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COMMENT: MLS do not need FIFA to turn league into world power

"It's unbelievable. It seems like everyone wants to now play in the US!"

So said one agent to me last week when discussing Freddie Ljungberg's move to Celtic.

MLS fans may feel a little disheartened about losing the Swede after barely a year in the 'States with the Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire. But Ljungberg's amazing transformation from his injury-riddled final days as a West Ham United player can only help MLS and commissioner Don Garber sell the league to the next wave of international stars.

And it doesn't seem like there is much selling to do.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi has just named the best player in the world, has declared an intention to move to MLS in five years' time - and he's just one of a long line of soccer identities openly declaring their American ambitions. French pair Patrick Vieira (Manchester City) and Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea) have discussed playing in the 'States, while the rumours linking Alessandro del Piero (Juventus) and Ryan Giggs (Manchester United) continue to rumble on.

It's no longer David Beckham propping up MLS. The incredible crowds at Qwest Field, the rapid progress of New York Red Bulls - with Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez in tow, Steve Nash's involvement at Vancouver - even Generation Adidas' successful tour of Spain, it's all making news around the game and has the industry buzzing.

Every day, it seems something new and positive connected to MLS is being reported. It has to be exciting for MLS diehards, having put some much emotional time into supporting the league and their club, to be witnessing soccer history being made in their country.

I'm not naive enough to suggest everything is running smoothly inside MLS. I'm sure the closer you get, the more the local game is riddled by the same politics and in-fighting you see in leagues around the world. But watching from afar, MLS appears on the brink of a breakout decade - and is a great triumph of America's 'can-do' attitude.

Before their World Cup bid was rejected by FIFA, Garber declared an ambition to make MLS one of the biggest world's top leagues by 2022.

"We have a very specific goal," Garber said. "If we get the World Cup, we want to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.

"If we get the World Cup, we have a 12-year plan.

"And that's not just by our own measure, but how we're perceived by the rest of the world."

I would suggest MLS is already well on the way to changing opinion about the league across the world.

The buzz around season 2011 just makes FIFA's rejection of US for 2022 all the more baffling. Economically, the game will take a huge step forward with a thriving competition in the US. World Cup hosting would have no doubt accelerated that prospect.

But American soccer has made incredible strides in the last ten years with sod all help from FIFA - so why should they adjust their sights just because of the 'opinion' of 20 old men?

I hope Garber and co recognise the goodwill around the game for MLS and push on with their ambitions - even if it's to prove they can succeed despite FIFA and not because of them.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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