Mexico's dismissive view of MLS has left the league bereft of El Tri talents
A pair of slippers. A chimney. A rocking chair. That's how some Mexican soccer players perceive MLS.
That was the perception before Jonathan dos Santos' signing for LA Galaxy. Will his move from Villarreal legitimize the league north of the border? You could argue MLS needs no legitimizing at all.
But for some in Mexico, it remains a golden retirement fund that requires no investment whatsoever. A 401(k) plan in which Mexican players don't have to make any advance payments. The league's history of recruiting aging stars from foreign shores has seen to that.
But does that perception align with reality? The average age of designated players, roster slots once reserved precisely for aging stars from foreign shores, has dropped from 33.5 in 2008 to 27.6 in 2017. Jonathan is 27; brother Giovani dos Santos was 26 when he signed his DP deal in Los Angeles in 2015.
Perhaps that perception, even if ill-founded, can explain why just two Mexico international featured in ESPN FC's #MLSRank of the league's 30 best players. And that's a problem for a league that's been eager to recruit Mexican talents and better cater to its Hispanic fans.
This summer, Giovani and Erick "Cubo" Torres, two players who have been thriving in the league, had disappointing performances in the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup.
They're both distinguished MLS stars, the pair recognized as among the best in the league. And, in the Mexican national team, they're perceived as indisputable priority candidates ... for the bench.
Carlos Vela has made it clear that one day, when his muscles start to give him trouble on European pitches, he will consider a move to MLS, in which he will sell jerseys, sign Mexican flags brought to him by fans in the stands, make maybe one or two outstanding plays, and, last but not least, he will have some nights off to get his NBA fix. Vela's passion is basketball. He is a worker, exquisite tastes and all, but a worker in soccer nonetheless, and a very well-paid one at that.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, your teenage heartthrob with his Adonis-like physique, already has a million-dollar retirement plan in the works: Playing for the LA Galaxy one day, right after going through the slippery slide of soccer quality, going from Manchester United to Real Madrid to Bayer Leverkusen and now, West Ham United, while occasionally scoring a goal or two.
When the time comes, and some gray hairs from competing at a very high level start to emerge, "Chicharito" will go to MLS so he will be able to show off, score a few goals, drive team social-media managers nuts and sell an insane amount of jerseys. Even if his running game dips, those green eyes and that million-dollar smile that has become the dream goal of every orthodontist will guarantee him a place among MLS' most popular.
The younger Dos Santos brother is of course the latest Mexican figure to land in MLS. Widely considered to be El Tri's best player in the Confederations Cup, Jonathan decided against signing with Liga MX's Club America so he could have a family reunion of sorts, which also provides a convenient opportunity for the Galaxy's marketing team.
Both Dos Santos brothers are alumni of Barcelona's La Masia, the Catalonian team's academy, in which Lionel Messi was nurtured, and which has also raised Barcelona figures Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique.
For them, it's patently clear: MLS, with all its outstanding sporting features, is just a means to a very different end. And if Gio is the Galaxy's scorer and main attraction, Jonathan will be their difference maker.
Despite the fact that Giovani has become a remarkable player in MLS -- a remarkable one, yes, but still spotty -- he has shown an evident decay in his playing skills compared with the rest of El Tri's roster, whether playing in Europe or in Liga MX. And this bug could be caught by Jonathan.
However, there is a player with a charisma to match "Chicharito," who has been willing to receive an offer from an MLS team.
Guillermo Ochoa, widely considered the runner-up as best goalie at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, has rejected offers for a return to Mexico to remain in Europe with Standard Liege. However, he has made his desire to eventually play in the States widely public. But aside from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, who carry the broad marketability of being U.S. internationals, the league has been reluctant to sign goalkeepers to designated player deals.
And we should point out that the opinion of MLS shared by many Mexican players is quite unfair.
In contrast, many others have used the league as a place for a second act, and a very successful one at that, contrary to those loyal to nothing more than a big paycheck.
There are several such stories of both.
Jorge Campos, Carlos Hermosillo, Luis Hernandez, Hugo Sanchez; they all found the pot of gold at the end of their careers. They didn't have outstanding performances and certainly didn't impact positively their clubs' marketing. They had the very last laugh ... all the way to the bank.
There's a very exceptional case in Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who went to Chicago Fire with huge financial aspiration. However, he found himself able to "get some youth back from his past," as the legendary Mexican singer-songwriter Jose Alfredo Jimenez used to sing.
"Cuau" had a positive impact on his team under the guidance of none other than Juan Carlos Osorio, El Tri's current manager. Then, he returned to Mexico to play for the national team and several clubs in Liga MX.
What's there to say about Rafa Marquez? He went and he cashed his checks, but he failed miserably in MLS. After writing some very notable passages with Barcelona, he found himself arguing with practically everyone at New York Red Bulls and left the United States smelling like sulfur. In his return to Mexico, he won two championships with Leon, he was a notable player in the 2014 World Cup and kept his spot as captain of El Tri. Today, with back issues and all, he continues to play for Atlas.
Several Mexico players have demonstrated that this perception of MLS being nothing more than a golden parachute of sorts is wrong. This is not a "last chance" league at all. Its competitive level isn't the highest one you will find, but it has resurrected several soccer careers.
But the league's personnel selection has become more demanding: it wants soccer standouts in its rosters, both competitively and marketing-wise. And, most importantly, MLS wants highly committed players.
Jonathan will need to continue to be the centerpiece of Mexico's midfield and "Cubo" will need to grow into more than just a fringe call-up if MLS is going to become a league of choice for El Tri's stars. Until then, the league's perception south of the border isn't likely to change.
Rafa Ramos is a ESPNDeportes.com staff writer and hosts ESPN Deportes Radio's Raza Deportiva. Follow him on Twitter @rafaramosESPN