LOS ANGELES -- Tottenham Hotspur has only just arrived in the United States, but the team is already familiar with the country's brand of soccer.
“MLS has elevated,” Spurs winger Gareth Bale told reporters on Sunday. “A lot more players overseas know about MLS now.”
Bale and his teammates will play three matches in the United States on their summer tour. First they'll take on the LA Galaxy and former Spurs man Robbie Keane on Tuesday, before moving on to Baltimore to face Liverpool Saturday. The team finishes the tour with a match against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on July 31.
Keane is just one of a number of high-profile European stars that have moved to the league in recent years, joining the likes of Thierry Henry and recent additions Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta in Montreal.
“I think the way U.S. soccer has grown so much in the last 15 years is also down to the job especially of Los Angeles Galaxy,” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said. “And hopefully it continues to improve to have the success that it has in Europe.”
The Galaxy has become something of a haven for big-name European talent, as it boasts Keane and the league's first-ever Designated Player: David Beckham.
This isn't Tottenham’s first visit to the States, as the squad also embarked on a tour of the country in 2010, which saw it face the San Jose Earthquakes, the New York Red Bulls, as well as Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon.
“We went to San Jose a couple of years ago and we had a great experience,” Bale said.
Tottenham midfielder Rafael van der Vaart is another former teammate of Keane.
“I’ve played with Keane of course,” he said. “He’s a great lad and a great player. It’s good that that kind of player plays here, because I think soccer can become bigger and bigger in America, so that’s a good thing,”
Van der Vaart also moved to end any speculation over his future, saying he intends to play at White Hart Lane in 2012-13.
“Yeah I am (staying at Tottenham). That’s always a question to ask, (because) in football you never know, but yeah I want to stay and I’m happy here,” the Dutchman said.
That news will be a relief to Tottenham fans, who will get their first chance to see their team in action in the new season on Tuesday. Thanks to the growing popularity of MLS, Bale is aware of the challenge his side's first opponent will pose.
“They’re on TV a lot now that Beckham and Robbie Keane are playing over here,” the Welshman said. “The standard’s gone up massively in the last couple of years, and it’s great to be out there in preseason and to play teams like that and get some good match practice.”