Why American Players Returning to MLS Is Good for the League and USMNT

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2015

Associated Press/Canadian Press

The U.S. men's national team now has 13 MLS-based players from its World Cup squad after Jozy Altidore signed with Toronto FC. Some fans are worried about the mass exodus of USMNT players from Europe, but it's a positive for both the league and the team.

Mix Diskerud agreed to a deal with New York City FC three days before Altidore moved to Toronto. Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley (who's now retired from international duty) and Clint Dempsey have all signed with MLS teams over the last 17 months.

All of these men are crucial players on their respective teams. Bradley and Dempsey are also two of the richest MLS-based contract holders, per ESPN FC.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann hasn't been shy in saying that he'd rather see his players in Europe. However, that doesn't have to be the case.

When Klinsmann was asked by ESPN FC about Diskerud's decision to join NYCFC, the German tactician agreed with the midfielder's choice.

"In [Diskerud's] case, there's no Champions League team in Europe on a higher level that asked him to join them, so the options he had were probably not as attractive to him as the option he chose."

Diskerud has the potential to be an integral figure for Klinsmann in future tournaments. His electric style of play is something that the United States lacked at times during the World Cup. However, the only way for the 24-year-old to earn that starting spot is to do the same with his club.

Diskerud will be key in NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis' plans, so the midfielder could be a part of Klinsmann's system in the future.

As for Altidore, Klinsmann believes that the striker is a Champions League-caliber player, even though he scored only twice in 70 Premier League games. This would suggest that he is not at the level of Arsenal or Manchester United.

Jurgen Klinsmann believes that Jozy Altidore a Champions League player.
Jurgen Klinsmann believes that Jozy Altidore a Champions League player.Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Altidore attracted interest from clubs such as Fiorentina, Napoli, Fulham, Sporting Lisbon, Lazio and Schalke, per MLSSoccer.com. However, most of them eventually looked elsewhere. 

There was also no guarantee that he would have started on any of those teams. Only a few of those clubs consistently qualify for the Champions League, so Altidore wouldn't have been playing at the level Klinsmann believes he can play.

Also, there's nothing wrong with accepting more money, especially as a professional soccer player. One bad tackle can instantly end a career. ESPN's Marc Stein reported that Altidore signed a five-year, $30 million deal with Toronto. That's a nice cushion for the 25-year-old when he retires.

There is wisdom in returning to a familiar league with the option of earning significantly more money. As long as Altidore plays and scores, that's all that matters from a USMNT perspective.

Clint Dempsey was also highly regarded by his national team coach, per NBC's ProSoccerTalk

My whole talk to Clint Dempsey for 18 months was [about how] he hasn’t made [expletive].

You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team and that you may end up winning the Champions League. There is always another level.

If you one day reach the highest level then you’ve got to confirm it, every year. Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta, [Lionel] Messi. Confirm it to me. Show me that every year you deserve to play for Real Madrid, for Bayern Munich, for Manchester United. Show it to me.

No offense to Dempsey, but it's highly unlikely that he would have even made the bench for Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Manchester United. Teams like Everton, Liverpool and Sunderland were interested in the 31-year-old, per NBC's ProSoccerTalk. However, none of those sides were Champions League clubs at that time.

Again, in Dempsey's case, his best bet was going to Turkey or Russia in order to play in the Champions League. He opted to make significantly more money and play in his home country. It didn't affect his World Cup performance, either. He was the USA's top scorer with two goals in Brazil.

Bradley, who is still just 27, had the chance to move to Verona and Genoa in Italy, as well as Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, per MLSSoccer.com. The latter is a Champions League team, but Leverkusen constantly buys and sells players.

This is the same with Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and other aforementioned clubs. That's not a particularly stable environment for any player. There's no sense in sacrificing a raise and personal happiness in order to play a competitive game for 10 minutes every week, only to be sold after the season ends.

Klinsmann expects the U.S. to be a semifinalist at the 2018 World Cup. That looks unrealistic at this point, as the USMNT cannot be a powerhouse without a strong domestic league. 

Germany manager Joachim Loew, after being named FIFA Coach of the Year, credited the Bundesliga for its role in the national team's World Cup win (h/t Bundesliga.com).

The result at the World Cup was the result of years of hard work.

I'd like to thank all German coaches, who do such a great job with young and senior players. They're all coach of the year.

Of course I owe thanks to the Bundesliga, the league without which this success would not have been possible and continues to deliver such a high level of football.

USMNT players coming back to MLS is a good thing for both parties. The quality of the league will improve, and academy products will be able to play significant first-team minutes in what should be a stronger domain.

As Loew said in his speech, it takes a lot of hard work to become a competitive soccer nation, and it has to start somewhere. Attracting the best players will lead to a better MLS, and, in turn, a stronger national team.

Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @pgalindo16.

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