MLS progress a boon for national team 

August, 16, 2010

NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker were in the house for Saturday's New York Red Bulls-Los Angeles Galaxy tangle, a match some called the biggest in MLS regular-season history and a potential preview of November's championship. David Beckham flew cross-country just to watch from the L.A. bench, and on the field New York's three designated players (Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez and Juan Pablo Angel) took on the visitors' trio of U.S. national teamers in Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and newcomer Omar Gonzalez.

But the biggest beneficiaries of the high-profile match might not have been the Galaxy (which won, 1-0, thanks to Buddle's league-leading 13th goal), the 25,000 fans at sold-out Red Bull Arena or those watching the nationally televised tilt from afar. No, the real winners might be the future national teamers on both sides who are beginning their pro careers in a vastly improved version of the oft-maligned domestic circuit.

"It's miles different," Landon Donovan told Insider after Saturday's game, referring to the league he came into as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 2001. "The intensity of the games is so much better and you can't duplicate that in any way. When I came in, if there was a big crowd it was because of some special promotion. Now, people come because they want to see the players and they want to see the game. When there's that sort of added pressure and intensity it makes everybody across the league better."

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.