Wednesday, October 16, 2019

USMNT Lost to Canada, Too Much MLS

The US Men's National Team lost to Canada for the first time since 1985, 2-0 up at BMO Field in Toronto. The US had a total of 17 matches unbeaten, which I have listed below (because no one seems to).

02 Apr 1985 - Canada v USA - L - 2-0 International Friendly
04 Apr 1985 - USA v Canada - D - 1-1 International Friendly
05 Feb 1986 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 Miami Cup
16 Mar 1991 - USA v Canada - W - 2-0 North American Championship
03 Sep 1992 - Canada v USA - W - 0-2 International Friendly
09 Oct 1992 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 International Friendly
03 Mar 1993 - USA v Canada - D - 2-2 International Friendly
16 Mar 1997 - USA v Canada - W - 3-0 FIFA World Cup
09 Nov 1997 - Canada v USA - W - 0-3 FIFA World Cup
30 Jan 2002 - USA v Canada - W - 0-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup
18 Jan 2003 - USA v Canada - W - 4-0 International Friendly
09 Jul 2005 - USA v Canada - W - 2-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup
22 Jan 2006 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 International Friendly
21 Jun 2007 - USA v Canada - W - 2-1 CONCACAF Gold Cup
07 Jun 2011 - USA v Canada - W - 2-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup
03 Jun 2012 - Canada v USA - D - 0-0 International Friendly
29 Jan 2013 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 International Friendly
05 Feb 2016 - USA v Canada - W - 1-0 International Friendly
15 Oct 2019 - Canada v USA - L - 2-0 CONCACAF Nations League

There a couple of things that jump out at you when combing over the results.

1. Yesterday was only the 5th time that the US has played in Canada since 1985 (5/17=29% of the time). The previous 17 matches between the two nations saw the match played 9 times out of 17 (53% of the time). The difference is more or less do to MLS and building interest. There was a run of six straight in the US between 2001 and 2011, a decade where the US racked up wins.

2. The USA doesn't play Canada for World Cup Qualifying. For a weak region like CONCACAF, it seems a bit strange. All-time, Canada has an advantage over the US in WC Qualifiers. The US has 13 played,  4 wins, 3 draws, 6 losses against those guys up north, but the last time the two played to qualify was 1997. Again, weird, but likely due to MLS.


Over the last few years, MLS has been bringing in the best players from all over CONCACAF. Canada has always been here, however. Even going back to the old NASL days.

So what did the game look like last night? Lots of MLS experienced players.

What I've done is simply look up how many minutes each player that was in the 18 has this year. I quartered MLS players to quickly simplify things as most leagues across the world are only 25% of the way through the season.

The point of this exercise was to quickly get to the heart of things. Was this an MLS v. MLS duel?

Yes! It was an MLS duel. Something that sticks out first to me, when looking at the data this way, is the sheer number of leagues Canadian players play in. A total of 11, while we only see players from 5 different leagues for the USMNT. Maybe it shouldn't be all that surprising.

Also sticking out is how much MLS is on the bench for Gregg Berhalter's US team. It sort of speaks to the simplicity of scouting, but also to the preference based on marketing the league to non-MLS fans.


US Players; England & Germany only
For me, this flyover look at where the two national team selections are playing tells an important story.

You need players fighting and scraping in uncomfortable situations. Simply put, it creates a better player. MLS has quality, but it is firmly 2nd tier, possibly 3rd. Your best players cannot be playing in a low impact, comfortable situation and expect to compete with players humping it every day in Belgium, Scotland, Chile, Norway, Mexico. It's great that the US is calling up players in England and Germany, but these are culturally similar countries that the pay to play youth model often treats like a teen going to college. Bundesliga being that rich kid prestigious university up north. England, a solid State school.

Canada is calling up its best players, regardless of league. The US team is calling marketable MLS players and sprinkling in a handful of others. Does that make sense? In order for the US to get back to being best in class in CONCACAF, they need to undo the MLS shackles.

Take a look at a "what if" situation. What if Gregg Berhalter only called in players in Germany and England - what would that look like? It looks like they would stomp the mix-matched MLS heavy team Berhalter is trying to put together.

Wood - Sargent - Shelton
Pulisic - McKennie - Gooch
Robinson - Brooks - Miazga - Yedlin

The problem emerging is that the USMNT has gone from calling in plucky over-performing MLS guys to practically mandating it after the hire of Gregg Berhalter. The players being selected simply do not have what it takes. A random selection of the 250+ guys playing outside MLS would yield better results.

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