Is Gerrard an MLS misfit?

When Steven Gerrard signed for LA Galaxy it felt like a watershed moment for soccer in the United States.

Here was a man who had dedicated his life to one club in the Premier League, a player in the mould of Ryan Giggs or Paolo Maldini, choosing the MLS as the only place he would ply his trade away from his Liverpool heartland.

With fellow European heroes Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo moving Stateside during the same summer, the attention was firmly on this side of the Atlantic, and the smart money at football betting sites everywhere was on Gerrard catapulting Galaxy to success in the 2015 season.

Muted finale

But, by the time the final day of the season arrived and Gerrard lined up alongside Robbie Keane at CenturyLink Field against Seattle Sounders, the chance of securing silverware had long since slipped out of reach. A 3-2 defeat to the Sounders ensured Galaxy ended the season in mid-table, nine points behind Western Conference winners FC Dallas.

With the season over, Gerrard wasted little time in heading back across the pond to his native Liverpool, where he is spending the winter training with his former club. Since hitting home soil, the 35-year-old’s talk has been of next season being his last, and his mind seems to be more focused on what life will hold after he hangs up his boots rather than what he can achieve in a white jersey in 2016.

Galaxy fans must be scratching their heads and wondering where it all went wrong with Gerrard, who inspired Bruce Arena’s team to a four-game winning streak as recently as August. But those who have followed Gerrard’s career closely will understand that incorporating a player with his particular qualities into a new team is not always a straightforward task.

England underachiever

Since the turn of the century, successive managers of the England national team have tussled with the problem of trying to accommodate Gerrard into a winning team, with little success.

Despite being blessed with perhaps the most talented generation of English midfielders in history, even astute coaches like Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson couldn’t make Gerrard the linchpin of a winning team. Followers of the Three Lions saw Gerrard paired with central midfield partners of the very highest calibre, Lampard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gareth Barry. But time and time again England disappointed at major tournaments and in international friendlies.

Meanwhile, at club level, Liverpool managers spent the better part of 17 years building teams around Gerrard, and though the trophies came flooding home in the cup competitions, the Reds couldn’t sustain a title challenge in the Premier League.

Final fling

Many have pondered the Gerrard puzzle and tried to ascertain why this remarkably talented star didn’t quite hit the heights of success expected of him in his career.

The best guesses seem to point towards a lack of positional discipline in his pomp; Gerrard would maraud around the field as he saw fit, making scything, precision tackles, spraying raking cross-field passes, and thundering the ball into the net from all angles.

But when it came to fitting into a game plan that didn’t permit him the freedom to do as he pleased, and again when his ageing legs ceased to give him the right to roam every inch of the field, soccer found in Gerrard something of a misfit.

Sadly for the MLS, Gerrard is struggling to come to terms with the limitations that all players must come face-to-face with towards the end of their careers. If next season is to be his final fling, perhaps he will throw caution to the wind and play with the unbridled freedom and passion that made him one of football’s world stars.


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