Ask any MLS-based French player what he thinks of North America's top flight, and you are sure to receive an extremely enthusiastic answer. “I’m already hoping to stay here for two or three years. I’m really impressed,” said Laurent Courtois, an August signing for Chivas USA, summing up the general feeling among his compatriots.
Each player has had a different experience, but they all agree that the USA and Canada are great destinations for those looking to forge a career overseas. “I’ve been amazed since I’ve been here, with the stadiums, working conditions and away trips. I’m learning as I go along and I love it,” added the 33-year-old, whose former clubs include Grenoble, Levante and West Ham. “It’s sometimes strange on a tactical level, but you’re always running and it’s very open.”
It has been a similarly positive experience for Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin. “I’m having a great time here and I can really see myself staying for a few years,” said the former Reims trainee, now considered one of the best centre-backs in the league. Collin said that since moving stateside, he has found “a stability that I didn’t have until now,” and added: “I’m so happy to be here, so impressed by the quality of the facilities and the enthusiasm for football, which is growing stronger and stronger. I’ve dreamed of the USA since I was a kid. It’s been the best choice of my life.”
After agreeing terms with Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps, forward Eric Hassli joined Collin in crossing the Atlantic last spring for the start of the MLS season . And, like Collin, Hassli has enjoyed a successful start to life there. The former Metz player is among the best strikers in MLS, and his spectacular goal against Seattle last month only served to strengthen his reputation.
“I’m very pleased to be here and to play in a city as amazing as Vancouver,” said the striker, who is on holiday for the next few months after his side missed out on a place in the play-offs. “The standard of football is very good and there are lots of good players.”
I accepted a small salary, but I wanted to play and things went very quickly. I can express myself here.
Sebastien Le Toux will have no time to put his feet up, as his fledgling Philadelphia Union side prepare to do battle in the MLS play-offs. Le Toux crossed the pond in 2007 to play in North America’s second tier, and his progress has been nothing if not impressive since he made the step up to MLS.
"I feel completely comfortable in my role as playmaker," said Le Toux, who came through the youth ranks as a full-back at Rennes before joining Lorient. "I converted myself into an attacking player when I joined Seattle. I accepted a small salary, but I wanted to play and things went very quickly. I can express myself here. I run a lot and I have good stamina, which is what the team and the fans expect.”
Even for back-up players like Leandre Griffit, the picture is a positive one. "In my opinion, there are six or seven teams that are the same standard as mid-table Ligue 1 sides,” said Griffit, who played for Columbus Crew before joining Toronto FC. "These sides also have lots of Latin American players who are unknown in Europe, but who could sign for big clubs. In any case, the level is higher than in Sweden or Belgium," added the former Crystal Palace player, who had a six-month spell in the Belgian third division two years ago before joining Columbus Crew.
"Youri [Djorkaeff] said the standard is between lower-table Ligue 1 and the top half of Ligue 2. He’s absolutely right," said Didier Domi before he left New England Revolution, the club where Ousmane Dabo finished his career. "I can feel the enthusiasm among the other French players. When you see that Thierry [Henry] is here along with slightly less illustrious players like Ousmane and I, it makes other players want to come and give it a try.”