Rumors are coming out that big European clubs, like Athletico Madrid, are continuing to scout Juan Agudelo. This is nothing new; the American phenom that European clubs come over to scout. But this script plays it in a couple of different ways. As much as I dread United facing him, I think that Juan Agudelo needs to stay in MLS for at least this season and the next, for the sake of his development. Everyone knows that MLS is not yet on the same level as the top leagues in Europe; but MLS is good enough to develop quality players, both for those leagues and for the national team.
Clint Dempsey, for example, amassed 74 appearances in MLS, playing in almost every game over the course of 3 full seasons, before transferring to Fulham in 2007. Stuart Holden made 105 appearances in MLS, playing almost every match for 3.5 seasons before transferring to Bolton. The case against moving early could be Jozy Altidore. Altidore made 37 total appearances in MLS, starting for one full season, before transferring to Villareal in the middle of the 2008 season. Jozy has never had consistent starting minutes in any of his European adventures so far, save his season with Hull City.
Gale Agbossoumonde, a U-20 centerback, is an example of another risk faced by young players. He signed a 3.5 year contract with Traffic Sports and has found difficulty finding a club and consistent playing time. He rejected what he thought was a lowball offer from MLS’s Generation Adidas and thought that this would be a better move. Traffic seems like a pretty shady company that is not working in the best interest of its players; there is a great Soccernet article about them and Boss which explores their shadiness.
But just counting caps is not an indication of whether someone is ready or not. Freddy Adu played in 98 MLS matches before transferring to Benefica and we all know how that has worked out so far. Michael Bradley transferred to Heenrenveen after one season with the MetroStars, but has played well both there and at ‘Gladbach and has become a stalwart for the national team. And you cannot blame players for wanting to transfer; most American soccer players grow up idolizing teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid, and AC Milan, and if an opportunity presents itself to move closer to one of those teams, many people would take it. There is also the fact that players sometimes want to transfer for reasons that make sense off the field. Money can play a large role in these deals, making some players jump into a situation for which he is not ready.
I, obviously, do not know Juan Agudelo, or any MLS player for that matter. Juan Agudelo could be ready to go overseas and light it up, because he is a different player than Freddy Adu, or Jozy Altidore, or Clint Dempsey. But what I do know is that MLS gives young, talented players a unique opportunity to develop their game on the field; players like Juan Agudelo and Andy Najar can learn and develop while getting starting minutes. If players start to recognize this fact, not only will they do themselves a favor, but they can also help raise the quality and reputation of the league as a whole.