In the summer, ex-Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha made signing more defenders a top priority. He…
To date, Danny Wilson’s career has followed a familiar pattern. He’d only made a handful of appearances for Rangers, breaking through into the first team as a teenager, when he made a £2 million move to Liverpool. At Anfield, the centre back struggled to make an impression, finally finding his way again at Hearts. But he only played a single full season in Gorgie before returning to Rangers. Now, just as he looked to have reclaimed a starting spot before the new year, the 26-year-old is off to MLS.
Indeed, in what must go down as the most bizarre move of the January transfer window in Scotland so far, Wilson is set to join the Colorado Rapids, undergoing a medical with the American club earlier this week. It continues the trend of Wilson moving on just as he seems about to settle down, just as he finds his groove at a club.
Now entering his peak years as a professional, Wilson is taking an almighty risk. Once hailed as the great, young centre back Scotland had waited a generation for, his career to date has meandered, taking in more stops than is surely healthy for his development. This next one comes at a critical juncture for the defender.
But while the decision to leave Rangers now, at this point, warranty scrutiny, Wilson’s destination shouldn’t be derided. Colorado might play over 4,000 miles away, but MLS isn’t some footballing backwater, as it has been painted by some in the Scottish game this past week. It’s entirely feasible that Wilson could succeed over there, and if he does we should pay attention.
MLS isn’t the league it once was. Derided as little more than a retirement league not so long ago, the North American top flight is now a competitive division in its own right. The league has moved beyond the days of David Beckham and Thierry Henry. The truly big names, the kind your Mum would recognise, are now few and far between.
Instead, clubs like Atlanta United, who averaged crowds of over 70,000 fans at their home games last season, now spend big money on young talent, frequently from South America. Miguel Almiron, the Paraguayan signed for $8 million this time last year, is now attracting attention from some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Arsenal have been linked.
This week, Montreal Impact teenager Ballou Tabla was poached by Barcelona, with the Spanish giants inserting a €25 million buyout clause in his contract. Jack Harrison, an English winger who came through the American youth system, has become a key figure for New York City FC over the past two seasons, playing alongside David Villa and Andrea Pirlo and breaking into the England Under 21 squad in the process. There is now an infrastructure in place for young players to succeed, attracting global attention, on the other side of the Atlantic.
Wilson isn’t the only young Scot to have considered the move to MLS. Before John McGinn signed for Hibernian, he was close to joining the Houston Dynamo, He trained with the Texas side while Owen Coyle was there. As far as the Dynamo was concerned, he had actually all but agreed to move there only for the midfielder to reconsider. There is a growing trend.
Many are quick to draw comparisons between MLS and the Scottish Premiership. In truth, that is difficult. Across MLS, from top to bottom, there is a great variance in quality. There are teams of a high standard, like Toronto FC or Atlanta, and those of a not so high standard who would likely struggled in the Scottish top flight. Colorado, the team Wilson is joining, are of the latter category.
In the Rapids, the centre back is signing for a team that endured a dismal 2017. New head coach Anthony Hudson is the youngest in MLS, taking over at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, arriving at the club having led the New Zealand national team to the World Cup play-offs last year. The Seattle-native, whose coaching career has taken him to Newport County and Bahrain, is now charged with overhauling a team that has earned a reputation for itself recently as the dullest, least inspiring in MLS.
Make no mistake, Wilson is not moving to Colorado for a jolly. He won’t be handed slippers and a pipe for his place in the retirement league upon signing his contract there. Things may well go wrong for the 26-year-old, but they could equally go right. Just because Wilson won’t be in our immediate gaze as Scottish football fans doesn’t mean he is giving up on his career.