Last May, when Major League Soccer announced that the Yankees and Manchester City would bring a soccer team to the five boroughs, everyone knew the club would be flashy. Apples and trees and such. This week, New York City FC made its parents proud by announcing the signing of David Villa, the former Barcelona striker who’s about to lead Spain in its defense of the World Cup.
Just like that, NYCFC has the best player in MLS. Apologies to Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, but Villa just played 120 minutes in the Champions League final. Neither of the Americans has ever even appeared in the competition. And that’s what’s so exciting about Villa’s move to the Land of the Free—he’s still got game.
The fútbol snobs will deny it. They’ll claim that by virtue of moving to MLS, Villa has admitted he can no longer run with the big boys. But what those snobs won’t admit is that Villa would have never moved to MLS if the league wasn’t on its way to becoming one of the big boys. Yes, it’s still a long way out, but luring players like Villa, who would be welcome on nearly every Premier League team, shows just how far the league has come.
This is different from landing Thierry Henry after he lost his position at Barcelona. It’s different from Robbie Keane, a good-but-not-great striker, signing with MLS. And it’s different from David Beckham joining up for reasons other than soccer. This is a world-class striker choosing MLS (and what’s sure to be a ridiculous contract) over every other league in the world. This summer, Kaka, Frank Lampard, and Robinho might follow him. Their knees may be creaky, but these guys have globally recognized names, and right now MLS needs nothing more than to be taken seriously. With Villa leading its new jewel, it’s going be hard not to.
It’s also going to be hard to keep ignoring MLS, as ever many American soccer fans do. With more top tier foreign players migrating to MLS, more Spanish, Brazilian, and British eyeballs will be on the league. It’s a great step toward building a global brand. But after luring the likes of David Villa near the end of his career, the real trick is going to be getting that type of talent to start in MLS.
Photos by Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports