- Jason Davis

We don't really know yet if John Rooney can play on an MLS level. Those of us familiar with the league aren't familiar enough with the younger Rooney to make a proper judgement, and even if we were, it would be only be speculation until he steps on the field in a meaningful game. Rooney isn't Thierry Henry or Rafa Marquez. Only his last name is famous. He'll have to prove himself before we can buy that New York didn't draft him just for his famous last name. The starting position is a cynical one.

Those familiar with Rooney, like writers from Macclesfield, Rooney's last club before he hopped pond for the New World, have a better appreciation of John as a player, but may be lacking when it comes to understanding MLS. Case in point, from an SI.com story I came across today:

It is no surprise that Rooney moved away from the physical battles of lower-league English soccer. He is a player who, in his own words, "likes to make things happen." He needs the ball at his feet to do that. In English lower-league soccer, tough-tackling central players are usually tall -- well over 6 feet -- and strong. The soccer isn't always pretty to watch, and the teams that succeed are often the strongest and fittest rather than the most skillful. Rooney, at 5-foot-10, sometimes struggled with the physical side of the game at Macclesfield.

Simpson believes Rooney's lack of strength is his main weakness on the pitch. "I think if it wasn't for that, with the ability he's got, you'd have another top class player at the highest level."

English lower-league soccer sounds a lot like MLS, doesn't it? Why exactly would a player who struggled with the physical part of the game in England want to move to a league that is best described in exactly the same terms? There's some skill in MLS, certainly, but how many times has the discussion been that skillful players are too often stifled by league's physical, athletic culture?

Even Major League Soccer's harshest critics would acknowledge that it's a better standard than League Two, England's fourth tier. Rooney did well enough at Macclesfield to merit some attention from clubs a level above, meaning that he's probably better than League Two, but it remains to be seen how that will translate to MLS. If Rooney isn't any stronger than he was in England, he'll probably find the sledding here just as rough.

That might depend on where he plays, and the SI piece does intrigue with talk of what position best suits Rooney and how English soccer is a poor fit for a player of his skillset. Too small/weak to play as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2 but not quick enough to play as a forward, Rooney was square peg in the round hole of England's lower-leagues. MLS might not be a fundamentally different style, but there is some formational flexibility popping up here and there. Hans Backe is a good example, and one of the best philosophical fits in the league for a player like Rooney. If he's going to have a chance to succeed here, he couldn't ask for a better situation. It doesn't hurt that the Red Bulls have significant talent and experience, and Rooney will be flanked by the best talent with which he's ever played. Conceivably, that could unlock more of whatever ability he has.

MLS needs more technical players. If John Rooney is one, that's ultimately a good thing for the league. Further, if England's lower-leagues discard/push away technically adept players because they don't possess the strength needed to play there, MLS could benefit by giving them a new home. If John Rooney succeeds here, it's possible others like him (with less famous names) will follow. Finding value in players that don't fit the League One or Two style makes sense.

It will help if MLS can move away from the same style. Until it does, John Rooney might have the same limitations with New York that he did at Macclesfield. Such a thing wouldn't do much to dampen the cynicism.

This quote from Rooney's former coach at Macclesfield Town, Gary Simpson, just about sums it up:

"Their game is probably a bit more technical in terms of passing and ball control. That might suit him. On his day I reckon he could go and play with anybody, and playing with better players could probably bring out the best in him, you never know."

You never know.

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