Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Motivations behind "Camp Cupcake"

It was only a month ago that the suggestion arose from Danny Williams, a USMNT player with over 20 appearances, spoke out about not being selected by the team in their failed attempt to qualify for Russia 2018.
"I think there are too many political things going on behind-the-scenes," Williams told NBC, though he also cautioned: "I wasn't really close enough with the team for that amount of time so I can't really talk, or give too much information, because I don't really know about what happened." 
He added: "Obviously I spoke to the boys when I was in Portugal. Everybody has a different view. I heard from a few people that they tried to 'market the MLS' a bit more, in the qualifying games and get a name for the MLS."
"At the end of the day it shouldn't be about that. It should be about quality and bringing the best players and having a plan. That is it."
From here we got a firm response from Bruce Arena that denied the accusation that USSF and MLS wanted to market the league by selecting MLS based players. Beyond that, we were treated to this by the writer that broke the story:

It's no secret that Bruce Arena favored MLS players. He's spoken publically about that. However, is there a more powerful hand at work via the USSF/MLS offices directing both former US coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena?

Something J. Cruyff wrote in one of his books also suggested that team selection was directed from on high: “J├╝rgen Klinsmann, coach of the US national side since 2011, often couldn’t select the best possible team because he was obliged to include someone from each franchise.”

Digging into minutes and team selection for meaningful games yields a mix. Basically, 50% of the time is given to MLS players (or so), going back multiple World Cup cycles.

But when Williams made the quote it struck a nerve with me. MLS and USSF work in lockstep to grow their product. The comments made by Kathy Carter recently confirm this. I firmly believe that because of this relationship there is a directive to select MLS players to help market the league.

We don't see that with meaningful games, however. They have to win those, you need to select the best. Where we see this is the oddball USMNT January Camp ("Camp Cupcake") that takes place in the MLS offseason.

I decided to take a look and see if there was anything there that proved there is a marketing hand in selection. Turns out it is true that each team gets a callup. I do not this is by chance.

Here's a look at selections over the last two years. Each team, except two, have had a player in camp in January.

7 - Seattle Sounders FC
6 - D.C. United
5 - New York Red Bulls
5 - Toronto FC
4 - New England Revolution
4 - Philadelphia Union
4 - Real Salt Lake
3 - Columbus Crew SC
3 - FC Dallas
3 - LA Galaxy
3 - San Jose Earthquakes
3 - Sporting Kansas City
2 - Chicago Fire
2 - Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1 - Atlanta United FC
1 - Colorado Rapids
1 - Los Angeles FC
1 - Minnesota United FC
1 - Orlando City SC
1 - Portland Timbers
1 - Houston Dynamo
0 - Montreal Impact
0 - New York City FC

Montreal and NYCFC missed out on the last two years, but going back one more year - they did. So there it is. Each MLS team represented.

There's certainly nothing illegal about this. But what makes it frustrating is that the league and USSF hide it and writers close to those groups claim it doesn't happen when it most certainly does.

Why not just say that they do this? Marketing the league using USMNT call-ups in a non-FIFA window would not be the worst thing in the world. The only thing I can think of is that USSF wants to keep up the idea that competition and playing ability drives selection when in reality it takes a back seat to making money.

That's frustrating. Cruyff was right when he said (while commenting further on the practice of selecting players from each MLS team): "... it’s very restrictive if you’re a coach, and something that would delay the national side’s development by years if it were to continue."

These are things that need to change, even at "Camp Cupcake" in order for the US to become better. The best players and prospects should be selected, regardless of team.

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