“MLS Team America” Could It Work?

Yanks-Abroad is a great site.  I read it near religiously.   You should too.

The name alone, however, suggests its latent bias – one toward a preference for US players that are playing abroad, and a (general) disinterest in MLS.    That made Brent Latham’s new Yanks Abroad piece “PHILLY..GO AMERICAN!” such a peculiar and interesting one.  It is a worthy read, so I won’t recap it here, but needless to say he makes an interesting argument that the Philadelphia Union has a unique opportunity to go 100% American with its roster – and that it might actually be a good idea.

A thought provoking idea, for sure, but I am struggling with some of the surrounding analysis. Here are some themes or points Brent made that trouble me a bit.

The fact that more US players leading the scoring charts would “…fight a trend that threatens to make it less relevant on the international soccer scene.” 

This depends on how you define international soccer “relevance.”    I could see a few ways to build “relevance”:

A) MLS clubs start beating International club teams from top leagues in something that matters,

B) MLS clubs compete for, or sign, players who are respected/desired by European clubs, or

C) MLS provides talent to International clubs that succeed in the best leagues.

MLS Clubs do not do “A” very frequently.  Superliga – though entertaining – is a weak competition in terms of international respect – at least outside of Mexico.  Well, perhaps within Mexico too…

The MLS All Star Game?  Good fun.  But not “real” by any stretch of the imagination.

I would say that “B” almost REQUIRES the player to be an International, since any American player “coming home” provides a built-in excuse for the Euro’s to say he’s headed to MLS for “non-sporting reasons.”     And for relevance, to me it is hard to name four bigger things MLS has done lately than the additions of David Beckham, Freddie Ljungberg, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and perhaps Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Blanco might only add Mexican respect, and GBS may only add South American credibility, but still… )  These players came, played hard but they were not able to dominate the league.

The “C” option is likely where we have more chance and history of “relevance” in the international soccer community.  Providing talent to European or other top-tier international teams.  However, I think it matters little to the “international soccer scene” if the players we are growing, showcasing and/or selling come from the USA, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago or anywhere else.

MLS will be relevant if it is successful as a feeder system to them, not for where those players come from.   There is a difference between US Soccer relevance and MLS relevance.

Another general theme is: while Europe is probably the best place for a young American creative talent to develop, they might be well served with more options in the USA.

I generally agree – the more options for American players, the better.   I think the evidence is out on if/when there is a right time to jump to Europe – especially for “creative” players.  So many of our promising US Players end up floundering post transfer (Eddie Johnson, Freddy Adu are easy examples.)  Would Landon Donovan be better if he stayed in (or went back to) to Europe?  Maybe.

The interesting thing I struggle with here though, isn’t that more MLS options for creative/offensive American players in MLS is a bad thing – surely not – but the suggestion that including international players alongside them stunts their growth.   Yes, there are only so many positions on the field, thus limiting overall chances when there’s an experienced foreign international player.

However, I’d be curious to measure (impossible, of course) what difference Carlos Valderamma made on Steve Ralston’s game.   Or what effect Guillermo Barros Schelotto is having on Eddie Gaven or Robbie Rodgers?  Etc.  Etc.

Hey, there are other successful clubs that do this, why not in Philly?

Examples of Chivas Guadalajara and Athletic Bilbao are given to prove that an “all local” team can survive or even thrive.  The problem I see is that – that both Chivas and Athletic have a terrific feeder system and development capability (or at least, I suspect so) by which they can source (grow? groom?) local talent.   (Especially Athletic, since Chivas can “buy” good Mexican talent more easily than Athletic can “buy” good Basque talent.)    MLS clubs development and youth programs are nascent, to be kind, and far from reliable.   This presents a significant hurdle since one American-only club will have trouble out-bidding others for American talent in MLS.

So I’m against this “All American Team” thing, right?

No, not at all.  In fact, in “What is a ‘Chivas’ anyway?” I suggested that – in a very different direction than the go-America theme – maybe Chivas USA blew it when they gave up their ambitious All-Latino goal.   Why not have a themed team?

Brent rightly calls out some risks – but leans heavily on the “marketing value” associated with “Team USA” as a saving grace.   That however, might be the biggest risk.  Do US fans still need some convincing that American players are the headliners?   David Beckham isn’t here just because he hits good crosses and free-kicks, now is he?

Marketability – as well as capability – would be key to building such a team.   I suspect Freddy Adu (“Wunderkind comes Home”) is looking for playing time.     Maybe Jermaine Jones (“Loves the USA so much he dumped Germany!”) is interested?


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