I am typing this after spending way too many hours in airports trying to get across the pond again for business travel. You know you are starting to travel too much when airline gate attendants and gate area concession workers start to recognize you. The one thing that travel affords me is time to think, time to ponder and review, and time to chat with strangers about the beautiful game, both MLS and leagues abroad.
Football certainly seems to be on the forefront of most strangers’ minds I bump into. As has become more and more obvious, the world is starting to pay a bit more attention to the United States and MLS when it comes to football. More than once in the past 48 hours, I have heard the names of Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, and surprisingly, but not that surprisingly, Nani.
You cannot chat with people from Scotland, especially the residents of Glasgow that I have had the pleasure of talking to, without spending a little time discussing Weah. The young American has made a name for himself in a good way, even from some Rangers FC fans I talked to in the Newark Airport, although they may not admit it once they are standing on Scotland proper. To make up for it, there are sure to be a few moments discussing Matt Polster, and how he went from MLS to the Scottish Premier League. Many of the people I talked to were also fairly versed in U.S. and MLS soccer as a whole, and it was honestly a bit shocking.
Pulisic, Bobby Wood, and Josh Sargent were discussed at length, as was the upcoming friendly match on the schedule for March 21. I have to admit, for a group of people I never expected to be so informed on U.S. Soccer, the people I met over the last 72 hours might even be more informed than me. They were all honestly curious, and were paying attention to what MLS could do for players in the transfer windows. Before I could help their cause, they almost unanimously brought up Miguel Almiron and the transfer to Newcastle United. Face it, folks. Almiron making a statement in Europe is massive for MLS, regardless of which team he came from (I fully realize some of you may never forgive or forget).
One of the most bitter pills to swallow is the collective pill of MLS players, bound by the single-entity system, being sold abroad, and what that truly means for the club. I honestly believe that Almiron going to Newcastle will be a gold star for MLS, helping to sway the stigma of MLS as a retirement league. The people I have had the pleasure of sharing a pint with agree. Even after expressing why I cannot, in good conscious, root for anything associated with Atlanta United, rooting on Almiron was in the best interest of everyone.
The conversations over the past few days have shown me that MLS is garnering respect in the UK. It is extremely comforting to hear others speak so highly of the league.