[ANALYSIS] With the closing of the summer transfer window in the United States and Canada, a new wave of foreigners has entered Major League Soccer. In their
most recent games, only eight of the 16 teams fielded lineups with a majority of players eligible for the U.S. national team. And only 19 of these Americans -- a majority of them defensive players --
were under-23 at the beginning of the year, meaning just a small pool of young talent is available for the next national team coach to build upon. How different is the face of MLS from eight years and
what does it mean?
Background: MLS was at a low point in 2002, having just folded its two Florida teams, Tampa Bay and Miami, and contracted to 10 teams. But the USA was coming off a successful World Cup, having reached the quarterfinals in South Korea, so the new national team cycle just starting was similar to the situation in 2010 when the USA came close to matching its 2002 success.
Americans vs. foreigners:
2002: Of the 110 players who started on the weekend of Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 78 were U.S.-eligible citizens -- or 71 percent.
-- Four teams -- Colorado, Columbus, New England and San Jose -- started nine Americans.
-- All but D.C. United, which fielded six foreigners, started a majority of Americans.
2010: From the starting lineups of each MLS team's most recent game, only 89 of the 176 starters -- a little less than 51 percent -- were Americans eligible for the U.S. national team, and 17 of the 87 foreigners joined MLS since July 15 when the transfer window opened.
-- Two teams, Colorado and San Jose, started as many as eight U.S.-eligible citizens.
-- Conversely, New York and Kansas City started only three Americans. And eight teams started fewer than six U.S.-eligible players.
Of the 66 starting spots MLS has added because of expansion, 11 have gone to Americans and 55 to foreigners.
2002: Of the 78 American starters, 19 were under 23 at the start of the year (see list below). Dallas started the most with four. Those U-23 Yanks included Landon Donovan (San Jose) and DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago), who started for the USA two months earlier at the World Cup.
-- Of the 19 under-23s, 11 were midfielders or forwards.
2010: Of the 89 American starters, only 19 were under the age
of 23 as of Jan. 1 (see list below). FC Dallas again started the most U-23 Americans: four. Los Angeles started three, but five teams started none.
-- Of those 19 under-23s, a majority started in goal or on defense.
MLS has changed a lot in eight years. Its added six more teams -- and will add two more next year -- but it's also added many more new owners. That MLS was much more American -- 71 percent vs. 51 percent -- and younger in 2002 was due in part to its uncertain future and also to the reluctance of owners -- the league was funded by only AEG, Hunts and Kraft families -- to spend on foreign talent.
Spending on foreign talent -- in particular DPs -- has accelerated in recent years and quotas on foreign players have been raised. Clubs have used the summer transfer window -- when the majority of international talent becomes available -- to upgrade their lineups. The latest trend: loan deals that have allowed young players like Fredy Montero (Seattle) and Marco Pappa (Chicago) join the league.
It could be argued that the influx of foreign talent has weeded out mediocre American players and improved the overall level of play.
Young Americans now breaking into MLS starting
lineups will be better than their counterparts eight years ago because they'll have faced stiffer competition just to get where they are today and will have benefited from better competition week in
and week out in MLS.
But the composition of the 2010 group of young Americans starting in MLS is worrying.
There were as many U.S. under-23s starting in 2002 than in 2010 even though there were six fewer teams in 2002.
The 2002 U-23s included not only Donovan and Beasley but Taylor Twellman and Eddie Johnson, who both went on to win MLS scoring titles, and Bobby Convey, who started in the 2006 World Cup.
After 2002, the U.S. national team benefited from the development of the players just mentioned as well as goalie Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra.
That doesn't mean all the 2002 U-23s made it. A half a dozen starters quickly washed out.
The pool of American players for the most recent Under-20 World Cup -- Egypt '09 -- was the weakest in a generation.
Eight years on in the development of American soccer, the current group of young MLS players might be deeper -- the players
coming off the bench today are certainly better than those in MLS eight years ago -- but it has few game-changers. Only a handful of the MLS U-23s in 2010 are strikers or attacking midfielders -- most
of the top young forwards have bypassed MLS and moved directly to Scandinavia from college -- and you can't project six of them to be World Cup starters like from the 2002 crop.
The weakness in the current crop of young MLS players makes it imperative that MLS ramp up its own player development program -- in which some teams are aggressively signing homegrown talent, albeit not all eligible to represent the USA -- so the percentage of American starters on MLS rosters doesn't drop dangerously low.
2010 U.S. under-23s in MLS
Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Sean Johnson (Chicago)
Chris Seitz (Philadelphia)
Kevin Alston (New England)
Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
A. J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles)
Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles)
George John (FC Dallas)
Zach Loyd (FC Dallas)
Tim Ream (New York)
Tim Ward (San Jose)
Eric Alexander (FC Dallas)
Danny Cruz (Houston)
Baggio Husidic (Chicago)
Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
Michael Stephens (Los Angeles)
Nathan Sturgis (Seattle)
Ben Zemanski (Chivas USA)
Justin Braun (Chivas USA)
(Games played Aug 14-21.)
2002 U.S. under-23s in MLS
Tim Howard (MetroStars)
Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
Nelson Akwari (MetroStars)
Carlos Bocanegra (Chicago)
Dan Califf (Los Angeles)
Jim Curtin (Chicago)
Nick Garcia (Kansas City)
Lee Morrison (Dallas)
DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago)
Matt Behncke (Dallas)
Bobby Convey (D.C. United)
Zach Kingsley (Colorado)
Kyle Martino (Colorado)
Jeff Moore (MetroStars)
Jordan Stone (Dallas)
Chris Carrieri (Colorado)
Landon Donovan (San Jose)
Eddie Johnson (Dallas)
Taylor Twellman (New England)
(Note: in bold are U.S. World Cup players.)