The Japanese midfielder has confirmed what many suspect – not only do foreign players often doubt the quality of MLS, but they’re also wrong.
17 seasons in and it is no secret that the quality of Major League Soccer is still being debated.
Any fan who has tried to discuss MLS with a non-believer who would rather follow one of Europe’s major leagues has no doubt had a hard time trying to convince them of just how far along MLS has come.
Whilst football fans may still have their doubts, what about the professionals? Clint Dempsey aside, rarely does a top-level footballer choose MLS as a destination to play at the peak of their career. How do they feel about it? Do they understand just how competitive MLS really has become?
Vancouver Whitecaps’ midfielder Daigo Kobayashi has gone some way to answering that question.
The 30-year-old Japanese player has spent, bar two seasons in Greece and Norway, his entire career playing in the Japanese J-League. If anything, in the eyes of those unfamiliar with the two leagues, the J-League might be regarded as on a par with MLS. Kobayashi confesses that he believed otherwise:
“I feel that MLS is not as easy as I thought,” he told MLSSoccer.com, “MLS is more physical. [Opponents] have good speed, so I have to play simple more and faster more.”
“The settling-in period has been quite long and so far he hasn’t quite settled in to MLS the way that I’m sure he would have liked to,” Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie said. “But that’s not to say he’s not a really good player and that we think he can really help us.
“It’s just that it takes some players longer than others to adapt to the league and I think that’s been proven with a lot of players over the years. We do believe he’s got a lot of talent and that he can help us.”
Indeed, Whitecaps fans may find Kobayashi’s words unnecessary – the midfielder has visibly struggled at times in his debut MLS season. Kobayashi has failed to contribute a goal or assist outside of his first two games for the club.
“It’s quite different between MLS and the Japanese league…the J-League, it’s possession orientated, there’s lot of technical players,” Rennie added, “There’s not that physical element that you get in MLS, and I think it’s taken him a bit to get used to that.”
Professionals should take note of Kobayashi’s words – maybe rather than waiting until their career is decline, they would be better served moving to MLS to test their skills at their pinnacle. Kobayashi is a full Japanese international – he definitely knows what he’s talking about.