MLS transfers create a stir when it surrounds the big-name, international star. But it befits MLS to try to bring back some of those iconic, top American players instead.
With Landon Donovan’s possible retirement looming, MLS can ill afford to be without that elite American talent—one who has excelled at both the club and international level.
MLS has even been able to develop young American talent like Omar Gonzalez, Dax McCarty and Will Bruin to further increase its reputation.
But there’s nothing like a “golden boy.”
Nothing imbues the American population more than an elite American talent dominating in front of an American crowd.
That is what MLS had with Donovan. That is what MLS will lack if it fails to replace him (should he retire).
Now, no credible journalist would suggest that Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey immediately depart Europe to rejoin MLS.
That’s a risible proclamation.
Bradley and Dempsey have each spent part of their careers in MLS. But both are currently in a good run of form at top-flight European clubs.
Dempsey currently finds himself in the first year of a reported three-year, $22.2 million contract with Tottenham Hotspur.
It may have been a shaky start with Spurs, but Dempsey has been in scorching form lately. His brace this past weekend dictates the need for increased playing time.
Not to mention, with 39 points, Tottenham finds itself in the position to secure a spot in next year’s UEFA Champions League. According to Fulham manager Martin Jol, it’s an opportunity Dempsey has been yearning for.
Like Dempsey, Bradley too finds himself in the first year of his contract. The four-year, $3.9 million contract he signed with AS Roma should keep the 25-year-old midfielder with the club for the foreseeable future.
There is no plausible scenario that sees either Dempsey or Bradley back in MLS any time soon.
So, the question is: Which top American player should MLS target?
Last month, rumors swirled about the possibility of Mix Diskerud signing with the Portland Timbers:
But according to Portland owner Merritt Paulson, that deal has appeared to falter:
Always disappointing when deals that were done fall apart. Crazy biz but that's the biz we are in. Next option may make more sense anyway.— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) December 17, 2012
Even if the signing did come to fruition, Diskerud does not boast the standing of a Landon Donovan.
Diskerud’s transfer would have been stellar in the eyes of soccer purists. But a move of that magnitude would fail to create a buzz amongst the casual soccer fans in America.
What MLS needs is a reputable name. MLS needs a talent that has proven his worth in Europe and with the national team.
What MLS needs is Tim Howard.
To some, a goalkeeper is not the most exciting position. A world-class save does not create the same level of excitement as consistent goal scoring.
But tell that to the fans of Íker Casillas, Gigi Buffon and Hope Solo.
Nick Rimando’s performance in last year's playoffs gives prominence to how much excitement a world-class keeper can bring to a match.
Besides, Howard is more than just a goalkeeper. He is an icon in the eyes of American soccer fans.
He fits the criteria of a top American player MLS needs to bring back.
The New Jersey native spent five years with the Metrostars (1998-2003) before being transferred to Manchester United in 2004.
An initial loan in 2006 to Everton has turned into 200-plus appearances with the Toffees. He is currently in the first year of a new four-year deal.
What separates Howard as a plausible scenario for MLS is one of accomplishment.
Howard’s achievements at both the club and international level is far beyond that of Dempsey and Bradley.
He has nothing more to prove overseas, so it would not be to the detriment of his career should he depart from the Premier League.
Bradley and Dempsey, however, do not share the same luxury. Both have the opportunity to match or surpass Howard’s achievements, as they are entering the prime of their careers.
Howard is not.
The 33-year-old keeper—though still effective in goal—has seen better days.
As his scouting report on americansoccernow.com states, he is “not the superhuman shot stopper he once was, and he struggles occasionally on crosses and set pieces.”
Howard has even hinted at a possible return to MLS in a Fox Soccer Exclusive last year:
"There’s been some fun fans that I’ve watched over the years and I’ve had the chance to talk to people in MLS about the league and I just think there’s so many positives to coming back to MLS and playing. Seeing Kasey [Keller], who was my mentor, have so much success and go to a franchise that is so put together, makes me think there is a lot to offer."
The Hexagonal is set to start, so Howard has other pressing matters to be concerned with. But come next January, there is no reason MLS should not mount an aggressive campaign to bring Howard home.
At 34, he would still have a lot to offer MLS teams.
Until then, fingers across America should be crossed in hopes that Donovan returns in 2013.
Follow Eduardo on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC