Large Format – Playing in Major League Soccer, really the American dream?

Mar 8, 2015;  Kansas City, KS, USA;  Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber (10) moves the ball against New York Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle (55) in the second half at Sporting Park.  The match ended in a 1-1 draw.  Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports (L'Equipe)

Large format

The 2017 MLS season kicks off this weekend, with ten French players and a coach (Patrick Vieira) engaged. Does the North American Championship, with its share of sporting and cultural specificities, really represent an El Dorado?

« Come here, it’s great, you’ll come back to life, see something else, enjoy it! » Here is, in essence, the speech that held this winter Damien Perrinelle to his former partner in Clermont, Romain Alessandrini. Decisive or not, the invitation of the New York Red Bulls defender was in any case followed by the former Marseillais, who is committed to the Los Angeles Galaxy. A new direction for his career, but not only, as the contrasts between France and the United States go beyond the simple framework of football.

« We have the impression of playing in a Champions League team! »

« It’s another world, at all levels », confirms the French pioneer in Major League Soccer, Sebastien the Cough (DC United). The thirty-two-year-old striker begins his eleventh season across the Atlantic this weekend, the ninth in MLS. “Of course I would advise everyone to come here. For players who are playing at a good level and who want to discover something else, changing the universe is ideal.  » « It’s a crazy experience, complete Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, passed by the San Jose Earthquakes for two seasons (2014-2015) and today at Paris FC (National). In terms of infrastructure, stadiums, travel conditions, we have the impression of playing in a Champions League team! ”

Clearly, MLS is America. « The national anthem and the fireworks before the matches, the fervor in the stadiums … That’s really incredible », coward Frédéric Brillant, former defender of Ostend, Belgium, arrived at New York City FC from Patrick Vieira, Andrea Pirlo or David Villa a year ago. “It’s extraordinary, I am really delighted to have made this choice. Well, I did not understand everything at the start in terms of the rules. There are so many … It must be said, sometimes there are strange things (laughs). ”

At the top of the curiosities, we find what makes the salt and the main difference between MLS and 99% of other championships: here, the players decide nothing, or not much. « They never have a hand », installment Damien Perrinelle, who had to wait until mid-January for his extension with the Red Bulls to be formalized. No need to try to negotiate his salary as best as possible, it is generally determined by the player’s CV and marketing potential. And unless you have a clause in their contract, everyone is transferable overnight.

« One morning, you arrive at training and a guy is missing … »

« One morning, you arrive at training, a guy is missing and you are told: ‘Ah ba, he was transferred to Chicago!’ You say to yourself that it is not possible, but for them it is normal, it is in their mentality, their culture ”, explains Pierazzi. “I also experienced it last year with Patrick Mullins, resumes Brillant. He did his business in the locker room, explained to me that he was leaving for DC United. I congratulated him, because he had little playing time with us, but he replied that it was not necessarily what he was looking for … He had no choice! « 

Business before people

« When you touch millions like in the NBA, you close it, but there it does not blow the scores for the majority, so it is not easy to be subjected to the will of the leaders, concedes a Perrinelle aware of his luck to be based in New York. Tomorrow you give me three million dollars a season, I don’t give a fuck about going to Kansas City or Salt Lake City! But at $ 250,000, well … You have to go there!  » Since his debut in the League in 2009, Sébastien Le Toux has been personally involved in several « trades » of this type, but none had been as hard to live as last August, when Philadelphia sent him. in Denver. 2,500 kilometers from his family in Pennsylvania, and after six seasons of loyal service.

« By going to a club where you don’t want to play, it’s complicated to get involved »

“I liked this club, I thought I had a relationship of trust with everyone, but they decided to send me to the Colorado Rapids to have enough money and to recruit Alejandro Bedoya (ex-Nantes). That’s the downside of MLS, it’s a bit boring because by going to a club where you don’t necessarily want to play, it’s complicated to get involved. But that’s how they work, you just have to understand it. I’m French, a bit old, I don’t make waves, so I didn’t necessarily represent a good business … « 

Business, the word is out. A swear word ? Not in the United States … « If you don’t bring anything to this level and there is the equivalent in the local market, their choice is quickly made … During my second season in San Jose, I found myself in a dead end because the club wanted to promote the rise of a young American, says Pierazzi. Whether I’m good or not, it was the same thing, and the coach had clearly told me! «  Conclusion: only three matches played in 2015, after 24 appearances in 2014 for the former captain of AC Ajaccio.

MLS is (almost) worth L1

A hassle that is not enough to alter his (excellent) Californian memories: “The United States was my dream and I made it happen. Life there is still quite exceptional, and the Championship is very competitive. I thought the level would be lower, but if that doesn’t apply to teams like Paris, Monaco, etc., it is quietly worth the middle of the Ligue 1 table.  » Stop the clichés about the kick-and-rush and the pre-retirement atmosphere, then.

« Seen from Europe, there is always a slightly defiant look, but having attended Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 matches this winter, frankly, we are indeed not far from an average level of L1 » , confirms Damien Perrinelle. According to Sébastien Le Toux, the sporting progress of the MLS is indisputable: “A few years ago, I thought that an American team could compete in a match with a French team. Today, I am convinced that it could do so in the long term. Let people come and see with their own eyes! The way it is developing, MLS can become one of the best leagues in the world within ten years. ”

Alessandrini, gone to stay?

Would joining Major League Soccer therefore become a bet for the future rather than a back-up plan after your thirties? And why not ? « For a one-way ticket, it’s only happiness », assures the Strasbourg Vincent Nogueira, left for Philadelphia in 2014 at just twenty-six years old, and returned to France last summer for family reasons … and for fear of being forgotten. « Today I miss the United States a lot, especially the relationship I had with the supporters, but I said to myself that if I signed one more contract, I was really going to be forgotten and I was going to be » condemned « to finish there. »

« I have more visits to New York than to Clermont! »

For the Parisian Damien Perrinelle, neither the family question (« I have more visits to New York than to Clermont! ») nor that of forgetting (« The conditions that I have over a year here, I could not have had them in Europe ») have arisen. « And then I have the chance to evolve in the best club in MLS … » His friend Romain Alessandrini does not risk this time being in line with this last statement, he who has joined the Galaxy juggernaut, his stars (Ashley Cole, Giovani Dos Santos …) and his record record (5 titles).

At twenty-seven, can the left-handed attacking midfielder be sustainable in California? « It really depends on what he’s looking for, concludes Nogueira. He has a designated player status (excluding salary cap, editor’s note), so financially he finds his way there, and then quality of life level, in Los Angeles … Please, frankly, why go back? « 

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