After receiving his P-1 visa and going through a week of training 23 year-old Geoffrey Castillion made his official debut Saturday night against the Montreal Impact. In the 76th minute of the game Charlie Davies made way for the 6'3 target forward from the Netherlands. Castillion is a product of the Ajax academy system and is looking to kick start his career in MLS after struggling to break into the prestigious first team. The debut and arrival of Castillion is exciting for a number of reasons, as I believe he could blossom into something truly special.
Your first thought when you hear about someone not being able to break into a first team overseas could be that A: the player might have been great as a kid, but then fizzled out; B: the player is too raw; or C: MLS just signed another washout.Whatever the thought might be, it must be noted that breaking into the best team in the Eredivisie is no easy task. Ajax competes in the UEFA Champions League almost annually and has finished first in the Dutch division the past 4 years running. The illustrious club has also produced some truly wonderful recent talents such as Daley Blind, Christian Eriksen, Wesley Sneijder, and Luis Suarez to name a few. So, MLS competition might be the perfect level for Castillion to find his groove.
However, we will most likely have to wait until next season to see if he has acclimated himself to MLS as there are only 6 games left in the regular season, not to mention the fact that Charlie Davies has proven to be the go-to forward. So if he isn't going to be an immediate impact then how exactly is this signing significant? Well, the significance of this particular case lies in the fact that this signing reflects a new direction that MLS seems to be going.
This new direction that I am talking about directly conflicts with the stigma that currently surrounds MLS, which is that the league is one where veterans come to play their last few years of soccer. Players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Marco Di Vaio, and now Kaka and Frank Lampard have helped create this perception. However, this stigma can be debunked on a number of levels by looking at reality, rather than the front-page news. Even though these "big name" players are coming to the States to finish out the latter part of their careers, that does not mean that MLS is failing to grow from the ground up. Indeed, the reason the retirement league theory exists in the first place is because "big names" grab media attention, which casts a shadow over the growth that is sweeping MLS at a rapid rate.
For example, youth academy systems are becoming more prominent and are serving as a premier feeding system to the senior level. Players like Gyasi Zardes, Harrison Shipp, and Diego Fagundez are a few examples of homegrown talent that are revolutionizing MLS (no pun intended). In addition to homegrown talent, the Designated Player option is being utilized more regularly around the league and in a different way. Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Defoe are all under DP tags, and these players are guys who are not only in their prime, but bring top-notch quality to the field. Thirdly, and this is where my example of Castillion comes in, MLS is becoming the ideal location for players that couldn't quite make it in the upper level overseas.
These are the type of players that MLS needs to develop if the league is to reach the next level. A guy like Castillion is about to enter his prime and possesses all the raw tools to be an elite forward in the league. Now the challenge of turning potential into solid talent falls on the coaching staff and senior members of MLS. Fortunately, the large number of older "big name" players in this league can help sped up the growth process.
For example, lets look at what is happening in New York with the Red Bulls. Bradley Wright Phillips is a player who never quite made it into the Premier League and ended up floating around the lower divisions before coming to MLS. With the help of Thierry Henry, Phillips' growth as a player was instantly accelerated as he has scored over 20 goals this year. Perhaps, Castillion could have a similar impact after being around a solid coaching staff and a guy like Jones.
So, will Geoffrey Castillion be the next big thing? It's really difficult to say as we haven't seen enough of him and because he has only been with the team for a few weeks. But, what isn't difficult to say is that his transfer to MLS is a great opportunity for not only himself, but for the coaching staff to prove that they can maximize their player's potentials.
And if they succeed? Well that's not only good for Castillion and the Revs, but also MLS as a whole. After all, Castillion is really just one of the many players from around the league that are on the brink of upgrading MLS as a whole.