From Europe to MLS – improving the American soccer product

United States national team players have come to Major League Soccer (MLS), either back again or being newly introduced, and it’s all part of the recipe for domestic success.

As these players sign various contracts with MLS teams, usually with many zeroes attached to the agreed salary, the discussion of whether this is positive for the national product is important.


Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Mix Diskerud, Sacha Kljestan and Brek Shea all have made their way to the MLS recently, solidifying the league’s presence within the United States national team and representing their most significant haul of American talent from abroad.

Will fleeing the best leagues in the world to ‘come home’ pay-off? This question begs for an understanding of who the beneficiary of this pay-off may be.

United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann is an obvious choice.

He has made it abundantly clear that his preference is for his players to ply their trade in Europe and has condoned their transfers to MLS. Speaking on his captain Michael Bradley’s most recent career move, Klinsmann uttered:

There’s nothing I can do about it…Making that decision to go from Roma, a Champions League team, to Toronto, that now seems like they’re not even qualifying for the play-offs, it’s a huge disappointment.

But, he is practically cornered into this opinion; of course he wants every player of his playing at the highest level possible at every waking moment and he would be remiss not to. The outcry of public disdain towards this is honest in its defense of the American league, but it’s just a proud, involuntary reflex, at best.

Klinsmann will, most likely, not be able to reap the benefits of this recent influx nor his most significant work: the gutting and rewiring of the American youth soccer structure.

MLS might have the leverage to sway these players to play in the United States, but is it clear that they have drastically improved their league because of it? The enhancement in quality is incremental, but the league stands to eventually benefit.

Relative fortunes were offered to secure these transfers and eventually pay the salaries, so the league is hoping the dividends lie in the growth of the sport. The card played is nationalistic, attempting to entice the casual fan to play a hand at the MLS table.

The eventual champion will be the domestic, American soccer product. This is a pivotal time for United States soccer and the attention must be capitalised on.

What might be less obvious is the statement that these transfers make to the youth players of the country. Although nuanced now, if young players growing up witness their sporting heroes from their country, playing in their league, accessible in their city, the chances of American talent staying within the country inevitably increases.

If players are retained and guided with a more comprehensive professional track, it could prove to be a successful recipe. The pay-off will not be immediate.

The quality in MLS will not drastically improve because of it. Jurgen Klinsmann will continue to complain. But, these transfers stand as timely grooves, indicative of a plan to turn a corner.

Hidden amongst the demands of the American appetite for instant success, lies an unintended gesture to the youth of the country.

The Author

Coleman Larned

American soccer writer relocated to Antwerp, Belgium. Founder of blog, bystander of Bolton Wanders and lover of hard tackles.

4 thoughts on “From Europe to MLS – improving the American soccer product

  1. Good article but you left one important thing out. Not only will young players choose to stay in the US if they have grown up watching their hero’s playing in their cities …………… but a higher percentage of 12 to 14 year old boys who have to choose what sport they will focus on will choose Soccer over American football or Basketball or Baseball (not many of those left now anyway). This will increase the talent pool substantially. Ask any youth soccer coach, like I was, what happens with the majority of his most gifted athletes at this age ………….. Many of them switch to the sports with popular domestic leagues. Sometimes for the opportunity for scholarships or dreams of future big money, but usually it is the social aspect. They think it is cool because it is what they see at the local stadiums and on TV; and they know that girls that age do to!

  2. The implicit message to young players still seems to be that staying at home isn’t the best career move, but rather going abroad and making a bit of a name for yourself first and then returning to MLS is the winning formula. Most of the big MLS contracts to American players were awarded to those who first demonstrated some success in Europe. That level of success was not even that high, however. Dempsey couldn’t get many minutes for relegation bound Fulham during his loan and Bradley couldn’t lock in his starting role at Roma. These two players have done exceptional jobs for the USMNT, but the bar for success in Europe which can then parlay to a big MLS deal seems quite low in relative terms. And what this means for the future ofAmerican soccer is unclear to me.

  3. There is a pro and a great con to this.

    The pro is that the USMNT veterans return where fans can see them in person.

    The con on the other hand kills that. None of the USMNT players going back to MLS had any success in Europe. Instead of staying in Europe and fight for a consistent starting roll, they ran to America for less competitive play and higher paycheck. There is nothing our young players can look up to because they proved how mediocre they are by running to a league full of mediocre players that never proved themselves to be where they are. The American soccer standard is low. I usually read comments of fans being happy a potentially good player leave a great competitive setting for the easy street in MLS. MLS is a league where you can never be truly criticized for a bad game and where the commissioner talks for you like a child to the critics.

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