Have MLS’s foreign imports affected the US National Team?

It was a major shock to many on the east side of the Atlantic as they woke up to learn that the US failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia after losing 2-1 away to Trinidad and Tobago last October.

Every World Cup since Italia 90 has seen the USA participate and qualification is usually a breeze but after winning just three of their ten games in the final section of the CONCACAF qualifiers, they were eliminated, with Panama snatching the final automatic qualification spot and Honduras claiming the intercontinental play off place (which they would go on to lose against Australia) all in the final round of matches.

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The USA squad that was named that day had some very familiar names. Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan to name a few. This however in turn, was the USA’s downfall.

If a healthy bulk of your squad is made up of players who’ve played for Premier League teams but have since moved back to the MLS because they are no longer good enough to play at a top level, you’re bound to have problems.

The sheer fact that Tim Howard was still playing international football aged 38 shows that the US team had problems.

Many more should have hung up their international boots after the spirited extra time defeat to Belgium in Brazil four years earlier, but too many of the old guard have stuck around for too long, and suffered the USA’s worst ever embarrassment.

Fourteen players in the squad that played Trinidad were over 30 and 16 of the squad haven’t returned to the international setup since.

An excuse so often used in English football is that youth prospects are not given a chance ahead of big money names from abroad, the same can be said in Major League Soccer (MLS).

Many of the most promising US youngsters don’t even play in the MLS. Christian Pulisic has impressed at Dortmund but took a lot of stick after they lost to Trinidad and hasn’t been called up for recent internationals.

For their friendly against Paraguay, only five of that squad play in MLS, while others are applying their trade in the second tier in Belgium, the lower leagues in England, and Mexico for example.

With MLS improving more and more, it would make sense to integrate young players into the squad who can then develop into future internationals.

Millions of dollars have been spent on improving facilities for youth development around the country, but if players are opting to play in Europe from their teenage years onwards, then it is a waste.

MLS is now largely made up of American players in the back end of their careers, some big name marquee signings looking for a final paycheck and plenty of exciting young players from South America.

In 2017, nobody in the top eight of the scoring charts was American and the MLS All-Stars team that faced Real Madrid in August last year included some US players who were only there because of their popularity rating amongst supporters. Only three of the last 12 MLS MVP winners were American too.

It is clear to see that if the MLS clubs care about the football at a national level, it would be wise to spend their money a bit differently.

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The real stand out players in MLS are all overseas imports such as Sebastian Giovinco (Italy), Ignacio Piatti, Diego Valeri (both Argentina), Nemanja Nikolics (Hungary), David Villa (Spain), Miguel Almiron (Paraguay), Josef Martinez (Venezuela) and now more recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden). Jozy Altidore is arguably the best American player in MLS which would be seen as comical by Premier League fans after his debacle at Sunderland.

It’s all well and good bringing in high profile names to attract more fans to the sport and introducing new franchises each season so everybody has a local team, but the sense of disappointment will be lingering for a long time over football fans in America watching a World Cup without their nation in it.

The US national team performing so poorly will only have a detrimental effect on the sports following in the country which still majorly lags behinds the traditional US sports.

Millions have looked up to the likes of Donovan and Dempsey over the years but their times are up and players like Christian Pulisic for example need to take over the mantle and become the new national hero.

For this to happen though, more players need to be brought through, and currently it’s not happening, certainly not in MLS for that matter.

Surely with all the money the clubs have which they spend on marquee signings mean they should have no problem in investing an academies or persuading young players to resist the urge to move to Europe too early.

Landon Donovan moved to Leverkusen as a teenager and found it difficult before moving back to MLS and became a national legend both domestically and internationally.

In just over 18 months, qualification for Qatar 2022 will begin and the US will need to be prepared to ensure no more slip ups come to fruition.

The Author

Andrew Delaney

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