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February 03, 2017

If you're still calling MLS a 'retirement league,' you're not paying attention

Soccer Union
2317_almiron_psp Earl Gardner/Philly Soccer Page

Miguel Almiron, who played against the United States at Lincoln Financial Field last summer, is now joining Major League Soccer at age 22.

You're watching Major League Soccer highlights on YouTube when you scroll down to the comments section:

"The MLS is a retirement league for washed up players."

"Steven Gerrard is on vacation in Hollywood."

"Frank Lampard is just collecting a final paycheck."

Those comments weren't entirely wrong.

We brought over 37-year-old Didier Drogba and 34-year-old Cuauhtémoc Blanco and 35-year-old Marco Di Vaio. A lot of those aging superstars actually played well over here, but it didn't really matter, because the next line of thought was, "well, MLS must be pretty crappy if 37-year-old Didier Drogba is scoring goals."

It was always about optics, right? There was this lingering thought that Major League Soccer couldn't attract stars who were actually in their prime. We had to settle for players who were 31-, 32-, or 33-years old, guys who were done with the European game and ready to move on.

That changed when Toronto FC signed 27-year-old Sebastian Giovinco in 2015. Finally, a top-level player had come to North America in his prime. In a lot of ways, it was a signing that had to happen for MLS to grow up a bit and take the next step forward.

This winter transfer window has further crippled any thoughts of MLS being a retirement destination for fading foreigners. Spearheaded by expansion Atlanta, the list of acquisitions includes dozens of players under the age of 30 and dozens more under the age of 25.

In putting together this list, I didn't count returning U.S. internationals like Greg Garza, Oguchi Onyewu, or Jonathan Spector. I also didn't include draft picks or homegrown players, which would obviously skew the total number much, much lower. I did include players here on loan, and a couple who rejoined MLS for a second time. The focus is on foreign acquisitions.


Alexandros Tabakis – 24-year-old Greek goalkeeper

Jeffrey Otoo – 19-year-old Ghanian forward/winger

Hector Villalba – 22-year-old Argentinian winger

Kenwyne Jones – 32-year-old Trinidadian striker

Chris McCann – 29-year-old Irish d-mid

Miguel Almiron – 22-year-old Paraguay international midfielder, had transfer interest from Arsenal

Kevin Kratz – 30-year-old German midfielder and "ex-Union player"

Yamil Asad – 22-year-old Argentinian winger

Anton Walkes – 19-year-old English midfielder

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 24-year-old Argentian center back

Josef Martinez – 23-year-old Venezuelan striker


Nemanja Nikolic – 29-year-old Hungarian striker who had interest from England

Jorge Rodrigo Bava – 35-year-old Uruguayan goalkeeper

Juninho – 28-year-old d-mid (2nd MLS stint)


Bismark Adjei-Boateng – 22-year-old Ghanaian midfielder


Jukka Raitala – 28-year-old Finnish left back

Jonathan Mensah – 26-year-old Ghana international center back

Mohammed Abu – 25-year-old Ghanaian midfielder

D.C. United

Jose Guillermo Ortiz – 24-year-old Costa Rican forward

FC Dallas

Anibal Chalá – 20-year-old defender, Ecuador youth international

Jose Salvatierra – 27-year-old Costa Rican right back

Roland Lamah – 29-year-old Ivorian/Belgian winger

Cristian Colman – 22-year-old Paraguayan forward and youth international

Houston Dynamo

Alberth Elis – 20-year-old Honduran winger

Adolfo Machado – 31-year-old Panamanian center back

Romell Quioto – 25-year-old Honduran forward/winger

Vicente Sanchez – 37-year-old Uruguayan winger (2nd MLS stint)

Juan David Cabezas – 25-year-old Colombian midfielder

LA Galaxy

Romain Alessandrini – 27-year-old French winger

Joao Pedro – 23-year-old Portuguese d-mid

Minnesota United

Francisco Calvo – 24-year-old Costa Rican center back

Vadim Demidov – 30-year-old Latvian center back

Rasmus Schuller – 25-year-old Finnish midfielder

John Alvbage – 34-year-old Swedish goalkeeper

(I didn't count the Minnesota players who were on the NASL squad or joined the team via intra-league trades)


Blerim Dzemaili – 30-year-old Swiss midfielder who will join in the summer

New England

Benjamin Angoua – 30-year-old Ivorian center back

Antonio Delamea Mlinar – 25-year-old Slovenian center back


Miguel Camargo – 23-year-old Panamanian midfielder

Alexander Callens – 24-year-old Peruvian center back

Alexander Ring - 25-year-old Finnish midfielder

New York Red Bulls

Hassan Ndam – 18-year-old Cameroonian center back

Orlando City

(none yet, and I didn't count Victor "PC" Giro since he came from a lower division in the U.S.)


Giliano Wijnaldum – 24-year-old left back

Jay Simpson – 28-year-old English striker

Haris Medunjanin – 31-year-old Bosnian midfielder


David Guzman – 26-year-old Costa Rica d-mid

Roy Miller – 32-year-old Costa Rica left back (2nd MLS stint)

Sebastian Blanco – 28-year-old Argentinian midfielder

Real Salt Lake

Albert Rusnak – 22-year-old Slovakian attacking mid

San Jose

Harold Cummings – 25-year-old Panamanian defender

Marco Urena – 26-year-old Costa Rican forward

Florian Jungwirth – 28-year-old German d-mid

Danny Hoesen – 26 year-old Dutch forward


Gustav Svensson – 29-year-old Swedish d-mid

Sporting KC

Igor Juliao – 22-year-old fullback who had another loan spell with KC in 2014

Gerso Fernandes – 25-year-old Bissau-Guinean winger

Latif Blessing – 20-year-old Ghanian forward/winger

Ilie Sanchez – 26-year-old Spanish d-mid


Chris Mavinga – 25-year-old French left back


Yordy Reyna – 23-year-old Peruvian forward

Tally all of that up and you get 59 total players. If you take their combined ages and then divide by that first number, you see that the average age of foreign signings entering Major League Soccer this winter is 25.7.

That's a staggering number. We've never seen this many young foreigners join the league during a single transfer window. Atlanta built a roster that includes six international rostered players who are 23 years or younger. They've been incredibly impressive and they haven't even played a single game.

The oldest player on that transfer list is 37-year-old Vicente Sanchez, the Uruguayan playmaker who joined Houston after a stint with Colorado a few years ago. He can still play a bit, but probably inherits more of a mentorship role this season.

You also have 35-year-old Jorge Bava, the Chicago goalkeeper. There are a couple of other goalkeepers who pull the number a bit higher, and that's natural since you can play that position well into your thirties.

As far as field players, only nine of the 59 are age 30 or older. You've got 32-year-old Kenwyne Jones, the Trinidad striker, and 31-year-old Haris Medunjanin, Philly's Bosnian international number eight.

What you don't see on the list is an Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, or Steven Gerrard. Even the LA Galaxy are revamping their personnel strategy as they target players like 23-year-old Joao Pedro and 27-year-old Romain Alessandrini. The only aging, veteran acquisition they made was U.S. international Jermaine Jones, who is now 35.

You also have a bunch of homegrown signings that I didn't even list, as teams start to pull kids through their academy and give them slots on the first team.

We're moving in the right direction, with a focus on young foreign talent and academy promotion.

If you come across someone who still thinks MLS is a "retirement league," send them this article.