Ger­rard bow­ing out with a whim­per af­ter un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the MLS

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY MARK OG­DEN

BLINK and you might miss it, but Steven Ger­rard’s glit­ter­ing ca­reer may reach its end on Sun­day in the dis­tinctly unglam­orous sur­round­ings of Dick’s Sport­ing Goods Park, on the out­skirts of Den­ver in a place called Com­merce City.

Speak to some peo­ple in Los An­ge­les, how­ever, and they would sug­gest that the for­mer Eng­land cap­tain’s ca­reer ac­tu­ally ended a good 18 months ago when he scored on his farewell ap­pear­ance for Liver­pool dur­ing a 6-1 de­feat against Stoke City at the Bri­tan­nia Sta­dium in May 2015.

That would be a harsh sum­ma­tion of Ger­rard’s two sea­sons in Ma­jor League Soc­cer (MLS) with LA Galaxy, but the sta­tis­tics do lit­tle to sug­gest that life in Cal­i­for­nia has been an Amer­i­can dream for the 36-year-old.

Ger­rard man­aged just 15 se­nior ap­pear­ances in his first sea­son at the StubHub Cen­ter and 23 this year, with a mere five goals amassed in two cam­paigns.

He was an un­used sub­sti­tute dur­ing the MLS Cup Play-Off quar­ter­fi­nal first­leg against Colorado Rapids on Sun­day, when a 1-0 vic­tory for the home side se­cured a nar­row ad­van­tage ahead of Sun­day’s sec­ond-leg in the foothills of the Rocky Moun­tains, and has not reg­is­tered any min­utes on the pitch since suf­fer­ing an in­jury against FC Dal­las on Oc­to­ber 2.

But with his con­tract with Bruce Arena’s team just about to ex­pire at the end of this MLS sea­son, the cur­tain may fall on Ger­rard’s ca­reer this week­end if Colorado over­turn their first-leg deficit and progress to the semi­fi­nals at Galaxy’s ex­pense.

He may not even make it off the bench, which would be a ter­ri­ble way for one of the Premier League’s great­est play­ers to go out.

It will go down as one of the anom­alies of the Premier League era that Ger­rard was never able to se­cure a league win­ners’ medal, but do not be fooled into be­liev­ing that he was any­thing but an iconic fig­ure and a player wholly de­serv­ing of his leg­endary sta­tus.

But he, and a whole raft of cur­rent Premier League play­ers, have now dis­cov­ered the achieve­ments in the Premier League count for noth­ing in the MLS.

David Beck­ham earned the re­spect of the Amer­i­can sport­ing pub­lic with his con­tri­bu­tion to the MLS dur­ing his five years with Galaxy – he was only 32 when he made the move from Real Madrid in 2007 – while Rob­bie Keane and Bradley Wright-Phillips have also en­hanced their rep­u­ta­tions in the States.

But it has taken Frank Lam­pard a good year to win over the scep­tics in New York by pro­duc­ing stun­ning form for New York City this sea­son with 12 goals in 19 games af­ter a mis­er­able first year with the club.

Lam­pard has thrown every­thing at the MLS and fought to re­deem him­self af­ter the tur­bu­lence of his first year, when his de­layed ar­rival from Man­ches­ter City an­gered sup­port­ers be­fore he even ar­rived.

But while Lam­pard has si­lenced the doubters, Ger­rard has given them too much am­mu­ni­tion by fail­ing to dis­play the same com­mit­ment to the cause.

By re­turn­ing to Liver­pool to help over­come his re­cent in­jury, he left him­self ex­posed to ques­tions as to why he would travel half the world from a won­der­ful cli­mate and world-class med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties in Los An­ge­les, and spent 12 hours on a plane, when he could have re­turned to fit­ness just as quickly, if not more so, in Mal­ibu.

Ger­rard has ad­mit­ted to hav­ing been taken aback by the phys­i­cal de- Rob­bie Keane (left) and Steven Ger­rard play­ing for LA Galaxy mands of the MLS – a league pop­u­lated by more fit and hun­gry young­sters than thirty-some­thing vet­er­ans these days – but any Premier League player who has ex­pe­ri­enced fac­ing MLS teams on pre-sea­son tours would al­ready have been aware of the in­ten­sity and high en­ergy of op­po­nents from San Jose, Hous­ton, Salt Lake City, Chicago and the like.

It seems that Ger­rard mis­took the MLS for the dinosaur’s grave­yard it once was, rather than the league it has be­come.

LA FC, the fran­chise due to en­ter the MLS in 2018, has al­ready de­liv­ered a mis­sion state­ment which in­sists that the club will not go down the route of hir­ing Euro­pean has-beens sim­ply to raise their pro­file.

That phi­los­o­phy is be­com­ing a com­mon theme in the MLS, which is why Alexi Lalas, the for­mer Galaxy and United States de­fender, claimed Wayne Rooney would be ‘steal­ing money’ if he was to leave Man­ches­ter United for the MLS any­time soon.

Sources close to Rooney, in his de­fence, have in­sisted that nei­ther the player nor his ad­vi­sors have spo­ken to any MLS fran­chise about a move from Old Traf­ford and it is un­likely that any could yet af­ford his salary or likely trans­fer fee.

But as Ger­rard has dis­cov­ered, the MLS no longer of­fers a half­way house to re­tire­ment.

So when his con­tract ex­pires, that may well be it. There may not even be the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other year in the States.

Bren­dan Rodgers may fancy tak­ing Ger­rard to Celtic, but there will be no re­turn to Liver­pool and the op­tions avail­able to Beck­ham – AC Mi­lan and Paris Saint-Ger­main – are also non-starters for Ger­rard.

Dick’s Sport­ing Goods Park in Com­merce City is no place to end such a stel­lar ca­reer, but it is only a 20 minute drive to Den­ver Air­port, so at least Ger­rard can be out of there and on a flight home be­fore they even switch off the flood­lights. – The In­de­pen­dent

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