When he's back home in England, Houston Dynamo manager Owen Coyle is the kind of guy who's used to racing all around the country, watching as many games as he can.
"[In America], you can’t get to games because of the size of the country," he told The Guardian's Tom Dart. "So it was refreshing."
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: THE REFRESHING LEAGUE!
Coyle echoed many of the challenges European players and coaches face when making their first jump into U.S. competition, with the altitude changes, sheer distances, turf playing surfaces, and wide variations in climate principal among them.
"We’re scheduled to fly 63,000 miles this year to play our 17 away games," Coyle marveled.
But the biggest difference between the American game and its European counterpart? Easy, Coyle says. Youth development:
"Back home, really if your young kids are not in the team by 19 you’re thinking they might have a career but maybe at a different club.
"For me those years are very important in terms of the soccer education, how they develop, and I just feel that those years between 16 and 19 are so important and if it’s lost because, with all due respect, they‘re at a college and maybe not getting the same soccer-specific time and detail, they’re probably still the same player at 19, 20 that they were at 16. You don’t want that to plateau out. You want them to continue their development."
It's unavoidable, isn't it?
Not to downplay a college education or anything, but there's something to be said for the fact that, in America, a player at the age of 24 is often still considered "young." In England, by the time you're old enough to drink adult beverages in the U.S., the conventional wisdom may very well consider you to be over-the-hill if that one big break continues to prove elusive.
Unfortunately, we can't blame the metric system for this discrepancy-- it's a legitimate competitive issue that must be addressed for the U.S. soccer brand to flourish on the global stage.
Can European coaching talent change that? On that front, of course, Coyle isn't alone. This year, a certain man named Patrick Vieira will also hope to bring some continental flavor to the other side of the Atlantic.
"I spoke to Patrick at the Combine, I think he’s excited at the challenge," Coyle said. "He’s very worldly in his ways, delighted to be involved, was involved at Manchester City getting a grounding, I think there’ll be loads of stuff that he’ll be the first to tell you he needs to learn, but I think given the capacity he’s got he’ll learn quickly."
The organizational, economic, and sporting challenges unique to MLS require a lot of, shall we say, "on-the-job training." But it's hard not to look at MLS, with all its recent influxes of overseas talent, as anything other than a league whose tide is rising.
Ideally, in 2016, that rising tide will lift Patrick Vieira and New York City FC.