Prospects dim for most MLS players

More players from Germany and Mexico are narrowing the available slots for MLS players as Coach Jurgen Klinsmann balances his long-term goals with the immediate task of advancing to the Hexagonal.

The last time American fans had to cram their way into a soccer-friendly pub or cough up pay-per-view money to watch a USA Concacaf World Cup qualifier, their team pulled off a stunning 3-2 victory in Honduras that clinched a spot in the 2010 World Cup.

Nothing so dramatic can occur Tuesday in Guatemala City when the USA plays the second of six matches in the semifinal round, yet fans will have to endure similar situations and ponder a possible recurrence in the Hexagonal, the final round of qualifying. It’s a hassle and a pain but serves as a harsh reminder of where the sport currently stands, which is in a grey area where there’s more soccer on network and cable than ever before but still isn’t prestigious enough that a network can justify an outlandish outlay.

More relevant is where the team stands nine months after Klinsmann took over, with the answer being, “it’s too soon to tell.” A depressing defeat, a crushing win, or a nervous and fiercely fought tie would all affect the standings differently without really altering the big picture. “Long-term” is a wonderfully imprecise adjective, and since most of Klinsmann’s objectives fall into this category, his second competitive match has great short-term importance and not much else.

Failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup would be disastrous, and yet if the USA does qualify, not until then can Klinsmann truly be assessed. By then he’ll have had nearly three years to select and prepare his players, to stamp his influence on the game in America, and coach a team in the World Cup.

In accomplishments, he has rather high benchmarks to match; the USA won the Hexagonal and also finished first in its group at the 2010 World Cup, and with a squad aging rapidly in a few critical areas, as he guides the USA through qualifying Klinsmann must also nuture the next generation to more closely resemble the fluid, skillful team he envisions. In addition to dipping deeper into the available players honed in Mexico, he’s gone back to his German roots.

He’s appeared to address both issues by ramping up the use of American-eligible players raised and developed in Germany, though one of them, Tim Chandler, has taken himself out of the picture. He can still play for Germany, since he’s only played in friendlies for the USA, yet there’s also the possibility he’s quit the team because of Klinsmann, who dispatched him at left back.

If that’s the case, one could question the depth of his loyalty to the USA, for which he was a certainty to play regularly if his performances held up. So either he’s been informed privately he’ll be called in by Germany once a new cycle starts following the European Championship, or he’s so petulant about playing for Klinsmann and the USA he’d rather not play at all. As for now he’s out.

Fortunately, the others – Fabian Johnson, Terrence Boyd and Danny Williams – have jumped right into the team, and while some fans may pine for a greater MLS contingent on the national team, the stone-cold fact is that these players are so far ahead of comparable domestic players it ain’t even funny. Getting them up to speed at the international level has already paid off, particularly in the case of Johnson, but it will be in the next 24 months their value truly emerges.

MLS teams have achieved greater success against Concacaf foes in this region’s version of the Champions League, but not many of those players have found their way into Klinsmann’s plans. Kyle Beckerman is on the current squad but is well down the depth chart; Brek Shea got a long look yet was passed over for this go-round; and not until late this year or early in 2013 will we know what the prospects are for Omar Gonzalez – here we go again – long-term.

Unfortunately, injuries to Johnson and Williams will delay their education in the ways of Concacaf, where frenzy and misfortune can subsume tactics and acumen. No doubt these are tough, smart players, and they won’t need more than a short stint south of the border to grasp the task. A key figure in the Tuesday game will be Steve Cherundolo, a veteran of more than a decade of Bundesliga play and many trips to hostile Concacaf venues. He might even play left back.

The gap for them, as opposed to most MLS players, isn’t nearly as large, and with three away games in the semifinal round to be followed by, presumably, five more in the Hexagonal, the coach will be looking outside MLS to stock his roster.

Every player Klinsmann used in Friday's World Cup qualifying opener, a 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda, played abroad last season. The only current MLS player fielded, Landon Donovan, played last winter at Everton on loan from the Galaxy.

The American league can benefit in other ways from Klinsmann’s hiring, though it will likely take longer than two years.

17 comments about "Prospects dim for most MLS players".
  1. Bob Escobar, June 12, 2012 at 9:23 a.m.

    Omar Gonzales is not a good center back, the kid is too soft and inconsistent, maybe in a few years he can become a more consistent and tougher defender.

  2. Bob Escobar, June 12, 2012 at 9:26 a.m.

    Kyle Beckerman is a good MLS player, but that's it, every time he played for the USA he struggled, he runs around marking shadows, and offensively = zero!

  3. Bob Escobar, June 12, 2012 at 9:32 a.m.

    2014 could be the year we won't qualify for the 2014 World Cup....I don't feel very optimistic about this team, Dempsey, Donovan, Michael Bradley, Howard and Hercules Gomez can only do so much....the rest of the players are average and inconsistent...the German base players could be detrimental to the team...I believe they don't give a crap if the US wins or not. Klinsman is not a bad coach, but he was definitely a better player than coach! Also, the other teams in the Concacaf are better than past years....but lets all hope a miracle happens and the USA wins it all!!!

  4. I w Nowozeniuk, June 12, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

    Player selection is too much ado over nothing. Coach will select who he thinks can produce. Biggest problem is individual and team mentality, lack of efficacy for 90 minutes and ability to play simple effective game. Players come and go, and some show up on occasions. That's not good enough.

  5. Kerry Ogden, June 12, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

    I don't know why Klinsmann would really consider players from the MLS when a majority of the players 80% or greater are not even US citizens.This is the reason why he have very little players from the MLS club's that get selected for the USMNT. As far as CB's, Tim Reams is a better player for this position than Omar Gonzalez!!!! I hope that the men do well tonight but with the lack of chemistry between the players it's going to be a tough road for them in qualifications for the WC!

  6. Robert Kiernan, June 12, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.

    We have played all of ONE Qualifier so far and yet there is already a plethora of criticism of Klinsmann and his team, this is just highly premature. Yes we failed to destroy Antigua the way we destroyed Grenada four years ago, but truth be told, Antigua is a better organized minnow with the bulk of their side having regularly played together as a club side, and that showed in the match but the key here is we GOT the full three points from this match in the rain. As far as your comment Bob Escobar, how has anything we've seen coming from Fabian Johnson so far been less than first class, his assist in the Dempsey Goal vs Italy? His Assist on Gomez's goal against Brazil? He clearly is better than ANY similar player based here able to play at LB, but the central point is that we have an aging side and any understudy that Klinsmann decides to bring in clearly is going to be YOUNGER than the player he is shadowing. This is just a reality and the other side of that coin is that since the great majority of the players who make their livings in MLS are still effectively rookies when they enter the league, usually after several years of playing Collegiate Soccer, which lets be clear is just not as strong a challenge as playing reserve ball for a Professional side, even the top College programs have too few truly competitive matches or just plain ENOUGH matches to fully develop these young guys into what is expected of a Professional. The NCAA has too many regulations limiting or preventing outside play and after three or four years of this, most of these players simply have slipped behind those who are living and playing in a full time soccer environment. With this in mind, is it any wonder why Jurgen has looked to players mostly in Europe or Mexico to play for us? Clearly we are seeing a need to find replacements, especially at Stopper and at flank positions with Boca 33, Cherundolo 33, Goodson and Onyewu both 30 it simply takes little genius to see that not all of these guys will be healthy or in form two years from now, but bringing in MLS players only a year or two younger is no answer and Beckerman clearly wouldn't stand a chance if Stuart Holden was healthy. Clearly it's guys in their mid 20's who are old enough to have experience but still young enough to heal up quickly if hurt that are going to be needed, Bradley, Torres, Lichaj, Johnson, Williams all come to mind. Having a player like Terrence Boyd in the pool is important, his going to play for Rapid Vienna means we will have another Striker besides Altidore who is still rather young in the mix. Both Dempsey and Gomez have looked good, but again neither is getting any younger.I hope to see Joshua Gatt and Joe Gyau and Mikkel Diskerud see time with the side soon, same with Corona and Agudelo, the simple fact is we need to start working these players in soon so if Dempsey or Donovan or any of those hovering around 30 years old can't play, we actually have players with experience to put in. (ICE)

  7. Roger Sokol, June 12, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.

    At least two factors have affected the number of USMNT players that play in MLS. As someone alluded to earlier, MLS teams are filling out their rosters with lots of foreign players. That's probably useful for improving the level of play in MLS, but not for developing American talent. Secondly, if an American player does show much potential in MLS, he's definitely on the radar screens of foreign clubs. There has become a steady flow of US players to foreign leagues and, on balance, that's good for the USMNT. Just check out the Americans Abroad articles in season and there are now at least 30-40 players playing outside the US versus only a handful half a dozen years ago. MLS's use of foreign talent hurts the USMNT in the sense that it has provided a platform for players from the Caribbean and Central America to develop more than they might in their native lands. But in the long run, that will help CONCACAF become stronger versus the rest of the world. I think the next major seed change will come when the MLS club academies start churning out a steady stream of players who will be able to compete and play in MLS. As we're just starting to see a few MLS team academy clubs become a factor in the youth championships, that's likely a ways off yet.

  8. Bill Anderson, June 12, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.

    Roger, I agree with your analysis of the MLS Academy programs. They will soon bare fruit, but not this go round for the National Team. The youth players need to move into the Full MLS League games to make the progress they need. Some are already making an impact, others are just now starting to get looks. The 2018 WC will be filled with these players. MLS is making an overall major impact for CONCACAF as the rosters of our opponents are littered with current MLS players.

  9. Albert Harris, June 12, 2012 at 2:08 p.m.

    I don't have anything to add to this conversation except to say that the statement that 80% of MLS players are not US citizens is wildly inaccurate. 45% of MLS players are not US citizens, and that includes the Canadians. This info is from Everyone's entitled to their own opinion of course, but not their own facts. 55% of the MLS players are US citizens; whether they are good enough for the national team is another matter. Though I do think Roger's point about our best players being siphoned off abroad now is apt. But that's the price that smaller soccer nations have been paying for years.

  10. Manuel Trejo-von Angst, June 12, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.

    Allow me to make the level of play in MLS higher: $$$. The players will get better when the money to play gets better. If MLS players made money closer to what the NBA offered you'd see a lot more top American talent choosing to continue with soccer rather than other sports. There have been more than a few elite athletes in other sports who have spoken about their love of the game. I know people will point to Chad Johnson's struggles at SKC training camp last year, but that's just it, he hasn't trained for soccer for what, 12 years? Yet still he merited a look by an MLS team. Had he been trained and conditioned for soccer the past 12 years I'm sure he would have dominated on sheer athleticism alone. So if you wanna fix MLS you gotta pay more and get more kids interested in the game on those grounds. That is why people wanna play in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL etc.

  11. Carlos Thys, June 13, 2012 at 1:33 a.m.

    I have no idea why anyone wastes any time or ink on fretting over whether the USA will make it to the round with Mexico-Honduras-El Salvador to contest for the three slots to go to Brasil 2014. Folks, this is all rigged. It really is. Just like Spain losing to the USA in the Confederations Cup in 2009. That was a good ploy to rev up US interest even more in South Africa 2010, and what did we see? Significantly more travelling soccer USA tourists to South Africa than any other nation for June 2010. Significantly more than Germany and England, the usually largest fan contingents. This is all about money, and FIFA and CONCACAF know where the money is. If a country like Panama gets to Brazil 2014, it won't be at the expense of the USA's berth. There is only one slot open; Mexico and the USA are locks for 2014.

  12. Amos Annan, June 13, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.

    Playing at the national level is more about experience and confidence.

  13. david caldwell, June 13, 2012 at 10:50 a.m.

    Uh, if FIFA rigs the results then how do you explain El Salvador knocking the US out of the Olympics in U-23? Ref and his 2 assistants failed to call an brutal elbow bloodying the face of Terence Boyd by El Salvadorian defender late in the obvious straight red that would have almost certainly ended Salavador's comeback. Instead they score a fluke goal on GK error a minute later, eliminating the US.

    As for harsh judgement of Klinsman, let's relax a little. He has mainly the same players - so it'd be hard to imagine wildly better results. But the style of play is better - at least in concept, if not always in evidence in every match. Johnson is very promising. Agree that I would like to see a bit more youth. I'm sure that's going to happen (Aguedelo, Corona, Boyd, Gatt.) But playing WC qualifiers is serious business and difficult for the manager to experiment.

  14. david caldwell, June 13, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.

    What I'm most worried about is lack of fitness and toughness at times. Also need for stronger Centerback play. This was a disaster on the U23 team and seemingly an issue across the system.
    I like the improvement seen in Jones - a player I had been harshly critical of in the past. Also Bradley's improvement has been impressive. Would like to see Shea get back into the team. Would like to see Gatt get a look.

  15. cisco martinez, June 13, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.

    Let's be honest with ourselves, MLS is not a league that is at the caliber of many teams in Europe, having said that we do have some good talent that MLS has produced. What we need to keep in perspective is that the MLS is somewhat a filter of College soccer; coaches at the collegiate level and to a certain extent at the US national level are looking for physical pressence and speed, while disregarding technical ability and tactics. Currently, there are American players that are left out of the national team, feilhaber, Beckerman, etc.

  16. Carlos Thys, June 14, 2012 at 8:33 a.m.

    Mr. Caldwell, I respect your thoughts but would call attention to the fact that the London Olympics need do next to nothing more to woo USA travelers to Britain for all the coming August events. One, the US women are again in the tournament and are the favorites. Two, the US contingent of fans travelling to England would not in very significant ways be increased with a U23 US male team's presence. Already the US fans will be well represented in the tens of thousands and spending lots of money as they eat, lodge, travel, see the sights and view everything from the equestrian events to the staples like track & field, swimming, diving, gymnastics, volleyball, field hockey, rowing, tennis, sailing and on and on and on. The London Olympic games does not require more travelling US fans or, frankly, any additional fans. A soccer world cup in a place like South Africa and Brazil does. Why? The great distances between the host cities/stadium venues and the fact that these venue cities don't have world class tourist attractions. Just wait a few weeks, if we get honest reporting and reports, the Ukraine will very much be reporting heavy, heavy financial losses from UEFA 2012 and shopkeepers, hotels, stores, restaurants, cafes, taxi drivers etc. will air their grievances at very little "boost" to their June/July bottom line. They cannot yet fill the stadiums in Lviv and Kharkiv and most fans have wanted to stay and be based in Poland -- as most teams have chose to base themselves in Poland. These tournaments are really all about money and making maximum profits for UEFA/FIFA and their key sponsors -- and this is why you'll always see nations like Japan, South Korea, Australia, Germany, England and, yes, most certainly the USA qualifying at every conceivable World Cup from here on out. Soon Canada will join the mix, too (on the men's side as well as the women's -- every time).

  17. Luis Arreola, June 21, 2012 at 1:27 p.m.

    Carlos, by that logic, why hasn't Canada been qualifying all these years then? Why weren't the U20s made to qualify for World Cup and bumped out by Guatemala? Where's the money there? Are world basketball championships the same? Because Mexico should be making it every time if they want to make money. Confederations? Who sells more? USA or Mexico? Fact is by shear numbers of population USA should be qualifying for every event. New York City has more people than El Salvador. The problem is we are mediocre.

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