In a year when Major League Soccer officials struck gold with an new television deal, and opened a glistening, soccer-specific stadium outside of Chicago - with more like it in the works - the league may still lose two of its brightest stars. Clint Dempsey and Dwayne De Rosario, both of whom led their teams to the MLS Cup this season, have their eyes set on greener pitches overseas.
In his most recent column, SI's Grant Wahl reports that Dempsey has received offers from Fulham and Charlton Athletic while De Rosario has been approached by one club in the Premier League and another from the Bundesliga.
Judging by his play aginst international competition in the World Cup, Dempsey's movement overseas would likely be smooth regardless of his destination. But with two of Dempsey's national squad teammates already at Fulham - Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride - you would think a transfer there would be optimal. Whether it be Chartlton or Fulham, though, the winning suitor would likely have to pony up more than the 1.5 million offered to Dempsey last season in order for MLS to approve the transfer.
Though Dempsey looks all but on the next British Airways flight out of here, the De Rosario situation is a bit less depressing to MLS fans. On top of the interest that the Canadian international has garnered across the lake, Toronto FC - MLS' expansion team for the 2007 season - is eager to bring the midfielder home to Ontario. It would take a hefty contract but would surely be a draw to fans in the new market. Plus, it could establish a contempt for Toronto among Houston fans, and we all know MLS could use more rivalries. That being said, the champion Houston Dynamo will be reluctant to part with their star if it means strengthening a league opponent.
Even if De Rosario stays, the situations of both these guys are bittersweet for the American soccer community. On the one hand, it's nice to see European clubs intrigued by what the MLS has to offer. That shows an improvement in the quality of MLS as well as the level of respect for the fledgling league worldwide. At the same time, the departure of these two stalwarts would be yet another blow to a league that needs to enhance its on-field product. MLS has lots of young talent, but people come to watch the best players, guys like Dempsey and De Rosario. It's hard to sell fans on a league in which the best players constantly leave for fame and fortune abroad. That's why few are diehard Triple-A baseball fans.
But it's equally as hard to sell MLS players on the merits of staying put. Consider that the MLS Cup was watched by fewer people in the Houston area than the Texans-Jaguars regular season football game. People chose to watch a, how shall I put this, mind-numbing football game instead of watching their own Dynamo win a championship. Plus, this was a World Cup year. Attendance and television ratings should have been high after the games in Germany piqued everybody's interest. Instead, one of the weakest football games of the day dominated the tv's of a city that had a team in the biggest MLS game of the year.
We would all like to see Dempsey and De Rosario stay. But knowing what they do about the interest level in MLS among Americans, it's hard to say that I wouldn't move to Europe if I had the chance.