Friday, January 5, 2018

MLS is to Blame (incomplete thought)

(this was an incomplete thought after the failure to make Russia 2018, but posting it, written 11-18-17 - it's a big deal)


Once was thought to be unfathomable, the United States men's team failed to qualify for Russia 2018 for the first time since the 80s. It's a failure on an epic scale for the USSF, MLS and SUM.

This wasn't supposed to happen, but when you look back at how the US has qualified for World Cup competitions over the years, maybe it was.

What many people fail to remember is that the World Cup is an ever-changing, ever-evolving tournament. When the US qualified in 1989, it was a massive achievement. At that time, qualifying was much more difficult with only two teams from the CONCACAF region able to punch their ticket. Were the WC not to expand in 1998, or the US not hosting in 1994, we might be talking about more missed Cups between 1990 and 2018.

But as things happened, CONCACAF was given 3+ spots from 1998 onward. Had it been just two in 2002, the US would not have gone (finished 3rd). Marching forward - 2006, 2010 and 2014 saw the US finishing 1st in qualifying. Eight good years that spanned three different coaches, but a relatively stable stock of quality players from overseas + Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

All that changed in 2013 when MLS wanted to go big into buying players back from Europe and elsewhere around the world. The move was strictly a financial one. MLS wanted the attention on them, especially if the US did well. They had the financial might, they wanted poster boys.

2014 came and went. It was marked by a dramatic loss to Belguim, of which the US was dominated, but hung in there. The years in between then and now, however, saw an erosion of quality and effort. Key players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey lost their edge and there were no replacements playing in Europe's "big 5." A giant hole was created. One that Jurgen Klinsmann famously recognized. He warned against players returning and encouraged those younger to play overseas. It wasn't enough, however. There just wasn't anyone to select.

Things got bumpy for the US after 2015. Bruce Arena was brought back in the attempt to salvage a poor start to qualifying, which should be a slam dunk considering the quality of the region, but it failed.

No comments: