The downward spiral of the English Premier League

The Premiership has to be the worst league in the world.

For decades, it's been bandied about that England's top flight is the pinnacle of all sport, both in entertainment value and level of competition.

While it's still undeniably gripping to watch, several individual performances that have transpired this season make it clearly evident that the English Premier League is just downright bad.

Years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find an American playing in the Premier League. "Soccer" has never been a top-tier sport in the States, and because of this, a Yank would be blessed to simply land a job handing out water bottles on the sideline during stoppages of play or polishing the boots of one of the Premier League's gifted European stars.

But now, Americans playing in the Premiership aren't just commonplace. They are - gasp - actually contributing.

Clint Dempsey, a Nacogdoches, Texas native, became the first American to record a hat trick in Premier League play, scoring three goals in Fulham's 5-2 defeat of Newcastle on Jan. 21.

Conceding five goals is obviously indicative of a poor outing for the Magpies, but nothing can be more embarrassing for Alan Pardew's men then surrendering a hat trick to an American. That would be like a Brazilian scoring a hat trick to help the Samba Boys beat hockey.

Then there is Landon Donovan, who was completely ahead of the curve. Donovan had the foresight to acknowledge that the Premier League was getting worse and consequently decided to spend his entire career in Major League Soccer.

Donovan has had a couple successful loan spells with Everton but has not made a permanent move across the pond. He is just too good for the EPL.

Speaking of players too good for the Premier League, Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard is so good that he doesn't just stop goals - he scores them. During a league match against Bolton on Jan. 4, Howard launched the ball the length of the field and watched it bounce over the head of Adam Bogdan, his opposite number, and into the back of the net.

It is truly admirable that Howard has stayed in the EPL for as long as he has. But after being named to the MLS Best XI on two occasions and bagging an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award during his tenure in America, one has to wonder if a return to MLS is in the cards in the near future for Howard, just for the sake of validating the legitimacy of his career.

It's not just American players who are taking advantage of the EPL's deficiencies.

Aging MLS stars have signed loan deals with Premier League clubs to stay sharp ahead of their American seasons.

New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal in January to rescue his club from making an embarrassing exit to Leeds in the FA Cup. The Frenchman, 34, entered the scoreless cup clash midway through the second half and nabbed the game-winning goal.

Robbie Keane of the Los Angeles Galaxy completed a loan move to Aston Villa and made an immediate impact. The 31-year-old made his first appearance for the Villains on Jan. 21 against Wolverhampton. With Wolves leading 2-1 in the second half, Keane notched a second-half brace to single-handedly claim all three points for Alex McLeish's men.

These players have showed up in England, without a proper preseason, and outperformed the Premier League stars who have been there all year. It could be said that the EPL is becoming a "retirement league" for MLS superstars.

These story lines, and more, certainly make the Premier League compelling for sheer entertainment value, but the fact that so many misfits and outcasts are so successful is evidence enough that the league is on a downward spiral.

Heck, even David Beckham doesn't want to have anything to do with English football, opting for another year with the Galaxy instead.