By Paul Kennedy
Let's say it's a Saturday night and you've been out and want to catch up on the day's MLS action.
If your favorite team isn't playing or you're not a fan of a particular team, it's going to take something special for you to scroll your Twitter feed or your favorite soccer Web site and check out
the day's MLS action. What's going to separate MLS from all the clutter of soccer highlights?
Only a few MLS players will consistently thrill you. Obafemi Martins
to begin with. A few of the Argentines, Diego Valeri
, Javier Morales
, Federico Higuain
, Mauro Diaz
. You might throw in a bunch of the Revs who are always good
Now, it looks like Martins is headed to China. While the Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey
on Sunday stated that there was no deal in place for the
31-year-old Martins to move to Shanghai Shenhua, a move should be done once Shenhau clears one of its four non-Asian foreigners off its roster, likely French-born Malian international Momo
. (As a player from an AFC member, Australian Tim Cahill
, the former Red Bulls star who quit Shenhau on Tuesday,
Martins scored 40 goals in three MLS
seasons but didn't have a goal or an assist over eight playoff games. If it's an MLS championship Sounders fans crave, some might not be too upset about Martins' exit.
But for MLS
neutrals or soccer agnostics, Martins' impending exit is a huge loss. Nine of Martins' 40 goals were MLS Goals of the Week
. That means nearly a quarter of the time that you watched Martins
score, it was a damn good goal. (I won't count his celebratory flips as adding to the viewing enjoyment.)
Martins' exit also underscores what has always been a problem for MLS and its
fans: the transitory nature of its stars.
We've had Martins to get excited about for all of three years and now he's likely gone. As long as MLS relies so heavily on imported players --
so far 38 of the 76 new signings for 2016 are imports
and that percentage will go up as
the season goes along -- they will always be here today, gone tomorrow.
When Peyton Manning
throws 539 career touchdown passes, NFL fans will have seen every one of them. The same
for Steph Curry
's 1,436 three-pointers. NBA fans will have been able to marvel at every one of them. More often than not, MLS fans will only have a chance to watch along closely with a fraction
of their favorite player's career.
For argument's sake, let's say one home run equates to one goal in terms of their frequency and their watchability. On an average night, there are
almost as many goals in MLS (27.6) as home runs in MLB (30.4). And you're just as likely stay up to watch the goals of the day as the home runs of the day.
As Major League Baseball enters
the 2016 season, 36 active players have hit 200 or more home runs
. As MLS begins 2016, only one active player has even hit the
century mark in goals: Chris Wondolowski
with 109. No one else is even close. The next player with a shot at achieving 100 goals is Robbie Keane
, and he'll need 27 goals in the next two
Sure, there are more MLB teams than MLS teams -- and a lot more dates. But the difference in how often fans get to celebrate along with their favorite players is stark. Landon Donovan
is the all-time MLS goalscorer with 144 goals in a 14-year career. That's a fraction of the goals scored by the all-time leaders in Europe's major leagues:
Bundesliga: Gerd Mueller
English top-flight: Jimmy Greaves
Spanish La Liga: Lionel Messi
French Ligue 1: Delio Onnis
Serie A: Silvio Piola
MLS fans have been fortunate with Martins. He's enjoyed the two most productive seasons of his career in 2014 and 2015.
But wouldn't it
have been great if we had Oba around for all of its 150 career goals?
Or if he'd stay with the Sounders in MLS for the rest of his career?