Tuesday, September 23, 2008

American Options

For a while now, I have been listening to the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, hosted by Kartik Krishnaier and Dave Denholm. there are subject on which I agree with and subjects which I don't, but this particular post by Krishnaier hits the nail on the head. Krishanier writes:
With the recent proliferation of foreign players in Major League Soccer and the dumming down of the quality of the league thanks to expansion and fixture congestion, it’s easy to be sour on MLS. I’ve been particularly disturbed by MLS clubs continued reliance on signing foreign players to plug holes in their side, when plenty of good American options exist. Given the kind of support a club like CD Guadalajara has south of the border and the talk that other traditional Mexican clubs feeling the blowback of South American influence on their league may mimick Chivas in the future, I believe the time has come for an MLS or USL-1/2 side to take the chance and field a team made up entirely of American nationals.

I disagree strongly with those people who believe importing foreign talent will continue to sell the beautiful game to the masses here in the United States. American fans eventually want to cheer for and take pride in home grown players. Foreign imports save David Beckham and in year one of the league Carlos Valderrama, Roberto Donadoni and Hugo Sanchez have done little to stimulate attendance for the league. Instead they have been used by coaches and managment too lazy to scout American players or simply who buy into the inferiority complex many have about American players. The time has come for some bold club to step forth and make this change.
Now, I don't necessarily think that foreign players are bad, per se, but the Mickey League Soccer has apparently become overly reliant on foriegn players. I say apparently, because, as is usual, Krishnaier leaves some things out of the calculus.

First, some teams, like New England and DC United and to a lesser extent Houston and DC United, and to a greater extent Toronto FC, have done a good job recruiting young foreign players from Africa and South America who they can pay less, hope to get a couple of years out of them and probably sell them on to Europe or back to South America for more money than they paid. As a business model, it is not a bad idea, buy cheap and sell for more than you paid. If the player goes bust, no big deal, you didn't spend that much money in the first place. Makes good business sense. Why?

Well that brings me to my second point. It is not that there are not quality American players out there on the horizon, coming up through the high school, youth national team programs and college, but let's face it, you can't expect to offer a college player $17,000 a year salary and expect him to stay in the U.S. Should the MLS have more American players? Yes, but until those American players can earn a decent salary from MLS, it won't happen. An expanded roster and an increased salary cap will help keep more American players in the MLS.

The MLS still does a decent job of getting American players into the league and then see quality players move on to Europe, while less stellar quality players remain in teh MLS, plying their trade and trying to bring the quality of the league up. But until you can have a team with adequate depth to ride out injuries, national team call-ups and multiple competitions, the MLS will suffer from a lack of American players.

Now, there are teams out there that use a large portion of native players. They can be competitive also. Take teh example of Aston Villa in the English Premier League. Villa's 18 man squad from this past weekend had the following players (nationality in parens, starters in bold, subs entering game in italics)
Brad Friedel (USA)
Luke Young (England)
Nicky Shorey (England)
Curtis Davies (England)
Martin Laursen (Denmark)
Nigel Reo-Coker (England)
Ashley Young (England)
Gareth Barry (England)
Stiliyan Petrov (Bulgaria)
Gabriel Agbonglahor (England)
John Carew (Norway)
Brad Guzan (USA)
Zat Knight (England)
Carlos Cuellar (Spain)
James Milner (England)
Moustapha Salifou (Togo)
Marlon Harewood (England)
Craig Gardner (England)

Seven of Villa's starging 11 are English. Fully 11 of the 18 man squad are English. Villa is doing well in the Premier League and will be advancing in the UEFA cup with this kind of a line-up.

My point is that you don't need a ton of foreign players. But to develop the American game, we need to see more American playmakers, people in the roles of Cuathemoc Blanco, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Shalrie Joseph, Marcello Gallardo (when healthy) and even to a lesser extent David Beckham. We need players who can create plays, chances and to dictate the game. Right now, there are not enough American players who can do that, although a couple are developing.

While I would like to see more American players in teh MLS, the fact is that we will not until the owners are willing to part with more more money to pay American players American wages.

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