Playing for a big club in Europe appeals to young players all around the world, and they're willing to take different steps to help reach that objective. For some, Major League Soccer has become a launching pad to the continent.
But for every player who tastes a measure of success after leaving -- such as
While soccer in the U.S. is still generally disparaged abroad, there's growing recognition that the sport is improving here. "[
Ljungberg, of course, played for Arsenal for many years. Yet the Seattle player who may be the most eager to gain the attention of European clubs could well be another Fred --
The 21-year-old Colombian striker, on loan from Deportivo Cali, has been an early revelation for the Sounders, scoring three goals in his first two games. Although those performances reveal Montero's commitment to performing well, he says it wasn't the lure of MLS specifically that drew him to sign with the Sounders.
"In Colombia, there's little [known] about the league," he said after Seattle's loss to Chivas USA on Saturday. However, he did cite other Colombians' success in the U.S. as a major factor for his decision. "I did know that
Both Toja and Angel made the All-Star team in their first MLS seasons. Montero was hoping for similar success and also looking to learn from the MLS style.
"This will be important for me and my career and my future," Montero said. "The rhythm is completely different. I've had to adjust. The soccer here is more physical, fast and intense. [In Colombia] they have more touch, more technique and it's slower."
To suceed in most European leagues, however, players must be able to handle physical, tough play. That's something MLS offers regularly. "I noted the difference as soon as I got here," Montero said. "I think that change has been good for me. I hope I'll adjust to this level and continue to score goals."
It seems logical that if you score goals in MLS, you attract overseas attention. But that's not a given. When
Besides scoring ability, European clubs are interested in players who have at least one dependable, world-class skill. For
Sometimes, a player can be too successful in MLS. Often the league, which owns all player contracts, won't sell a player to a European club if an offer comes in that administrators deem inadequate. Before Dempsey joined Fulham, Charlton Athletic had offered a contract for the former New England star. But MLS rejected the offer as too low, leaving Dempsey feeling frustrated before things were finally settled with Fulham.
In order to avoid any situation in which MLS could control his future, U.S. defender
Ljungberg is confident Montero has the tools to make the jump -- with certain qualifications. "In a couple of years, he'll get better and better and then he'll be ready for Europe," Ljungberg said. "He has the potential to be able to play in Europe, but maybe he should wait a little bit and develop a little bit more."
Off-the-field distractions aren't helping Montero either. He is still feeling the effects from facing a recent sexual-assault accusation. Though prosecutors declined to file any charges, citing a lack of evidence, the incident cast a pall over the Sounders' bright start to the season. Since the allegations came to light, expansion Seattle is on a two-game losing streak after opening 3-0-0.
"We've done a pretty good job of keeping focused," head coach
If Montero can sustain his early form, he may be a top candidate to move on from MLS. Though a bit on the small side at 5-foot-9, his ball control, speed and knack for delivering bending balls that goalkeepers struggle to read make him a special sort of player -- someone who can create a goal out of almost nothing.
Youth also gives clubs a high upside when they consider investing in potential. That's part of the reason the highest transfer fee paid in MLS history was $10 million for
"I'd like to play internationally for Colombia, and also on a club in Europe," said Montero, adding that the mix of players in MLS appealed to him as a place to learn. "I think the change and learning to play against different styles here will help me get there. "
The countdown has started.