Players Who Earn Livings Abroad Shine For United States
Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Charlie Davies, Michael Bradley, Jay Demerit, Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan, Freddy Adu and Benny Feilhaber.
What do all of these US Men's National Team members have in common?
All of them earn their living playing club soccer away from the United States.
They all have something else in common. They are the best players on the team and there is no coincidence.
While I am not seeking to discredit the MLS, the experience players get while playing in the United States' best league fails in comparison to any other league in Europe.
The list could, and probably should have included Landon Donovan, who spent the spring on loan to Bayern Munich—Germany's biggest and best club.
While it must be conceded that many of these players have a lot of development still to come, and more experience to gain, they are only helping themselves and the US Men's National Team by playing their club soccer in Europe.
Tim Howard is arguably one of the 10 best keepers in the world, and is without question one of the three-to-five best in the English Premier League, where he plays for his club, Everton FC.
What did we hear from the commentators during the coverage of the last three games in the Confederations Cup? We heard the lauding of the back four and Tim Howard.
They all play in Europe.
Clint Dempsey is arguably the United States' best player. His touch, passing accuracy, shooting power, striking prowess from a wing position, and most importantly, his vision of the entire field make him the best.
He makes more money in a season playing for his club, West London's Fulham FC, an English Premier League side, than most MLS players make in three years.
While the rest of the list of players who make their living abroad don't play at the most notable clubs, the experience and development they are receiving in Europe is the type of experience of which the MLS couldn't scratch the surface.
Michael Bradley plays for the less-known German club Borussia Monchengladbach. He is experiencing competition from some of Europe's elite teams like Bayern Munich, Shalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen, and Werder Bremen. These are teams with world class players like Franck Ribery.
It won't be long before you see Bradley getting signed by bigger clubs.
The same will be true for the rest of the US Men's national team who currently play for some of Europe's lesser known clubs.
All of these players showed their class against the likes of Egypt, Spain, Italy and Brazil in the Confederations Cup.
On the pitch, they show patience, vision, grit, are never getting knocked off the ball, and most importantly, the ability to play exquisite first touch soccer.
Take for instance the US's first goal against Brazil. It started with a one-touch pass from Jozy Altidore (Villareal-Spain) to Landon Donovan (recently Bayern Munich-Germany) who hit a one-touch pass to Charlie Davies (Hammarby-Sweden) who then crossed it back to Donovan.
Donovan than put a deft first touch to wrong foot the defender and finished with his next touch.
Or how about the first goal against Brazil? A perfectly placed cross from Jonathan Spector (West Ham-England) found Clint Dempsey (Fulham-England), who put it on goal.
Now I am not suggesting that the MLS players for the US couldn't have produced a similar counter attack goal, but you never seem to see that kind of vision from any of them.
On the contrary, as soon as Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA—MLS) and Sasha Kljestan (Chivas USA—MLS) were giving possession away with poor passes, they looked completely intimidated.
Now there are some players like Conor Casey who went to Europe too early.
To somewhat keep my own opinions honest, I think the MLS should be a training ground for those players who need to improve their skill before they can think about going abroad.
The great news is that the current make up of the US Men's National Team (largely 18 to 20 somethings) are just the first wave of soccer talent developed in what I like to call the "soccer mom" era.
Many my age (24) grew up playing just about every sport with the exception of soccer. Now you can't find a kid who isn't playing soccer from a very early age.
This will serve to grow the sport's popularity in the US, but more importantly it will produce world class players.
Players we so desperately need.
While whatever the US Men's National team does from here on in will go down as an effort of the United States Soccer Foundation as a whole, leading the way will be players who practice their trade in the world's biggest arena for the sport, Europe.
Not the MLS.
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