Perhaps it speaks to the improvement of MLS that Tottenham is returning to England feeling prepared for its upcoming Premier League campaign.
The north London side finished off a three-game North American tour with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire Saturday at Toyota Park, with Harry Kane and Aaron Lennon each tallying a goal. Tottenham, which finished sixth in the Premier League last season and is gunning for its first Champions League berth since the 2010-2011 season, played friendlies against Seattle and Toronto before traveling to Chicago.
"You see the three fixtures we had are decent teams that really play some good football, that are technically good, physically good," midfielder Lewis Holtby, who set up Kane's fifth-minute goal, said. "Yeah, big compliment to the MLS."
Tottenham's acclimation process to first-year manager Mauricio Pochettino came against a few former mates in Seattle's Clint Dempsey and Toronto's Jermain Defoe as well as Fire midfielder Grant Ward, who came to the Fire on loan from Spurs in March. Tottenham players were quick to point out the moves of Frank Lampard and David Villa to MLS, adding to the legitimacy of a league that also produced many of the men who were key contributors for the United States in this summer's World Cup.
While Tottenham still has preseason friendlies against Scottish Premier League giants Celtic and Schalke 04, which finished third in the German Bundesliga last season, beginning the preseason against three MLS sides certainly presented a challenge. Spurs drew with Seattle 3-3, beat Toronto 3-2 and then Chicago 2-0.
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"The MLS gets better and better each year," venerable keeper Brad Friedel, an Ohio native, said. "Every time I come back, something else has grown whether it's another team pops up or better players, bigger players, the growth of the academy level. Everything is vastly improved from five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago and it's going to continue to be that way. I don't think anyone in the U.S. is going to rest on anything, they're going to continue to try to grow things which is a great thing to see."
Pochettino's system calls for more pressing and attacking, and while things were sloppy at times for Tottenham in the United States and Canada that was to be expected. After all, Pocchetino came from Southampton as Spurs' third manager in the last year, following Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood at the helm at White Hart Lane.
"It's a new development in the way we play, but it was very successful at Southampton so I think it's going to get us some places," Holtby said. "I think we can develop into this new system very good."
The results in Chicago were good, with Tottenham clamping down on the Fire -- granted, a team languishing in the MLS table with only three victories this year -- and putting away the two goals. Holtby set up Kane's goal when he dispossessed Fire center back Jeff Larentowicz just outside the penalty area and flicked a pass to the 20-year-old striker, who buried the goal past Sean Johnson at the near post in the fifth minute. Lennon followed later in the match with highlight-reel goal in the 84th minute, beating backup Fire keeper Kyle Reynish with a quick move in the area and burying his shot into an empty net.
For the Fire, the match was of little importance given the 5-1 shellacking handed to them by San Jose on Wednesday. That brutal result was why manager Frank Yallop experimented by moving Larentowicz to the back line from his usual midfield post, and with only those three MLS victories the Fire need a quick turnaround to stay in the playoff discussion.
It's not like the Fire didn't give Spurs a decent match, though -- Friedel was forced to make a few saves and there were some hairy moments for Tottenham's back line. But on the whole, Tottenham leaves North America with a healthy respect for where the MLS and soccer in America is heading.
"It's growing," Pochettino said, "and it's growing fast."