United States' Lineup Against Mexico Shows MLS Is Proving Its Purpose

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2013

You may not have known this looking at the United States starting 11 against Mexico, which included players currently playing at Tottenham, Aston Villa and Santos Laguna, but all 11 starters had ties to Major League Soccer. 

While just three of those 11 starters (Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi) are current MLS players, the ties to the American domestic league ran deep on the pitch at the Estadio Azteca on Tuesday night. 

Building MLS into a widely respected league has been a goal of U.S. Soccer for over a decade now—it looks like that goal is finally within reach. 

The quality of play in MLS has improved year after year with high-profile international talent like Tim Cahill (Australia), Thierry Henry (France), Federico Higuain (Argentina) and Obafemi Martins (Nigeria) and with strong domestic talent like Chris Wondolowski, Brek Shea, Geoff Cameron and many more.

Shea and Cameron, two players who were out on the pitch at Azteca against Mexico, are now MLS alumni, but they gained attention from their current club Stoke City because of their play on American shores with FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo, respectively. 

Brad Guzan, who started in goal for the United States in place of first-choice keeper Tim Howard, began his professional career at Chivas USA before earning a move to Aston Villa, a club where he waited his turn for three years before uprooting Shay Given as the club's first-choice keeper.

Guzan has followed in the tradition of great American keepers by impressing fans week after week in the English Premier League—there is no doubt in anyone's mind that he will take over the role of first-choice keeper when Howard eventually hangs up his cleats. 

While the ties of Guzan, Shea and Cameron to MLS are still strong, not many fans of the game are aware that others in Tuesday night's squad also got their start in MLS a long time ago.

Clint Dempsey, who is widely regarded as one of the best American players abroad at the moment, was a star for the New England Revolution before he made the trip across the pond to sign with Fulham in 2007. He now plays with Tottenham Hotspur

DaMarcus Beasley, who showed plenty his age as a makeshift left-back against Mexico, made his name with the Chicago Fire before attracting the interest of Dutch club PSV EindhovenThe 30-year-old now earns his paycheck south of the border with Puebla in Liga MX. 

You can write the same story about the rest of the United States squad—many entered MLS as an American prospect and left after becoming a superstar domestically.

Michael Bradley (New York-New Jersey MetroStars), Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls) and Maurice Edu (Toronto FC) all had plenty of success in MLS before they exited their domestic league for greener pastures. 

Some players who have had trouble abroad after leaving MLS have come back to America to play domestically and have been rewarded for doing just that.

Just ask Eddie Johnson, who left Kansas City to play for Fulham in 2008 and failed to make a name for himself across the pond. Johnson found his feet with the Seattle Sounders last season, and he fought his way back into the national team picture.

Johnson's success story has paved the way for the likes of Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley to move back to MLS so that they can fight for the spot in the national team set-up that they once had. 

There have also been players who have stayed in MLS and been rewarded for their hard work in the American top flight.

Kyle Beckerman and Brad Davis are perfect examples of that philosophy. While he failed to get on to the pitch on Tuesday, Beckerman has been a key cog in the American midfield since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as manager.

Davis has lit MLS on fire in recent years with the Houston Dynamo, and now he is finally getting a shot to take on the best in CONCACAF with the United States. 

Klinsmann is also rewarding young players that have stayed in MLS to develop into spots in the national team. The perfect example of that situation is the defensive duo of Gonzalez and Besler—they thoroughly impressed most American fans despite having a few nervy moments in the back four against Mexico.

If this were a decade ago, both players probably would have been playing overseas at the ages of 24 and 26 because the quality of play in MLS was so poor.

But that is far from the case anymore, as Gonzalez and Besler have developed into integral parts of their clubs and are now being rewarded with international starts at the most hostile venue in all of North America.

No matter what the background story is for each player on the United States roster, one factor will be common in their story, and it will continue to be a common factor for years to come.

That common factor is the part that MLS played in their development. 

Although the United States may not have been victorious in Mexico City, American soccer fans must be proud of the victory that MLS is finally earning with the development of the next generation of American superstars. 

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.