CELTIC and Rangers are no strangers to the United States. Both have made a habit of travelling across the Atlantic to play pre-season friendlies, with the two clubs boasting strong American support. For the most part, the direction of footballing traffic between Scotland has the US has been one-way. Things are changing, though.
Indeed, the gossip column of late has witnessed an outbreak of rumours linking American and MLS players with moves to Scottish clubs. The names are worth listing – Alberth Elis, the Houston Dynamo attacker who has been linked with Celtic; American international midfielder Will Trapp is another who is reported to be a target for the Parkhead club, with the Chicago Fire’s Matt Polster believed to be on Rangers’ radar.
Andrew Gutman, a highly rated left-back who has impressed at college level, spent time training with Rangers towards the end of last year, but is now thought to be closer to joining Celtic, with reports from the States claiming the Scottish champions now hold the advantage over their rivals in the pursuit.
All this comes after Celtic completed a deal to sign Timothy Weah on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. The teenage forward, and son of George Weah, might not have played in MLS, but he is a US internationalist and started his youth career in the States. It appears that Celtic and Rangers have made a conscious decision to look at the American market for signings.
This isn’t all that surprising. In a grossly inflated marketplace, where English players are the subject of £35m bids from Bundesliga giants after playing only 42 minutes of league football this season, MLS and the American game in general represents one of the very last places where value can be found.
Take the case of Zack Steffen, the man widely considered to be the USA’s next great goalkeeper. He signed for Manchester City last month, but the Columbus Crew reportedly received just £7m for the 23-year-old. That was an MLS record for a goalkeeper, but in the context of the global market it was still a snip.
Tyler Adams, the highly-rated central midfielder who is already an international regular at the age of just 19, is another who underlines the value in the MLS market, joining RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls for just $3m at the end of last season.
Even Miguel Almiron, by far the most accomplished player in MLS right now, is available to be picked up for £25m this month. At that price, it’s little wonder Premier League clubs are interested. If Almiron were a Bundesliga or La Liga player the asking price would likely be at least double that.
Of course, some might argue that the value of MLS players is lower because the quality of player in MLS is lower. Indeed, it’s true that, generally speaking, the division is not at the level of any of the big European leagues, but the unique nature of MLS means that superstars, like Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, play alongside guys on $50,000 a year.
No other league in world football can be measured by such a wide yardstick. There is a depth of talent that ranges from the world class to the not-so world class. European clubs, including many from Scotland, are starting to realise there is cream to be skimmed off the top. Trapp, for instance, has more than proved himself as capable against the likes of Rooney, Ibrahimovic et al. He’s certainly worth Celtic’s interest.
Conversely, MLS clubs might also be looking at Scotland as a place to find transfer market value. This week, Derek McInnes confirmed that Gary Mackay-Steven has received an offer from New York City FC, with Andy Rose leaving Motherwell for the Vancouver Whitecaps last month. The interest is mutual from either side of the Atlantic.
Football in America has been considered a growth area for so long it now verges on cliche. It’s not so long ago that Celtic even considered starting a franchise club in the lower leagues of the American game. However, while that growth has mainly focused on the capitalisation of the USA as a potential fanbase, now focus has turned to what the country could do as a talent pool.
Such is the nature of the modern game, Scottish clubs must look to find an advantage where they can. Even Celtic and Rangers, the country’s two predominant forces, must look to make their money stretch. This is where America, the land of opportunity, comes in. It’s where you can get more bang for your buck.