As I watched Spain’s 5-1 drubbing by the Netherlands, I couldn’t help but think of how it might affect international perceptions of MLS. The link between La Furia Roja and MLS is contentious since David Villa has never played in the league having only inked his contract with NYCFC 10 days before the World Cup began. Still, seeing Villa watch from the sidelines as his teammates were outclassed by the Netherlands brought back memories of MLS as a retirement league. The thought came to me during a conversation with Ben Saufley.
@SethMan31 Ah of course. Yeah. SOMEONE will say it. Others will say this game is evidence of Spain aging… so "retirement league"— Ben Saufley (@bensaufley) June 13, 2014
The months before the World Cup were filled with remarkable singings that highlighted the growth of MLS. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, both stars on the US national team, made the move stateside while in the prime of their careers. World Cup hopefuls Maurice Edu and Jermain Defoe came to MLS to better their chances of making the trip to Brazil. Julio Cesar, a presumed starter for the host country, joined Toronto FC to get in shape before the big dance.
Villa became NYCFC’s first ever player when he signed a contract on June 2nd. I have no doubt that the team and the league pushed for the agreement to be made ahead of the World Cup. The signing was highly publicized with a billboard appearing in midtown Manhattan soon after the announcement. Furthermore, the team and league are already selling Villa shirts. Villa may never have played in MLS, but he was certainly going to be representing the league.
The striker never got off of the bench during Spain’s loss to the Netherlands. After Xabi Alonso scored the opener from the penalty spot, it was all Netherlands with Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben both scoring braces and Stefan de Vrij adding a goal of his own. Despite needing a goal, head coach Vicente del Bosque never inserted the program’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Instead del Bosque started Brazilian-born Diego Costa while later introducing Fernando Torres and Pedro Rodriguez. Already experiencing one game as an unused substitute, you have to hope that NYCFC and MLS are hopeful that Villa might see more minutes in Spain’s upcoming match against Chile, especially considering that the team didn’t fare well without him.
Villa proclaimed that he decided to sign with NYCFC because he wanted "to try to help MLS continue to grow and try to make New York City become the best team in the league," but is his status as a reserve for the national team drawing negative attention? The signings of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and more were accompanied by complaints that MLS is nothing more than a retirement league. Is Villa confirming this idea? Will the league ever shake this perception?