Friday, January 17, 2014

USMNT: The beef comes home

Michael Bradley’s return to play for Toronto FC has met with several sources citing the impact on the US Mens National Soccer Team. Could Bradley playing in a supposedly inferior league mean the US’ chances of a performing well in Brazil be somehow lessened?

Any answers will be purely speculative until the US kicks off their campaign on June 16 against Ghana. However, this trans-Atlantic shift heralds another interesting landmark in US Soccer – with Clint Dempsey arriving in August 2013, Bradley’s arrival means that most of the elite outfield talent in US men’s soccer now resides locally rather than abroad.

The nation’s three most marketable, game-changing stars – Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley – now play at home.

Only a few of the world’s top 20 teams (Spain, Italy, England, Germany, Greece and the Ukraine) can make such a boast, exemplifying the progress of MLS as a competition and highlighting both latent forces that underlie future success in US Soccer – a wide player base from which nascent stars can emerge, and an increasing fiscal robustness.

When we last explored a fictional game between US teams made up from MLS and abroad, the absolute elements of class played for Tottenham Hotspur, the LA Galaxy and AS Roma. Let’s revisit that concept now, eighteen months later and ask who would win a one-off match between a US team made up solely of MLS talent, or an XI who all play professionally away from home?

MLS XI (4-4-2):  Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Evans (Seattle Sounders), Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Besler (Sporting KC), Morrow (Toronto FC); Zusi (Sporting KC), Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Bradley (Toronto FC), Dempsey (Seattle Sounders); Donovan (LA Galaxy), Wondolowski (San Jose).

Non-MLS XI (4-4-2): Howard (Everton), Beasley (Tijuana), Cameron (Stoke City), Ream (Bolton Wanderers), Johnson (Hoffenheim); Diskerud (Rosenborg), Jones (Schalke 04), Edu (Stoke City), Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar); Altidore (Sunderland), Gomez (Tijuana).

(c) Author's own collection
In August 2012, our final verdict was that the MLS XI (featuring only four players from this iteration) would trouble their intercontinental brethren, but winning might have been a bridge too far. Now? Nine of the MLS XI are almost certainties to make the World Cup squad, with Justin Morrow and Ossie Alonso dark horses. Could the same be said for the non-MLS squad? Perhaps not.

There’s every chance that the early-2014 MLS team might be able to defeat their visiting compatriots. That such parity home and abroad reflects negatively on US Soccer is a nonsense; US Soccer is patently in as rude a health as it has ever been.

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