Just as there are several North American Soccer League players that could make the move to Major League Soccer, there are a handful of MLS players who could find more success in the NASL than elsewhere. The door swings both ways. To assert that one league’s quality is better than the other’s is a waste of time. Each league has its own style of play, and some players are better suited to one more than the other.
Some players such as Luke Mulholland, Kwadwo Poku, Calum Mallace have quietly shown that for the right player moving ‘up’ a league isn’t an obstacle. Other players like Kosuke Kimura, Kalif Alhassan, Leo Fernandes, James Marcelin, Hendry Thomas, and Marvin Chavez have shown moving ‘down’ a league is a way to keep playing competitively and very well.
Every player acquisition revolves around best fit. What characteristics a team needs and what a manager wants should trump a player’s history (of success or failure) or a supporter’s wishlist.
This finishes my smattering of posts about players that ought to consider switching team colors. The players listed below are four I suspect would find more and lasting success in the NASL than MLS.
Jalil Anibaba, rightback, Sporting Kansas City
After leaving the Chicago Fire in 2013 where he had be a regular presence at rightback/centerback, Jalil Anibaba has played for arguably two of the most popular and successful MLS teams: Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City. This is a far cry from his time in Chicago where the team was well in the midst of a wretched spiral of on the pitch failure and supporter rage. Getting out when he did was a good thing for his career.
A negative in doing so is that Anibaba went from playing 2500-3000 minutes a season to not even getting half of that with his new teams. Injury played a roll in this but so did the fact that both Seattle and Kansas City picked up Anibaba for depth, as cover.
Right now, arguably the best rightback in the NASL is Minnesota United’s Kevin Venegas. Minnesota will most likely make its way to MLS come 2017 and Venegas will be there. If other NASL teams want to be serious about competing with the likes of Minnesota and New York Cosmos, then they’ll have to pay for proper defenders. Anibaba is a good rightback who can fill in adequately at centerback.
An ambitious team like Jacksonville Armada would improve by an order of magnitude by adding Anibaba. If Alessandro Nesta’s expansion side Miami FC wanted to build from the back, it would do well to consider making a move for Anibaba as well.
Kyle Bekker, midfield, Montreal Impact
Kyle Bekker has been moving around a lot lately. From Toronto to Dallas to back to his native Canada with Montreal, he’s yet to find his niche. 2013 was his ‘best’ season and in that he only managed to earn thirteen starts and log just over eleven hundred minutes. He has, we have to admit, been underwhelming.
Yet Bekker is a skilled player who if given regular minutes blossom into the player we all hoped he would be. No longer a prospect, Bekker needs to make a move now to assert himself as a North American player to pay attention to. He will not be able to do this in Montreal and I doubt he will be able to in MLS.
Canada’s national team needs Bekker to improve as well. To do this, he needs to be on a domestic team. This season saw Marc Dos Santos guide the Ottawa Fury to the NASL Championship final. Dos Santos is gone, replaced by Paul Dalglish. Also gone is Ottawa’s marquee forward Tom Heinemann.
If Bekker were to join Ottawa he would find himself on a domestic team that’s on the rise, whose supporters would love to see him, where he’d be with CMNT captain Julian De Guzman and fellow CMNT hopeful Mauro Estaquio. Being part of that kind of environment was improve Bekker’s game while deepening and strengthening Ottawa.
Eriq Zaveleta, centerback, Toronto FC
Draft in the first round and tenth overall by the Seattle Sounders in 2013, Eriq Zaveleta hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Only seeing action in five games for Seattle, Zaveleta was promptly loaned to Chivas USA during its trainwreck of a final season. Going from the best supported MLS team to the worst supported must have been crushingly disappointing. But the young centerback didn’t embarrass himself and stoically bore his loan out to the worst team in recent MLS history.
He never made it back to Seattle. After his time with Chivas USA, Zaveleta was traded to Toronto FC. There he did little better than he did in Los Angeles. At 23, Zaveleta is in danger of regressing. Cashing a check with Toronto and hoping to be in the starting 18 every third match isn’t going fulfill his promise.
Briefly, before being shipped off to Los Angeles, Seattle lent him out to the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. With only four appearances, it’s too small of a sample size to make a judgment and the Scorpion organization at the time was only slightly more competent than Chivas USA. But Zaveleta could turn things around for himself and become a valued and regular part of a team the way Ben Seat has with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Marco Franco has for Indy Eleven.
A return to Indiana might just be what Zaveleta needs. It would be familiar (his college years were spent down the road at Indiana University), he has experience playing on turf, and he’d finally be able to play in front of enthusiastic supporters. There is a core group of young, promising players in Indianapolis where Zaveleta could fit in and excel.
Quincy Amarikwa, forward, San Jose Earthquakes
If Tom Heinemann can turn a mediocre eight goal season into a 150k+ a season two year contract, then Quincy Amarikwa a better forward currently only making 100k with San Jose should be a target for NASL sides.
There are always teams that need tenacious forwards and Amarikwa is most certainly tenacious. In his second go around with San Jose, the striker has been a bit of a rolling stone in MLS (San Jose to Colorado to Toronto to Chicago to back to San Jose over seven season). But it’s only been the last two seasons that he’s been able get more than two thousand minutes. With only iffy service during this span between Chicago and San Jose, he’s been able to score a career high eight goals in 2014 and a respectable six goals in 2015.
A player of Amarikwa’s temperament and technique could be a good fit with the Carolina Railhawks. With a new owner and the need to buttress aging striker Nacho Novo, Amarikwa would find himself next to like-minded, gritty players such as Wells Thompson, Austin da Luz, and Neil Hlavaty. Making a move for a forward like Amarikwa would have nothing but upside for Carolina and put the necessary pressure on other teams to up their game as well. Add to this the fact that Amarikwa as the point of the spear receiving service from Tiyi Shipalane while having Nazmi Albadawi and/or Mark Anderson buttressing him could potentially lead to a 20 goal season.