Major League Soccer should not be thought of as a place players go to end their careers, but rather as a route for young Mexican players who want to get to Europe, said former Mexico international and Seattle Sounders midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, who retired from the game on Thursday.
"The league is no longer a step back in a player's career nor it is it a cemetery," Pineda said in an interview on ESPN's Los Capitanes. "Those who say that haven't really watched MLS every eight days. The league has grown by giant steps."
The 33-year-old Pineda, who did not have his contract option picked up by Sounders last month, spent 13 years as a professional spanning seven teams. He played his final two years with Sounders, where he made 56 regular season appearances and an additional three in the playoffs.
"I think MLS is a great springboard. European clubs have a lot of direct contact with the league," said Pineda, adding that Houston Dynamo and fellow Mexico international Erick "Cubo" Torres at one time also spoke about how "MLS is the route to Europe."
Pineda said he would recommend MLS "especially for the many young players who want an intermediate step between Mexico and Europe, because Europe is their dream.
Eight of the 11 players on the current iteration of Mexico's national team are plying their trade in Europe and one (Rafa Marquez) has just returned to Mexico following a distinguished career in Europe, but most have made the leap straight out of Liga MX. Those players include Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Carlos Vela and Diego Reyes (both of Real Sociedad) Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen), PSV's Hector Moreno and Andres Guardado, Malaga goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, Jonathan dos Santos (Villarreal) and Porto players Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Hector Herrera and Miguel Layun.
Marco Fabian also moved to Eintracht Frankfurt in late December from Chivas Guadalajara.
Pineda, who made 45 appearances for Mexico and scored one goal, also said MLS clubs are now at the level to challenge Liga MX clubs on the field.
"The competitive level is very good and it is no longer easy to beat U.S. teams and we will see more MLS clubs beating Mexican clubs in the very near future, said the midfielder, who was a member of Mexico's 2006 World Cup squad in Germany.
In February, four teams from MLS, including the LA Galaxy, will go head-to-head with clubs from Mexico when CONCACAF Champions League resumes play with the quarterfinals with the eventual winner earning a spot in next year's FIFA Club World Cup. No MLS club has ever earned a Club World Cup spot, with Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake both finishing runners-up in recent years.
Pineda, who began his career at Pumas and also did stints at Chivas, San Luis, Cruz Azul, Puebla and Queretaro before ending with the Sounders, said players like Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco, Argentinean Ignacio Piatta (Montreal Impact) and David Villa (NYCFC) give the league even more stature.
Before moving to the MLS club in 2014, Pineda spent the whole of his career in Mexico, where he featured for Chivas, San Luis, Puebla, Cruz Azul and Queretaro in addition to Pumas.
He said he had many offers to play in Europe after the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany, in which Mexico finished fourth. But he added that he wasn't able to take advantage of them because of the clash between the season dates of Mexican and European clubs.
"It happened during a tough contractual period. I had six months left with Pumas and an agreement was never reached," Pineda said. "I had all the intention and all the desire. After that I went to Chivas, where I also had a very long-term deal. So that was the challenge during my best moment with El Tri, but I ended up playing for very good clubs and winning titles. I retire on a very happy note and I am very satisfied with my career."
Pineda singled out Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez for his hard work and his accomplishments . "What Chicharito is doing now with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga is out of this world and I think he is a player who is going to mark an era and that he will, without a doubt, be Mexico's greatest goalscorer in history."
Pineda also said that "what he has done in Europe a lot of people play down, but to play for Manchester United and Real Madrid, even just getting few minutes and being on the bench is an accomplishment in and of itself. All of Mexico should be proud of him."
Regarding Liga MX's practice of allowing larger numbers of naturalized players, Pineda said: "It is not the fault of the foreign players. They don't come begging for a chance, they are contracted by the clubs. I think it should be regulated in some way, specifically the case of the naturalized players. I think it is too easy to become a naturalized player.
"In years past, that process took years but not anymore. What is especially sad is that it affects the careers of the U13, U15, U17, U20, U23 and Mexico has done a very good job with their youth teams."
Pineda warned that Mexico need to continue to develop good forwards.
"'Lalo Herrera' is really the only important player we have [at forward] inside Mexican football," Pineda said. "Now we have a great national team because we have so many [forwards] in Europe but in the future, if we don't attend to the situation, it could work against us."