With the help of Wikipedia and my friends at Soccer America, I developed an excel table. There are a total of 69 U.S. players in the top five leagues (Premier
League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and Bundesliga), second-tier leagues in those five leagues and the other first tier leagues in Europe. There are other U.S. players in lower leagues, but I did not
include them in my survey.
Well, let us correct that there are 69 professional players in those leagues who carry a US passport, because at least 38 (55 percent) of them carry dual citizenships. I say at least, because my not-so-reliable friend Wikipedia did not indicate the dual citizenship status for a good number of players.
Is it a coincidence that so many U.S. players playing in Europe have dual citizenships? Definitely not! First of all, in order to play in most European leagues, you need either to have an EU passport or a work permit. Work permits for non-European players are sometimes granted based on the number of caps in the last few years or in some leagues there is a quota per team for non EU players without a minimum caps qualification. Since the USA is not in Europe, the U.S. players fall under the same category as Nigerians, Brazilians and Argentinians. The top 15 countries exporting soccer players to the world do not include the USA. The list is headed by Brazil (1,784), followed by Argentina (929) and France (758). For Europe, the list is still headed by Brazil (1,134) but a majority of foreigners still come from other European associations: 56.1 percent.
The 1,784 Brazilians exported are mostly the product of their own development programs. Of the 69 U.S. players playing in Europe, 28 (41 percent) of them are products of another country’s youth development system. Seventeen of those 28 players (61 percent) have at least one cap for the USYNT or USMNT. The other 41 are products of the U.S. youth development system.
If we trust Wikipedia of those 69 players, six (4/2) of them are goal keepers, 23 (13/10) are defenders, 17 (10/6) are midfielders and 23 (14/9) are forwards. (The first number in parentheses indicates the U,S. developed players) This surprised me, I would have thought that there will be more defenders and midfielders.
Out of the 69 U.S. players, 20 of them are playing in the top five leagues of Europe. Well to be exact they are playing in the Premier League and the Bundesliga and there are no US players in the Liga, the Serie A or the Ligue 1. Out of 20 only six (30 percent) of them have been developed by the U.S. youth development systems. Of those six, only Pulisic is playing for a team that competes in the Champions League or Europa League.
Sixteen out of 20 played for the USMNT at some level. All the players in those five leagues except five have dual citizenships. Brad Guzan and Geoff Cameron got their work permit based on the number of their caps. Bobby Wood, Emerson Hyndman and Lynden Gooch bypassed the FIFA’s ban of transfers before the age of 18 and joined English or German academies at an early age.
Even though we might think that there is not much of a quantity problem in the export of players to Europe, there definitely is a quality problem. Out of the 41 players we exported to the top tier professional leagues in Europe, only one is playing in a top club and six of them are playing in a club in one of the top five leagues.
There is another interesting observation: There are 18 U.S.-developed players out of 41 who moved to Europe before the age of 19, bypassing FIFA’s ban thanks to holding passports from EU nations. They started their pro career in Europe. Four of them are in the top five leagues. This tells a lot about the expectations of U.S.-developed players toward the professional soccer environment in this country.
In 2015, U.S. leagues (MLS, NASL, USL and PDL) imported 70 players from UK, France and Spain and a total of 227 from Europe. If you consider that USA has only 61 professional men’s teams then to export 41 players to Europe might be meaningful. If you keep in mind that the first-tier professional league, MLS is only 21 years old and that the number of players the Developmental Academies are producing for the professional teams are increasing, you might be optimistic about the future.
But let us not forget that we are talking about a continent nation of 320 million people, with the highest GDP on the planet and the most successful nation in the Olympics history. Then you might like to think twice.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.