MLS teams need to smarten up

KURTIS LARSON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:21 PM ET

TORONTO - It’s time to grow up.

Two of Major League Soccer’s biggest clubs are acting like a pair of North American minnows internationally.

With multiple British sources following Thierry Henry’s apparent loan to Arsenal while the L.A. Galaxy’s Robbie Keane looks overseas, the two clubs continue to think less about supporters at home for the short-term satisfaction of their highest-paid players.

Toss in Landon Donovan featuring for Everton last night and two of the league’s marquee franchises are allowing three of the league’s most attractive names to risk injury and exhaustion for little to no gain.

Hampered by a swollen knee that forced him out of a number of MLS fixtures in 2011, the UK’s Metro is reporting that Henry’s move to Arsenal could last into late February or March — more than a month after the Red Bulls are set to enter pre-season camp.

As if cramming in a meaningless friendly with Arsenal last season wasn’t enough, the Red Bulls appear to be bending over backwards for property they’ve invested a great deal in.

Look no further than 2009 to understand the ramifications of having aging talents commit to European loan deals during the MLS off-season.

When the Galaxy granted David Beckham a spell at AC Milan it was only a matter of time before overexertion and overuse caused him to snap his Achilles during a Serie A match against Chievo.

At 31 and 34 respectively, Galaxy and Red Bull supporters have to question the decision to allow Keane and Henry to push themselves during short-term moves that do little to help their respective MLS sides win games.

As we’ve seen before, veteran loan deals can cause a great deal of pain for clubs that should be hunting for MLS Cups.

BECKS COMING BACK?

With a move to Paris Saint-Germain reportedly dead, Beckham looks set to end his career stateside with the MLS Cup champion Galaxy — something that highlights the potential for Toronto to market a “David in the Dome” Champions League quarterfinal date.

Although TFC purists and supporters will likely scoff at the idea of selling Golden Balls as the main attraction when Toronto hosts the Galaxy on March 7, it immediately elevates the buildup to the match.

While there’s no question the game, which was officially moved to the Rogers Centre last month, would have drawn a healthy crowd of at least 25,000, Beckham’s addition could push the event to rival Montreal’s fantastic display three years ago.

Since 2007, other than the opening of BMO Field, the club’s poor form has failed to produce a meaningful spectacle to elevate the team to the front pages of sports sections across the city.

If Beckham’s impending return does in fact improve the profile of the upcoming opening leg, it will be difficult for Toronto’s hockey-crazed publications to ignore a packed Rogers Centre during a critical Cup quarterfinal.

BRIEFLY

In an interview with Everton, Orlando City manager Adrian Heath told his former club’s website he’ll be meeting with MLS officials at the end of next month to pitch his Florida-based, third-tier club as the league’s 20th franchise.

“We’re hoping to be in MLS by 2014,” Heath said. “Things are moving in the right direction.”

Orlando drew as many as 11,000 supporters during the 2011 season and averaged just over 6,000 fans a game — numbers that rival the defunct Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny during the early years of MLS.

League commissioner Don Garber has stated MLS is actively pursuing a second New York franchise to become the league’s 20th club.

3 MLS ‘12 PREDICTIONS

1) THE WAIT IS OVER

Ten spots for 19 teams — three of which are Canadian — are pretty decent odds as the Vancouver Whitecaps, TFC and Montreal Impact search for Canada’s first MLS playoff appearance in 2012. With Vancouver making a number of positive offseason moves and TFC ending 2011 on a high, something has to give — right?

2) VISIBILITY GROWS

Receiving a boost from Kansas City and Vancouver, MLS shattered its previous attendance mark, attracting an average of 17,872 supporters per match last year. With the Houston Dynamo set to unveil a gorgeous new venue and Montreal expecting TFC-like support, MLS could eclipse the 18,000 average attendance mark for the first time. A number of games will also feature on the NBC Sports Network in 2012.

3) BON VOYAGE VOYAGEURS

Tucked safely in the hearts and minds of TFC supporters for three consecutive seasons, lightning won’t strike a third time. While torrential rains aided the Reds in 2011, you get the feeling Toronto is still owed something for the so-called Miracle in Montreal in 2009 — the year Vancouver claims Toronto stole the competition after beating an already eliminated Montreal side 6-1. With the Champions League growing in the hearts and minds of fervent MLS supporters, it will be Vancouver or Montreal competing internationally next summer.


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