The MLS Ticket To Success: UEFA Player Pool?

A contribution by Jay Bell

Major League Soccer continues to fight a battle for respect. Most leagues fight that same battle.

Most leagues do it through competition.

All of the Confederations have their own versions of Champions Leagues and some also have second tier club competitions. There may be none less respected than the CONCACAF Champions League.

Lose...lose...lost luster...

It is a lose-lose for MLS. If teams take the competition lightly and lose, then it is used as a complete measuring stick for the quality of MLS. If they do perform well, as Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC and Columbus did this past season, then the reaction is “well they were supposed to win.” The only way to gain anything is to overtake Mexican teams as the dominant force in CONCACAF. Still, the Primera Division itself has had difficulty gaining international respect, despite competing well in South American competitions.

MLS’s fight is to sign quality players to earn respect for the league. Even after signing good players, they are held to a double standard. Any player 30 or older that signs in MLS is automatically assumed to be settling down. While playing for top European teams, older players are hailed as “ageless wonders.” If any of them sign for an MLS team tomorrow, they would be labeled as “washed up” or “going to America to retire.” Del Piero, Raul, and Van Nistelrooy were all linked to MLS moves and continue to perform well in Europe. Those players are great and would be great for the league, but they are not the types of players that will help the league improve its reputation or rid itself of the “retirement league” label.

MLS teams would love to get more high profile South American stars. Teams continue to chase the likes of Sebastian Veron, Juan Roman Riquelme, Andres D’Alessandro and most recently Ronaldinho. There are numerous obstacles to overcome in order for MLS teams to sign more of them.

First of all, MLS does not compete in Copa Libertadores or Copa Sudamericana. The lure of competing in these tournaments is akin to the Champions and Europa Leagues in Europe. South American national team managers are also hurting MLS’s chances of signing these players. MLS players continue to be blackballed by the Colombian national team. Juan Pablo Angel, Jamison Olave, Fredy Montero and David Ferreira have been some of the best players in MLS, but continue to be ignored for call-ups, even when Colombia plays the US. The Brazilian national team coach, Mano Menezes, single handedly eliminated Los Angeles from contention for Ronaldinho by manipulating the 30 year old’s hopes to play in the 2014 World Cup.

MLS teams should look more to smaller UEFA national teams for players. Carl Robinson, Joel Lindpere, Branko Boskovic, and Jan Gunnar Solli are the types of players which will help gain respect for the league. The Vancouver Whitecaps have followed suit signing Alain Rochat and Davide Chiumiento from Switzerland. Its helps the league’s perception when it has players called up to UEFA national teams. It looks even better for the league when Joel Lindpere was willing to turn down a call-up to the national team to stay in America and help the New York Red Bulls down the stretch of the MLS season.

Koren for Slovenia...

For various reasons most American soccer fans and much of the rest of the world look to UEFA as the leader in modern day soccer. The UEFA Champions League is the biggest club competition ever and the European Football Championship has long been considered the second most prestigious international competition, behind only the World Cup. If MLS teams can continue to break into the UEFA player pool, then MLS can continue to try to sign better and better internationals who are currently playing for UEFA national teams.

How would the league be looked at if it had players like Stanislav Sestak from Slovakia and Robert Koren from Slovenia continually called up for Euro qualifiers? And what if Lorik Cana of Albania and Konstantinos Makrides of Cyprus turned down call-ups to stay for the MLS playoffs? What if MLS was being represented by Razvan Rat from Romania and Erik Huseklepp from Norway in the 2012 European Championship or even the 2014 World Cup?

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52 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 6:52 AM

    is oceana a confederation, because if it is, then that is one that is less respected than concacaf. asia can tout itself, but really concacaf is at least on par with asia. asia does have the south korea semi final. its probably close though. jay, im not sure mexican football is not respected, lol, maybe it is by us soccer, but mexico football has cop south america, thats what us soccer needs for real respect and to win what you call a lose lose situation. mls teams need to win its confederations champions league to get more respect, dont you think?

    branko boskovic is 30 years old, montinegros are not flocking to rfk to see him play, but you know honduran are to see the kid. its to much euro centric in this article, like mls has to gain respect from europe. jay, europeans are not paying money to see mls games, usa needs to worry about getting more americans to come see games. you put zlatan ibrahimlovic in dc united and everybody from the balkans will be out at rfk in a heart beat. it just cost about 150 g a week for that prick. at 25 bucks a ticket, that only means a team has to sell 6000 more seats a week to make the money to pay for him.

    whats more importaint, respect from europe or more homegrown talent?

    Reply

    • Mexico is still fighting for respect even in South America, let alone the rest of the world. MLS teams becoming dominant in their own federation will get the league more respect, but nowhere near the level that MLS is reaching for.

      I disagree that it is Eurocentric and I wasn’t talking about attendance. MLS teams WANT high quality South American players. MLS fans WANT to see high quality South American players. MLS teams are doing a great job getting bargain players, but they’re not going to get the superstars like Andres D’Alessandro because of multiple barriers.

      Europeans are not paying to watch MLS matches, but American soccer fans as a whole are paying to watch the English Premier League and the Champions League. MLS is fighting for respect from just as high of a percentage of American soccer fans as Europeans across the pond.

      I never argued against homegrown talent so I don’t know where that comparison comes from. The two will continue to grow hand-in-hand. Frankly I’m getting tired of the notion that signing foreign players hinders the development of young players.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/08 at 7:43 AM

        ” MLS is fighting for respect from just as high of a percentage of American soccer fans [as Europeans across the pond]”

        Well said, Jay. Couldn’t agree more.

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 8:26 AM

          no, its not well said. think about the comment and really think about what you are saying. mls is fighting for the respect of the american sports fan in general, yes, but the soccer fan wants to go to mls games and wants to see the product. what the timber and sounder fans are not showing respect to amnerican soccer, give me a break.

          look who is agreeing with you jay, its the brit who says yes, yes, your right, well said. come on now. you can say what you want about mexico, but every country is always fighting for respect. mexico has won a sud america, thats good enough for them and mexico gets invited to copa america and copa libratadores. i dont know, lets keep talking about this point.

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/08 at 8:32 AM

          Don’t you think it’s a problem that you have so many fans in the USA who’d rather go to the pub and watch EPL / La Liga / Serie A etc, than actually go and watch a MLS game?

          They clearly love the sport but turn their nose up at MLS, and ‘support’ a team 3000+ miles away. Having that sort of attitude isn’t going to help.

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          • Posted by MTN MAN on 2011/06/20 at 4:51 PM

            You are 100 percent correct. The #1 factor holding back American soccer is the arrogance of American soccer snobs who refuse to support the game in our own country. It’s ridiculous.

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 8:44 AM

          you are right george, there is a lot of untapped potential out there for us soccer to grab. fans are fical like that though. but their kids, if they stay in america are more likely to follow american soccer and their kids kids, even more so.

          honestly george, and you know it, most people who turn their nose up at mls have never even been to a game. you cant claim to know what it feel like to be in craven cottage, then turn around and say you know rfk does not have a good feel, even though you have never been there.

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        • Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, etc. are still in the VAST minority when it comes to this issue.

          The US match vs. Ghana was watched, by what, 18 million households? There was probably the same amount or more that watched in bars across America. We’re talking about 40 million people watching the US play.

          MLS’s average viewership on ESPN has hovered around 250,000 for years.

          There is an enormous untapped fan base that will not be convinced just because America develops better players.

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 8:53 AM

          jay, im sorry, you are off your rocker, think about what you are saying son. the untapped potential fan WANTS to see american stars in MLS. stop thinking otherwise. is that wht you think, the american sports fan does not want to see american super star athletes. maybe im unclear what you are trying to say. whtever it is, it sounds euro centric to me, if there is even such a thing.

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        • The untapped potential fan doesn’t care if American stars are in MLS. They’re going to watch the Mancs and the Gunners regardless.

          If this untapped fan base cared so much about Americans, wouldn’t they already be watching MLS for the Agudelos, Sheas, Hamids, Mwangas, and Najars of the league?

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/08 at 9:02 AM

          I have only been to watch MLS in Boston and NY, so I cannot make a comment on DC.

          The the point of all of this, is image, right? Not talking about MLS fans but casual fans. Which is why I mentioned bringing in players with brand awareness / equity to get these casual fans to games. Like jeffobx said, it boils down to money. The multiplier effect will happen, but the growth will be slow and steady – which is not necessarily a bad thing. People’s attitudes will change eventually.

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        • Posted by MJ on 2011/02/08 at 9:16 AM

          I’d agree with that. I’ve been a diehard for soccer and US Soccer all my life, started playing when I was 4. I’m a member of the official US Soccer Supporters Club and have attended multiple US (domestic) game, the next of which being Argentina in March. Any game I can’t go to, I watch on ESPN, the Spanish channels if they’re the only option, followed by espn3.com, online feeds, and sadly and lastly, the simple web updater if nothing else is available. So essentially, I’m a dedicated soccer fan and know a lot of others. But even amongst that crowd of die hards, as an MLS supporter I’m in the minority. Out of the 20 or so people I regularly hang out/play soccer with, only 3 of us follow the MLS in any way. (And as soon as you step out of the soccer community other sports fans don’t even know MLS exists half the time.) Guys who are painted red, white and blue at bars for the games, if you ask who their favorite team is without any qualifier it is usually an EPL, Seria A, or La Liga team. The reply usually has something along the lines of “I love US soccer but let’s face it, MLS isn’t up to snuff compared to the EPL.” That’s fair to a certain extent, the European leagues have been around longer and have the culture (and thus the money) so it should be expected that they have a better reputation. And as such it’s to be expected that they have better overall play and a fan of the sport is going to recognize that regardless of the uniform or league and want to watch it. While we need more casual fans to tune in (hence more games on tv simply to let the ESPN junkie know it exists one day if only by accident) we also need those diehards to tune in because theyre the ones talking up the sport at bars, family reunions, coaching youth teams, wearing jerseys, walking into work the day after their team plays unable to shut up about the win/loss. They create buzz. And in our sports crazed culture, if one fan hears another fan’s excitement, he’s more likely to give watching it or coming to the other’s house for a game a half seconds thought out of simple love for sport than he is watching a 30 second ad on espn.

          On a less thought out note, I think MLS has hurt itself by having so many teams that either seem like rip offs other league’s teams, like Chivas USA/ Real Salt Lake, or named after the sponsor, like the NYRB. (“FC NAME” makes sense at least in terms of English.) Even the true fans groan a bit when they see that, it seems like MLS is either admitting that they’re shadowing other leagues for the short term gain or hold the big corporation’s demands more important than the fans of the sport. To the non-soccer fans, it looks like a poser league and that superficial impression kills interest. Just a thought.

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 10:21 AM

          yes jay, now you are talking. if and when agudelo, shea, and the others are world superstars and they are playing in mls, the untapped sports fan is going to flock to mls games.

          george, im not sure if you have been to the new redbulls stadium or the old medowlands home, but foxboro and the meadowlands are not good soccer stadiums, unless it is 1994 and you are going to the bulgaria germany quarter finals at the meadowlands, then it is a great soccer stadium, but otherwise you cant have much of a feel for mls having been to just these two stadiums.

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/08 at 11:07 AM

          How many MLS stadiums do I need to go to before I get a feel that’s worthy?

          Surely, the point is that I actually attend, no? Rather than b1tch and moan about its quality or lack of. I concede MLS might not be as good as XYZ, but I like to watch football live, so I go to the local team’s game as much as I can [generally about 8-10 home games per season]. But I don’t consider myself a MLS fan, just a football fan. And I also try to bring [American] friends who ['support' Man United and Real Madrid] to these games to show them it’s not as bad as people make it out to be… they’re more snobbish about it than I am, and I grew up watching English football!

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        • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/02/08 at 12:18 PM

          A couple of factual errors in the comments here.

          The estimate of 18 million viewers for the US-Ghana match already include viewers in bars and other public locations. Of course, it’s just an estimate and could be higher, but to claim 40 million watched it is absurd.

          Najar and Mwanga are not US citizens. At least, not yet.

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 1:31 PM

          george, i gotta call a little bit of bs here. you are not a fan of mls, but you are a fan of world football. so you are taking americans, who “support” xyz and krs-one to mls games to show them that it is not as bad as they think. give me an fing break with that nonsense, come on. i guess they could be americans who are from other countries, that might make sense, but not american born.

          i guess you have been to red bull arena and dont think much of it.

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        • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/02/08 at 2:31 PM

          I think Jay’s Main point here was that one way for the MLS to be respected by the football world (beyond the US)would be to focus on adding players from smaller european national teams. Football “respect” is very Euro-centric. Respect for a league as nothing to do with its actual quality. It is commonly stated that UEFA national teams are the best. By recruiting players from smaller national teams the MLS can get cheaper players that get a lot of attention from Europe. That way when World Cups are going on the league with the largest number of players actually in the Cup could be the MLS. Can you think what that would do for the MLS’s reputation?

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        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/08 at 2:39 PM

          Why do I have to make the comparison? Why can’t I just go to a game and enjoy it? If I were to compare everything I did to Europe, then I probably wouldn’t do much. And I have been to RBA and I like it. Sure, the atmosphere is not like Wembley, but I never expected it to be.

          I do take friends to games because sometimes Mrs Cross cannot go / doesn’t want to go. I watch a game and have a couple of beers with my American born friend(s). Don’t understand why you’re getting so fired up to be honest – they’re not stupid, they know what they’re about to watch isn’t going to compare to Arsenal v United at The Emirates, and I don’t suggest that either. But at the same time, MLS is better today than 2004 (when I arrived).

          Key theme here is having a realistic expectation.

          And I’ll tell you this for free: Half the people who turn up to the pub at the weekend with their Liverpool, Chelsea, Madrid, Inter et al tops and scarfs, are poseurs and don’t know their arse from their elbow. So they have no effing right to be snobby…

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 6:45 PM

          im sorry, but it seems to me that most of the commentary on here is personal. the contributor is suggesting that concacaf is the lowest of the confederations, or maybe he just means the confedertions champions league, i dont even know if oceana has a champions league. it does not matter.

          then is it personal when the contributor says its a lose lose situation for MLS teams. i mean, am i suppose to take this as fact, or should i take it as personal commentary. so the article sets up these premises, then all of sudden, we have american born fans who are posing for world famous clubs and they are turning their nose up at MLS, all the while, the premise is to go and get smaller euro national players, but the contributor does not mean small like holland, which is a small country, but big in football, he means small players like korn from slovkia, who was let go by wba, so now we can take him in MLS. thats how im reading into the article and the responses.

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        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 7:08 PM

          just an interesting sidenote. the 1982 world cup featured four players who at the time where playing in the north american soccer league. in 2010 only three players from outside the usa plyed their trade in major league soccer and played in the world cup. it would definately be nice to have more players in MLS who are playing on national teams that are going to world cups.

          Reply

        • You know how MLS teams can do that? By pursuing foreign players that play for less prestigious national teams. MLS can’t break into the national team player pools for the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Spain, England, Germany, etc.

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        • Ufficio,

          The estimates for the Ghana match are 9.455 million households and 14.9 million viewers. You really think that there was a mere average of 1.5 people watching from each television? There is absolutely no way. The reaction videos from Donovan’s goal clearly showed that. An additional 4.5 million people watched in Spanish.

          Its a very reasonable estimate of 40 million when you take into account the very, very large viewing parties in public and residential settings.

          ESPN also reported that “160 million Americans (55%) consumed World Cup content across all ESPN platforms during the month-long contest, providing a real-life lab to learn not only how consumers use multiple media platforms but also how advertisers can best use those platforms to convey their message.” [from http://www.espnmediazone3.com/us/2010/09/27/espn-xp-results/%5D

          So why is 40 million absurd?

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  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/08 at 7:22 AM

    I think until the MLS can attract or develop and keep their better players, the image of MLS will suffer. It’s a very short career and I would have thought that the players would want to play at the highest level their ability allows. Then there is the economic side of things. If you were a player, would you honestly have a sense of duty to help grow the MLS in terms of quality and international respect – and sacrificed a potential contract that would set you (& your family) up for life?

    You talked about the 30-somethings. I do sympathise with you. It’s a sh1tty double standard. I feel that the general consensus is: if you’re good enough to still play in a top league, why would you consider playing in the MLS or lower league? Like I said before, it’s a short career. But, the other side is, these players have had the contracts and have the financial security for life. To grow the league, in terms of bums-on-seats, I think players like Thierry Henry [players with global brand awareness and brand equity] are important – but it is important to get them to MLS when they can still contribute and add something other than their name – so getting them in their early-30s rather than mid-to-late-30s.

    You may feel that I am going off on a tangent, because you talked about quality. But quality of the league is interdependent with the economics of the league – money attracts talent. And maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg argument? The players you mentioned are good, solid players. But you would have to think that the US is more than capable of producing players of this ilk in the long term.

    Reply

    • The US is definitely capable of producing players of that ilk, but is MLS? Just as you stated, MLS has to keep more of its own best players. I wrote before that so many American soccer players seem to be willing to jump to Europe no matter what league they land in.

      MLS has to convince the players, the fans, and to the rest of the world that it is worth more. European players will help MLS do that.

      Reply

      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 8:30 AM

        you want to know what a double standard is, its when a team like sao paolo sends all its best young talent to europe, yet it still beats liverpool in the world club cup. then liverpool claims it played the better game and should have won and bla bla bla.

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  3. Posted by jeffobx on 2011/02/08 at 7:51 AM

    It is more about the money than anything else. When the players can make as much or more money here then they’ll come here in their prime. As fans we have to do our part to go to games and watch them on TV as well as encourage non-soccer loving Americans to become fans. Hopefully this will happen in my lifetime.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Sam on 2011/02/08 at 8:06 AM

    In America, I believe, Landon Donovan is a bigger star in soccer than many quality european players who are of a similar calibre.

    We respect homegrown talent, most of my soccer friends will follow teams based on the amount of Americans in them right along side the biggest teams in Europe.

    I don’t think any of us would be anxiously following Aston Villa and/or Bolton if this wasn’t the case.

    I do believe that having the best players in the world playing here is very important, and that creating an environment of “where dinosaurs go to die” is definitely a detriment to the league. Although it will probably always be a stop-gap solution just as free-agency plays a major role in our other sports.

    Solid commitment to youth academies is really the only end-around on the situation. If playing here hurts foreign players then the only way to rectify the situation is to make the league better, and the real room for improvement is in the roster that aren’t DPs.

    Reply

    • I believe that American fans who follow Aston Villa, Everton, Fulham, or Bolton because of US players on those teams are in the far minority to Americans who are long-time dedicated supporters of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, and AC Milan, as well as others clubs like Chelsea, Newcastle, Juventus, and so on.

      Donovan is a bigger star than players of a similar quality, but that is because of the World Cup, not because he plays in MLS.

      Reply

      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/08 at 8:36 AM

        jay, do you think you would prove your point if you looked at television ratings for all such games. i mean, which game was higher rated, this weekends fulham v a villa game on tape delay or the manchester united v wolves game live? which had the larger american viewership. was fulham on fox soccer plus, or just regulr fox soccer?

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        • Posted by Noah on 2011/02/09 at 7:47 PM

          Liverpool vs. Chelsea just set a Fox Soccer Channel record for ratings…no Americans in that game. Jay’s observation seems right to me.

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  5. Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/02/08 at 8:39 AM

    While I don’t disagree with the quality side of the argument but I have some issue with marketability aspect this argument. To be honest when I decide to watch on TV or go to a game in person it is the “star” players that sway me. Now in my particular example that is most likely USMNT players but can include others.

    I check the Blackburn box score and game report not because I like Blackburn but because Jones plays there.

    I am bummed that the Revs don’t have a player that draws me to the games. And whether it should or not someone like Koren isn’t making me drive to the stadium or tune into the game.

    I know its a short term view but in my opinion TV money is what will make the league better and TV money comes from people tuning in. The TV money then allows you to pay more and keep Buddle from joinging BL D2 or Findley from going to the Championship.

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    • Posted by Steve Trittschuh on 2011/02/08 at 10:35 AM

      Agree with Berniebernier. At the end of the day, its about people watching and coming to the games. The best way to do that is to attract star players, even if they’re past their prime.

      Although that might not be the best idea for improving the quality of the league, it increases the bottom line: profits. Until the MLS can become profitable and have a fan base of at least 15,000 for all of its teams, the league will never substantially improve in quality.

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      • The bottom line is correct, but fans concentrate on attendance numbers as a deciding factor. The NFL is the most powerful sports league on the planet and sell out most of their games. Still, their monetary power comes from television contracts, not $9 hot dogs and 75$ tickets.

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  6. Posted by FutbolAmerica on 2011/02/08 at 9:11 AM

    You guys also have to take into account logistics when it comes to seeing games live. I live in Southern Oregon, which is 6+ hours drive to the nearest MLS team. This makes it extremely difficult to go see a match in person. That has changed this year with Portland, as I’ll go going to a fair amount of timbers games, but the point still stands. What about people in Idaho, Montana, the upper midwest, southeast? It’s also hard to identify with a team that’s so far away, and hence get behind any mls team.

    I believe ultimately it’s going to take a combination of star players from abroad and keeping our home-grown talent (the Dempsey’s, Altidore’s, and even mid-level Eddie Johnson’s) to grow the league the way they are wanting.

    Reply

    • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/02/08 at 9:51 AM

      I think this comment here is also a reason the MLS should allow expansion beyond 20 teams. 20 teams is great in small european country but with the US sprawl a large chunk of the country will not really care about the MLS.

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  7. Posted by taly on 2011/02/08 at 9:24 AM

    Good piece.

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  8. Posted by Noah on 2011/02/08 at 9:49 AM

    I don’t disagree with you at all. UEFA national teamers from small nations seem to be a great value. They just might be the thing that helps MLS pass FMF, as FMF just isn’t a destination for European players.

    Respect in Europe is helpful in that it’ll help recruit more European talent, though frankly dollars is what will speak louder. How do we get those dollars? By passing FMF in quality.

    Passing FMF in quality will help win over more Mexican-Americans, a lucrative market. It just might give MLS enough money to pursue El Tri national team players in their prime. If MLS is seen as a step up in quality from FMF, then I see many of those players making the jump.

    If MLS ever has as many El Tri players as Mexico does, the TV contract MLS will be able to get in Mexico would be staggering. More money will buy more quality which will buy more respect which will lead to more viewership which will lead to more money. And so on.

    Ultimately though, none of that will happen unless the American player pool improves, as it’s the foundation of the league. That’s why the homegrown initiative is so important. But those homegrown players have to play in a league that’s challenging if they’re going to develop, which is another reason why getting UEFA national teamers is a good idea.

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    • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/02/08 at 10:09 AM

      On the point to improve the American Player Pool specifically for the MLS: I think US Soccer needs to put more money into MLS youth academies and leagues instead of developing a second level league for promotion/relegation. Relegation would completely bankrupt a team in the MLS, it almost does it now in the European leagues. I don’t think American’s will ever be happy with the idea that their team could get sent down.

      I think Baseball can be a pretty good model for MLS. AAA teams feature up and coming talent mixed with journeymen and rehabbing stars. I think this leads to more financial stability for the league. The MLS “AAA” would be a way for teams to invest in players that they think might be good, but aren’t ready to play at the top level. They are still with the organization sharing in the philosophy. They become assets too. Some teams might trade them if they see value. Or they can allow them to be sold/loaned to European teams.

      I realize that this is what the Youth Academies are trying to do. But there is a lot of competition right now for young players. College, High Schools, Europe, Second level teams… Everyone agrees that actually playing is the best way to improve.

      Additionally look at baseball. They also have kids going pro directly from high school or after college or even from foreign countries. I would have US Soccer more similar to baseball than American football. However, I wouldn’t be totally against a more European style too.

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      • Posted by Noah on 2011/02/08 at 11:33 AM

        I agree with you about pro/rel. The market just wouldn’t support that now. I think the reserve league and loans to D2 squads is a better way to develop a deeper player pool as well.

        But as for “everyone agrees that actually playing is the best way to improve” I have to slightly disagree. America’s youth soccer system has teams playing an insane amount of games. Playing a lot, especially with an emphasis on results, leads to mediocre players.

        What’s great about the academies is that their emphasis is on technical development. Most American players don’t have great technical skills, and it’s very hard to develop those later in life. So the more academies MLS sets up the better – especially as they start going to younger ages.

        At first, MLS academies didn’t usually go lower than U-16. Now teams are having U-14 academies. Eventually, they should get as low as U-7. Then MLS hopefully will have a wider pool of American players that aren’t as technically and tactically deficient.

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  9. Posted by MJ on 2011/02/08 at 9:55 AM

    Random: Is anybody showing the Argentina v Portugal game tomorrow?

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  10. Posted by Freegle on 2011/02/08 at 12:03 PM

    The underlying problem to all of this is simply time. The MLS is still in its infancy and has shown the potential to build consistently. But, you have to spend money to make money. You must have talent to attract talent. You need to build and cultivate acadamies to breed home-grown players. All of these things take an immense amount of time. We all, as soccer fans, should continue to support MLS with attendance and viewership and continue to tout soccer as enjoyable and entertaining. Our other contribution should be patience. Nothing derails growth like overblown expectations or a lack of self awareness. MLS is currently a middling league with significant growth potential as long as it is handled well.

    I agree with Jay’s concept in that the MLS should bring along talent from anywhere they can find it. And smaller UEFA countries may be an untapped resource. But, I don’t think that Revs fans are going to show up at Gilette because we have a new player that got called up by Belarus for their most recent UEFA shellacking. In that regard it’s a stretch to say that MLS can gain respect by bringing in these UEFA players. Throwing money at international stars didn’t speed up the process (remember, we tried that). Rushing along the hype machine on young stars won’t help it either. There is no quick fix people. We are generation(s?) away from MLS being respected as a top league. In the meantime, lower the expectations, sit back and enjoy the matches, support your teams, and bring your friends. The rest will take care of itself… in time.

    Reply

  11. [...] of fans worldwide. Yet when it comes to America …Impact open final NASL campGlobe and MailThe MLS Ticket To Success: UEFA Player Pool?The Shin GuardianMLS experiences growing painsSI.comMajor League Soccer Talk -Goal.com [...]

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  12. I think we can all agree that, in order to become a more “respectable” league, the MLS needs to increase both its fanbase AND the quality of its players. To me, it seems that there are many ways to do both of these things. On the player side, if we can attract good players from smaller UEFA league nations, as Jay suggests, that’s great for the MLS. Ditto for improving our home-grown talent. The idea that bringing quality players in from other countries isn’t good for the MLS, or is somehow less desirable than using homegrown players, is ludicrous, in my opinion. That includes players past their prime in Europe, who generate enough media buzz, even among Americans who don’t follow the MLS, to offset any negative connotations (ie, the MLS as a retirement league) they bring with them.

    In the end, a player who attracts fans or ups the quality of the MLS is good for the league in the long-term, regardless of where that player comes from.

    Reply

    • Posted by Noah on 2011/02/08 at 8:35 PM

      The thing about homegrown players is they form the foundation of your league. MLS won’t be able to fill rosters with UEFA nationals – the core of the league is and will be Americans. Look at the big leagues in Europe – EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A…half or more of the players come from the home nation. So the most important thing MLS can do to improve the league is to develop American talent.

      But as you point out, there’s no reason MLS can’t or shouldn’t do both. In fact, bringing in quality European players will help improve the league, which will present challenges to the American player pool.

      The key to me is value. People who criticize Europeans coming to MLS aren’t against Europeans. It’s rather than their salaries are often higher than their performance warrants, because the market in Europe can afford to pay them a lot more than MLS can. In general, MLS can get cheaper quality players in Central and South America.

      The smaller UEFA leagues and national teams are proving to have more good bargains. Joel Lindpere was only like $100K a year! That’s why it’s wise for MLS to pursue these players. Quality at the right price.

      Reply

  13. Posted by Soccernst on 2011/02/08 at 6:41 PM

    I’d think attracting euro-based players who are active with their national teams may be hard due to MLS schedule and not respecting FIFA dates.

    Reply

    • Well there isn’t going to be a huge influx of UEFA internationals soon, but MLS teams could continue to get more and more. Over the last couple of years Joel Lindpere, Branko Boskovic, and Jan Gunnar Solli have been brought in.

      Reply

    • Posted by Noah on 2011/02/08 at 8:45 PM

      MLS doesn’t respect FIFA dates, but they’ll let players go play. It’s a pain, but only really disruptive during continental competitions. FIFA dates for friendlies and qualifiers usually are only 5 or 6 times during MLS season. Over the course of 34 games plus playoffs, that’s not too bad.

      Anyway, we’re talking about recruiting internationals from smaller UEFA sides. These are players whose teams won’t necessarily qualify for the Euros anyway (e.g. Joel Lindpere) or players who aren’t regulars (e.g. Alain Rochat). It probably won’t be too disruptive.

      Reply

  14. Posted by Joe on 2011/02/08 at 9:56 PM

    @Noah… you’re actually completely wrong… in the 07-08 EPL campaign out of almost 500 players, there were 170 English… and only 3 clubs had a higher average of 5.0 english players playing each game. Granted my facts are lil old.. but i highly doubt they are much different. whereas MLS only allows 144 international spots throughout the league! You cannot convince me that all these young Americans wouldnt benefit from playing along side the Lindperes of the league… its not like we’re talking about an insane influx of Euro guys, we’re talking national team caliber players, that not only bring up the quality, but help our young American guys get to a higher level as well.

    Reply

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