Commentary: Welcome (back) to MLS, Nats
United States national team captain Carlos Bocanegra said on Wednesday that he'd like to finish his professional playing career where it began—with the Chicago Fire, which also happens where former American star Brian McBride has been playing out his days.
Tim Howard has also gone on record expressing his desire to return to a New York-area team at some point in the future. Jay DeMerit could be headed to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps after failing to land a squad in Europe.
MLS is becoming a league where members of the national team—especially those who began their careers in the US before venturing abroad — return for a final season or three.
But does that help or hurt the domestic league?
Ultimately, having American stars return to MLS improves the game in the States.
Not only is a guy like Bocanegra marketable, but he can obviously compete at a high level. Although a 34-year-old Bocanegra wouldn't match the form that made him MLS Defender of the Year in 2002 and 2003, he would still be one of the better center backs in the league.
The same could be said of DeMerit and Howard, and McBride has easily been the Fire's most consistent forward in recent years.
But there's a larger benefit to having players return as well. There's a chance they'll stay with their clubs when their playing days are over.
Bocanegra could remain involved with the Fire organization in a development role and Howard with the New York Red Bulls as a goalkeeper coach. They can advise younger players about moving to Europe while simultaneously strengthening MLS. In more ways than one, this generation is breaking ground for those who come later.
MLS clubs have made some major acquisitions in recent years and ponied up for some young stars, all of which have helped avoid it becoming a "retirement" league. So there's no reason it can't welcome former American stars back with open arms.