Mornflake Stadium Crewe Alexandra - by Peter Robinson

Sport plays a massive part in life around South Cheshire – and this is certainly true for football.

While Dabbers fans are heading down to support Nantwich Town in the Northern Premier League, there are plenty cheering on nearby League Two side Crewe Alexandra as they bid for promotion this season.

Keeping an eye on how the careers of former Crewe players have gone is always fun – including previous stars such as Dean Ashton, David Platt, Danny Murphy and Neil Lennon.

Nantwich-born Ashley Westwood was a more recent talent to emerge from Crewe’s famous academy, and he went on to enjoy successful spells at Aston Villa and Burnley in the Premier League.

A recent move to Charlotte FC in the US saw the player head stateside and away from English football.

But why has the MLS become so popular in general lately, what prompted Westwood’s move specifically, and how is his time in North Carolina going?

MLS is booming across global football
Major League Soccer may once have been a domestic league that garnered scant attention globally, but this isn’t the case anymore.

By the same token, more and more top-level players are looking to move to US teams, in much the same way as Ashely Westwood has done. But what is behind the rise of MLS in global football?

It is undeniable that the number of well-known players MLS sides are now snapping up helps a lot in terms of gaining more recognition.

From people like Westwood to even bigger names like Messi, the number of top-class players at US clubs helps attract more attention.

This also, of course, makes it a more appealing place for players themselves to call home.

The FIFA World Cup is due to be hosted in the USA in 2026 and this is something that has not only helped make football even bigger in the States but also in the MLS as well.

The rise of sports betting globally has also helped bring more people into the MLS, as they come across matches to bet on at online sportsbooks.

Shocking injury prompted US move for Westwood
The rising status of the MLS in global football may well have made a move to Charlotte FC easier for Westwood to consider, but it was a serious ankle injury against West Ham in April 2022 that sparked the switch.

This injury was so bad that it left the player fearing for his career at one point.

Although he made the gruelling road back to fitness through sheer determination, Westwood did not play for Burnley again and many thought he would be announcing his retirement.

This may have been true were it not for the decision by US-based MLS team Charlotte FC to offer him a contract.

This saw the player decide to move stateside in January 2023 and it looks as though it is something that has really paid off for him.

He not only seems to have been rejuvenated on a personal level by the switch but has also flourished on the pitch as well.

Happier times for Westwood at Charlotte FC
During the previous 2023 season, he was a regular in the Charlotte side and showed that his horror injury was behind him.

Not only did he put in a number of outstanding performances for his new team, but he also provided them with much-needed leadership as captain.

Although the 2023/24 season may well be drawing to a close for Nantwich Town and Crewe Alex, the 2024 MLS season is still in its infancy.

Westwood has again been key to Charlotte’s steady start to the new campaign and will be key if they are to improve on their ninth-place finish from last season.

In addition to the player’s US exploits on the pitch, it is perhaps his reignited passion for the sport that is most apparent.

Westwood has spoken publicly, for example, about how a constant battle against relegation at Burnley each year had started to dull his love for the game, and how he was almost ready to give up altogether after his terrible injury.

His January 2023 transfer seems to have helped him find his passion for football again though and has even allowed him to talk about playing into his forties.

Ashely Westwood back to his best in North Carolina
There is no doubt that Ashley Westwood has been one of the best products of the Crewe Alexandra academy system.

His success also shows youngsters at the academy launched by Nantwich Town and Malbank School that there is a tangible road to success with enough hard work.

All football fans around Nantwich will be pleased to hear that the player is enjoying his football at Charlotte FC and also enjoying life in the US.

The horror injury he suffered when playing for Burnley seems well behind him and he plans to stay in the MLS for a long time.

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