower division or weaker top flight teams, and finally broken into the first team. Instead, the two youngsters decided against this normal career progression that most of their countrymen take and joined Orlando City.
After moving to Orlando, both Ramos and Estrela made their Portugal U-20 debuts and have put themselves in the equation for future consideration. If they end up having a good debut season with the Lions, they could easily become regulars at the youth level for the next couple of years. While they are certainly far from making a splash on Portugal's senior team, they could be the best chance for an MLS-based player to make an impact on a major European powerhouse.
Every World Cup the number of MLS players represented increases, but the vast majority come from the United States or CONCACAF underdogs who don't have a realistic chance at World Cup glory. Everyone expects the USMNT to be riddled with players from its domestic league, so even if the U.S. performs well on the international stage, the world will need something a little bigger to rethink their perception. MLS players on the roster of serious Cup contenders would be an excellent start.
Estrela and Ramos may never come close to making Portugal's senior team, but at age 19 and 20, respectively, they will have plenty of time to develop under Adrian Heath. With a little bit of luck, we might see them as legitimate poster boys in Russia or Qatar, doing both the Lions and MLS proud.