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Simon Elliott to Fulham

January 7, 2006

So the Crew have sent another player to England – our fourth in 10 years. Simon Elliott completed his free transfer a day or so ago, and is expected to play in the FA Cup tomorrow. Actually, according to a poster on the NAS email list there could be a fifth before the end of the transfer window- Danny Szetela is on a training trip, including a stop at Fulham.

It’s interesting to compare the 4 transfers so far, and consider how far MLS has come in 10 years. Our first English export was Brad Friedel, who was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 1997 before a much-ballyhooed transfer to Liverpool (at the time a mid-table Premiership team).  Friedel of course already had European experience, having played for Galatasaray and Brondby (I think) before joining MLS in ’96.

The second export was Stern John, who left for Nottingham Forest after a stellar 2 years as a young Trinidadian forward. Forest signed John with the hope that he would help them achieve promotion in a time when the English game was flush with cash – but John, who had dominated MLS, failed to do so in England for several years.

Our third export was poster boy Brian McBride. He left on a free transfer (I think) for Fulham – leaving as the Crew’s all-time leading scorer amidst much fanfare. His success in England came much more quickly than either Friedel’s or John’s – both of which didn’t really blossom for several seasons (and a different team, in Friedel’s case).

These three transfers were much-anticipated, and received significant attention when they happened. In Friedel’s and John’s case, they had received individual honors for a team that fell one step short of reaching MLS Cup. For McBride, he was a two-time World Cup veteran whose resume on the international stage was at least as impressive as his club pedigree.

Now, consider Simon Elliott. His departure has barely been mentioned in the States, and he leaves a club team that was so abysmal that it failed to reach the playoffs – a feat 8 of 12 teams manage. His international career is winding down, playing for a country that was pipped by the Solomon Islands, for Pete’s sake, to the Oceania final against Australia. New Zealand’s last appearance at a major international tournament was the 2003 Confederations Cup – where it’s 0-3 showing was bad enough that FIFA reconsidered its decision to grant Oceania an automatic place at the next World Cup.

Why bring up all this bad news? Not to besmirch Elliott’s accomplishments or record – but to point to MLS’ rising reputation in world soccer. How else can you explain Elliott’s jump from MLS cellar-dweller to a mid-table EPL team? Such a move would not have happened 10 years ago, because MLS didn’t have the pedigree to launch a player on that arc.

Elliott’s transfer is still a big step up on the world stage – I’m not claiming MLS and the EPL are on a par. But it does give some encouragement that the standard of play – and the league’s perception from overseas – continue to increase.

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