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Missed Opportunities

On May 26th, 2009 the whole world found out that this player would be available on a free transfer:

For those of you not familiar with him, Juninho Pernambucano is probably the world's best free kick taker. Give him a free kick within 35 yards and you're facing a very dangerous situation. Add in smooth as silk dribbling ability and precision passing and you've got an attacking midfielder of the highest caliber.

Available for free.

So, where is Juninho now? A month after announcing his departure from Lyon, Juninho signed a contract with a club in Qatar. From what Dave tells me, Qatar is a vanity league, where oil tycoons play at owning soccer clubs as a fun way to spend their ridiculous piles of cash. Is anyone else seeing the problem here? At the time of Juninho's announcement, there were nine DP slots open in MLS. If I were Don Garber I'm on the phone to each and every MLS GM with one of those free slots as soon as that press conference is over. I would harangue them until one of them committed to getting Juninho's signature on an MLS contract. Then I'd go and grab him by the scruff of the neck, toss him in the seat next to me on a flight to Lyon and we make sure Juninho is wearing a USA flag on his left sleeve ASAP.

For a league that's striving to establish its credibility and convert soccer fans into MLS fans, a player such as Juninho would have been perfect. A creative attacking force in the run of play, his amazing free kicks would negate the usual strategy of constant fouling adopted in this very physical league to stifle skillful players. Take a good look at some of those free kicks and imagine them playing as highlights on American TV. Imagine the electricity at games featuring Juninho's new MLS club as the crowd becomes instantly charged with anticipation any time the referee blew his whistle and pointed toward their opponents' goal.

MLS' cautious approach has served it well in the past, but the league also needs to push the franchises to make sure they're bringing in the best talent they can afford. Clubs sitting on their DP slots when a major talent like Juninho is within MLS' reach are hurting the league and depriving American fans of the top level players they long to see. MLS can't be cavalier about opportunities like these. It's rare when a top player becomes available under such favorable conditions. Next time, MLS needs to be ready with a game plan to get him on board.

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