Since its inaugural season in 1996, the MLS has gone from strength to strength, with football becoming ever more popular in the United States. Although the quality of play was initially fairly low, in recent years it has greatly improved, with top level coaches and tacticians guiding the teams. And as the MLS’s profile grew, with teams such as LA Galaxy becoming international franchises, it began to attract big names from across the pond. France is regarded as one of the great footballing nations of Europe, and having won the World Cup twice in recent memory, continues to produce elite level players and managers. There have been a number of star players from France who have graced North American pitches, having a profound impact on the American game. And thanks to a recently launched educational program, French football is now influencing the coaching of successful soccer teams. Let’s have a closer look at the French players, coaches, and the MLS.
Iconic coaches and big names
There have been numerous French coaches who have achieved international fame for their prowess both in club and international football, and their influence on the wider game. Didier Deschamps had a distinguished and highly decorated playing career, making his name at Marseille and Juventus, and captaining France to victory in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship. His managerial career has been just as stellar, guiding Marseille to a league win, before taking over as the French national team manager and leading his country to victory in the World Cup once more. Arsène Wenger delivered three EPL titles and seven FA Cup victories in his 22-year tenure at Arsenal. Beyond adding to the silverware cabinet, his free flowing, attacking style of play greatly influenced the English game, and his approach to scouting, training, nutrition and diet not only revitalised Arsenal, it also set a benchmark for teams around the world. The MLS has recently attracted big names from the world of French football as coaches, with Patrick Vieira taking charge of New York City FC between 2016 and 2018, leading them to a fourth and second place finish in the Eastern Conference, and his former Arsenal team mate Thierry Henry taking the helm at Montreal impact for the 2020 campaign.
French MLS stars
MLS has attracted players from Europe over the last 15 years, most notably David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at LA Galaxy, who have boosted the quality and visibility of the league. Let’s have a look at a few of the best French players that have played in the MLS. Frederic Brillant joined New York City FC in 2016, under compatriot Patrick Viera, and his defensive prowess helped the club reach the playoffs in both seasons. He joined D.C. United in 2018, and has cemented his status as one of the most formidable defenders in the league. Sebastien Le Toux, in his ten year stretch in the US, played for Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls, but it was his time with Philadelphia Union which really made his name in MLS. He scored prolifically for the club, becoming their most successful ever player, and returning to finish his career there. When he retired in 2017 he had amassed a record of 59 goals and 57 assists from 263 appearances, earning a place in fans hearts as well as the coveted 50/50 club. Arsenal legend Thierry Henry moved stateside in 2010, joining New York Red Bulls after a highly decorated career in Europe. He immediately made a huge impact, reaching double digits goals in each season he played in, finishing with a total goal tally of 51 in only 122 appearances.
French Football Federation (FFF) and the MLS
Since 2014, the FFF has teamed up with the MLS to revamp coaching in the league, and to help develop the viability, sustainability and overall quality of the academies in the US. The Elite Formation Coaching Licence (EFCL) emerged from the cooperation, and quickly became known as one of the most gruelling courses in soccer history, not only training coaches on tactics and squad selection, but venturing into psychology of development, and forging a personal style in an effective way. This collaboration brings a level of quality and technical nous from European football directly into the MLS, and focuses on aspects such as cutting down on excessive coaching – putting power back into the hands (and feet) of the players. The course encourages coaches not only to master every element of the game, but also to self analyse and reflect, to be able to calmly alter tactics as a match is playing out, and to learn how best to communicate and explain their knowledge to their players.
French football has been a major influence on the global game for decades. International and club success is testament to strong players, excellent tactical know how and effective squad development. By transplanting this knowledge and experience to the MLS, the quality of football academies in America is sure to reach the highest level, providing the MLS with quality players for years to come.