Major League Soccer has never been known for the quality of its on-field product, but the league remains an attractive place for anyone to ply their trade nonetheless. From the state-of-the-art stadiums being built around the league, to players not having to worry about whether their paycheque will clear every week, there are a plethora of reasons why someone would elect to join MLS.
Marco Di Vaio was one of the first Italians to make the move across the pond, but has since been joined by a number of Serie A veterans, including the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Ricky Kaka, Marco Donadel, Innocent Emeghara and Obafemi Martins. Parma midfielder Daniele Galloppa is also now on trial with Toronto FC.
While the aforementioned players' salaries vary quite vastly, there are a number of reasons each one of them decided to come over. Although many are past their prime and would find it difficult to earn the same wages playing in Europe, that is not the case for all them.
Galloppa may not be as big of a name as Kaka or Giovinco, but he is still only 30 years old and proved with Parma that he is more than capable of playing in the Italian top flight. However, he has not been paid all season and had to deal with numerous issues off the pitch. This would simply not happen in MLS… ever.
When Chivas USA was in financial trouble and could not find a stable ownership group, the league took matters into their own hands. Currently the club are on a hiatus and are scheduled to re-enter the league in 2018 with a new name, image and stadium in Los Angeles, with an ownership group that includes the likes of Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson, Vincent Tan, and Nomar Garciaparra.
When Football Italia met Giovinco after Toronto's most recent match, we asked what Serie A could glean from the MLS. "It is still early for me, but the atmosphere in and around the stadium here is something they can learn from in Italy."
Ultras culture is an epidemic rotting at the core of Italian football, but one that does not exist in MLS. While every team in the league has their set of passionate supporters' groups, the violence that we've seen erupt inside and outside of football stadiums across the peninsula does not occur in North America.
Toronto FC fans had decided to protest the fact that they would have to share their newly renovated and expanded stadium with an American football team next season, by posting a banner behind the goal during their home opener which was broadcasted on international television.
However, when the club's management had approached them about the importance of the match to the team's reputation, they decided to take it down and resurrect it during the next game instead. This type of reason and rationale is rarely shown from Ultras in Italy. A simple look back at this season's banner about Ciro Esposito's mother being held up by Roma supporters and the fallout that occurred afterwards is evidence of that.
"People are very polite and respectful," Giovinco said during a recent autograph session open to the public. "In Italy, it's impossible to do something like this."
Indeed, MLS has a lot to offer players, even if the football being played has a long way to go before being able to match the quality of Europe's biggest leagues.
"The level of football here is not comparable to the European one," Giovinco told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"But I'm convinced it can turn into an increasingly important championship over the years."
Attracting the likes of Kaka, Giovinco, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Villa, and Andrea Pirlo in one season is a pretty good signal of intent for a league that has grown leaps and bounds in its 20 years of existence.
MLS deserves much of the criticism it receives for its on-field product, but it also needs to be given a lot of credit for the way it is positively changing the football landscape in North America.