Better MLS doesn’t mean better USMNT
Over the last six or seven years, Major League Soccer has gradually gained in popularity and put out a better product. Unlike the MLS, the US Men’s National Team grew exponentially more in skill, popularity, and reputation in that same time period. Tim Howard (The US Secretary of Defense), Clint Dempsey, the prime years of Landon Donovan and the rise of a few youth academy players all led to an all-time high in the belief that the United States could make its mark on world soccer. Even though the national team never produced the results that were expected of it, the MLS has slowly but surely gained popularity and, in the last two seasons, has brought in a bevy of high-class, popular, foreign players to dazzle the virgin eyes of the everyday American. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry, Kaka, David Beckham, Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Didier Drogba, and many others have turned the MLS from the laughing-stock of soccer leagues to one that is very much on the rise. While bringing in renowned international players to spice up the MLS is doing wonders for improving the talent as a whole, the main problem is that it does nothing to help the MLS or American soccer in the long run.
The current status of the United States Men’s National Team is one of controversy, turmoil, and little hope for the future. A lot of blame has been put on Jürgen Klinsmann and his decisions, such as leaving Landon Donovan off of the World Cup roster and more recently removing Clint Dempsey from the roster. And while I am in accord with those suggesting a new manager, I do not think that that is the true problem that the USMNT is facing right now.
The greatest problem they are facing is what lies ahead, or rather what they will not have going forward. If you look at any international team around the world, they have promising youth players that can crack into their senior national teams at a young age because of their extreme talent and promise. The United States is one of the few that has young players in its senior roster out of necessity, not out of promise. Almost anywhere else in the world, soccer is the number one sport by a landslide. Most countries have sporting options of soccer, rugby, and cricket. And for the most part, that is it. They do not have AAU basketball, American football, baseball (for the most part), tennis, hockey, or any other number of sports that are popular on a large-scale in the United States. With all these potential athletes that could make a difference in the soccer world playing different sports, that leaves little to nobody to make it through the American soccer system (which is incredibly underfunded and under-performing, but that’s for a different article).
Even though I alluded to several youth players making a difference in the USMNT recently, for the US to be a world power, players of the caliber of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Tim Howard cannot be once in a lifetime players; they need to be coming out of academies, much as it is everywhere else in the world, every 3-5 years. Unfortunately, the USMNT cannot do as the MLS does and simply lure aging international players with large bags of money. The problem can only be solved by putting importance on properly growing and developing talent from a young age and having the infrastructure to do so. Professional European clubs have established youth academies, some of which are even boarding schools, that rigorously train kids from a young age and have the rights to them as players if they should make it. If the United States were to implement these, even if they were academies for European teams, the level of soccer would astronomically improve. But, given how irrelevant soccer is in youth sports in America, one can only hope that this will happen in their wildest dreams.
While the rise of the MLS may have given some the impression that America was to become a prosperous land of studded athletes interested in soccer, that simply is not the case. The only thing that the rise of the MLS has done is bring better competition to the American soccer league. In terms of what is going to happen with the USMNT, I cannot say. But it does not look good.