Potential Dos Santos arrival to MLS could signal a new trend
The signing of Giovani dos Santos by the Los Angeles Galaxy, if it happens, would represent a new phase for all involved -- the team, the player and Major League Soccer. Bringing in a new star in his prime to a country where a large media and fan contingent can watch him flourish is an important advance for a league looking to shake off the label of retirement destination.
There was a familiar feel to the Galaxy's press conference presentation of former Liverpool great, Steven Gerrard, because it wasn't so long ago that the team signed another big star from England, David Beckham. Beckham is retired now, but he clearly blazed a path for others to follow. Robbie Keane is another European who has found success with the Galaxy as well.
Beckham, Keane and Gerrard all came to the Galaxy after they turned 30. Through hard work and industry, it's possible for veteran players to still shine in MLS, yet that's not the same as watching a young talent mature and develop in the league.
If anything, signing Dos Santos would be most comparable to when the Galaxy added Landon Donovan to their squad in 2005. Donovan was likewise in his 20s. The young American star developed with the Galaxy into arguably the best player in United States national team history and in league history.
Yet it was always a given that MLS would have an inside track for American players who wanted to stay near home. The idea that the league could appeal to young foreign talent with options in Europe was another matter altogether. Sebastian Giovinco, the Italian talent who plays for Toronto FC, may have been the start of a new trend.
Giovinco, however, isn't one of the main stars of a national team that tours the U.S. regularly to sold-out, adoring crowds. Mexico's fans have come out in droves to cheer on Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Rafael Marquez and Omar Bravo in MLS, even though only Blanco made a major positive impact on the field. The audience appeal of Dos Santos in the Los Angeles market could potentially be huge. However, it's not as if Dos Santos wouldn't be expected to contribute a lot to the club as well.
"What matters most is winning," said Galaxy president Chris Klein, speaking on player signings in general during Tuesday's press conference to introduce Gerrard. He also noted that while the team was always interested in quality players, he would not specifically speak on Dos Santos, or any player, until a contract was complete.
Klein was on the Galaxy squad as a player during the turbulent early years of the Beckham era, when the team's failure to even make the playoffs torpedoed the marketing push of Beckham's arrival. Indeed, fans will merely be frustrated with Gerrard, Dos Santos, or any other new players signed to the squad if the Galaxy fail to win.
Of course, the Galaxy have to compete against other MLS teams trying to achieve the same sort of success. That's what has led Orlando City to sign Kaka, as well as make a reported offer to Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. New York City F.C., meanwhile, is leaning heavily on the experience of proven veteran players, with Andrea Pirlo now joining Frank Lampard and David Villa.
With so many recognizable players scattered throughout the league, there's an evident buzz surrounding MLS now and that may be part of the appeal for Dos Santos. He's clearly familiar with the country, having toured many stadiums and cities for friendly games and Gold Cup competitions, which the U.S. regularly hosts. Many clubs in Spain are struggling financially, and Dos Santos may be feeling the pressure many athletes do, given their limited playing careers, to cash in on a big payday while he can.
The variety and quality of competition Dos Santos will face in MLS isn't likely to diminish his skill or abilities -- any more than the league did for Donovan. Current Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, at least, seemed unconcerned about that possibility, stating that he would still consider Dos Santos for national team selection.
One element that Dos Santos and Gerrard may definitely share (besides the Galaxy midfield in the future, perhaps) is that like many players, they like to feel wanted. Though Dos Santos has been circumspect about whether he is signing with the club, he did recently acknowledge that interest from the organization has been ongoing for some time and he seemed pleased by it. Whether Dos Santos mentioned it as a hint to other clubs or as a prelude to a Galaxy move remains to be seen.
For Gerrard, the Galaxy's enthusiastic approach was a big plus. "What struck me the most was how aggressive they were in getting me to come here," Gerrard said at his presentation.
Time will tell if the Galaxy's pursuit of Dos Santos will pay off as well.
Andrea Canales covers both Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.