When Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley returned to Major League Soccer this past year after long stints in Europe, many fans of the United States men’s national team immediately assumed the moves would have disastrous consequences for the U.S.’s hopes in the 2014 World Cup.
In addition to Bradley and Dempsey, some of the U.S.’s budding talents, like Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez have made the decision over the past few years to forego European offers and instead re-signed with their respective MLS sides.
Those decisions were questioned as well, with many U.S. fans assuming that staying in MLS would squash their development as players.
For years, most Americans have harbored an inferiority complex about MLS (and the game in general), assuming the only path to success went through development in European leagues, through European styles of play and with European coaches.
That viewpoint is still the belief of many Europeans as well.
During a recent World Cup broadcast, ESPN commentator Steve McManaman insinuated that MLS lies somewhere between a U-10 league and the English Premier League, and British journalist Piers Morgan recently continued the erroneous belief that the term “soccer” was a word developed and used solely by Americans (the word originates from England as an abbreviation for association football).
It's time America called football 'football' and not 'soccer'.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 17, 2014
However, watching the U.S.’s first two World Cup group-stage matches against Ghana and Portugal, it has been obvious that the team’s players from MLS (which also includes Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Brad Davis, Chris Wondolowski and DeAndre Yedlin) have performed as well as their American counterparts who play abroad.
In total, the U.S. has four goals and three assists in the tournament. Two of the four goals have been scored by Dempsey, who plays for the Seattle Sounders, and two of the three assists have been earned by Zusi, who plays for Sporting Kansas City.
The U.S.’s most consistent defender in the tournament has been Matt Besler, who also plays for Sporting Kansas City, and the team’s holding midfielder, Kyle Beckerman (who has been a revelation in the U.S. midfield), is an MLS lifer.
And although he only played a minor substitute role in the game against Portugal, DeAndre Yedlin certainly added a spark to the U.S. side in that match.
Bradley’s performances have certainly been a mixed bag, and Gonzalez has suffered through a recent drop in form, but those performances have certainly been no worse than the mistakes of their foreign-based teammates.
Fabian Johnson, who plays in the German Bundesliga, has had a very bright tournament, but it was also his man—who he failed to track—who scored Ghana’s lone goal against the U.S.
Against Ghana, Liga MX defender DaMarcus Beasley had a few shaky moments, and John Anthony Brooks, who also plays in the Bundesliga and who scored the dramatic late-winner in that game, almost gifted Ghana an equalizer only minutes after entering the game with a poor clearance.
Against Portugal, the normally stout Geoff Cameron, who plays in the English Premier League, cost the U.S. both goals—one with a poor clearance and one when he didn’t track a runner into the box.
Aron Johannsson, who enjoyed a career season in the Netherlands this past season, was so ineffective at forward against Ghana that he lost his spot for the game against Portugal. And, finally, Alejandro Bedoya, who plays in France’s Ligue 1, was absent from any sort of attacking presence against Portugal.
While MLS still has many things it could do better and while it is still a growing league, the performances of its players on the USMNT in this World Cup offers proof that the league is capable of producing world-class international players. And the performance of the U.S.’s foreign-based players, mistakes and all, proves that playing in Europe is not an end-all-be-all for success at the international level.
After two games, against the traditional U.S.-killer Ghana and the No. 4-ranked Portugal, the Americans have secured four points. They are a favorite to advance out of the consensus “group of death” heading into their final match of group play and they’ve done it with a series of strong performances from their MLS players.
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