Jun 3, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Major League Soccer will have 21 representatives on Brazil’s fields at the World Cup, the highest number since 1998 – the first finals after the league began play in 1996. Unlike that tournament in France, however, most of MLS’s representatives are not going to be on the United States’ roster. Whereas 16 players from the nascent league made Steve Sampson’s squad in 1998, only nine MLS’ers are among the 23 that Jurgen Klinsmann will take to Brazil.
Considering so many have trumpeted 2014 as a World Cup resurgence for MLS, that figure may be seen as disappointingly small. It’s the second-lowest in league history. When you consider where the league was four years ago, however, you can see why the trumpets are out. Only four Major League Soccer players made Bob Bradley’s squad for South Africa.
In that light, the resurgence is both remarkable and, as if four years ago, unforeseeable, with its main effects apparent on the U.S’s starting lineup. Of the nine players Klinsmann’s taking to Brazil, five are potential starters: Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey, and Graham Zusi. Not only are Major League Soccer’s numbers up; the league’s significance within the team is climbing, too.
The cause of all this isn’t a complex one. The league is just better than it was four years ago, when it was climbing out of its nadir of the early- and mid-oughts. The steep nature of that climb, however, deserves a little more examination. Within the U.S. team, MLS has gone from nearly irrelevant to a necessary part of the squad.
1. Core stability – While so many have focused on Major League Soccer’s lack of television viewers, the butts in seats continue to be solid. Combined with the league’s single-entity structure, that’s provided Major League Soccer with a reliable foundation from which it can grow. As the league becomes more aggressive in seeking out talent, it knows its large, loyal core of fans provides an enviable stability.
2. Increasing the quality of play – You can have all the fans you want, but if nobody’s going to improve by playing in your league, you’re not going to convince World Cup talent to stick around (or, come back). Thanks largely to its efforts in Central and South America, the league has been able to bring in affordable talent that’s significantly raised its quality of play. Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales is the poster play for this movement, but thanks to others like him, Major League Soccer is now a place where the likes of Davis, Kyle Beckerman, and Chris Wondolowski can improve. They’re all going to Brazil.
3. Money, Part I: Retention funds – Not every player is like Beckerman or Davis, however. If players like Besler and Zusi had come along five years earlier, they’d probably be in Europe by now.
With its new security, however, Major League Soccer has made it a priority to compete for those types of talents. Thanks to retention funds — a mechanism that allows teams to offer increased compensation without taking up a DP slot — players like Besler and Zusi, as well as a number of non-U.S. players, have been kept in the league.
4. Money, Part II: Transfer fees – And then MLS really stepped it up, going into the transfer market to reclaim one of its own. Starting with the fee the league paid Tottenham Hotspur to bring Clint Dempsey back, the league committed to competing for the U.S.’s best talents.
This winter, the league struck again, paying AS Roma for Michael Bradley. In transfer fees alone, the league committed $19 million to two of the U.S.’s biggest stars, an amount that would have been unfathomable 10 years ago.
5. Increased international profile – Call this the David Beckham effect, but don’t forget the influence players like Thierry Henry have had on international perception, too. Whereas Major League Soccer was recently seen as a player’s last stop, it’s becoming more and more viable to make the switch earlier in your career. That not only means getting players like Tim Cahill and Jermain Defoe a year or two sooner than you would have before, but it also gives the Bradleys and Dempseys of the world reason to come back early.
Major League Soccer still has a long way to go, but some of the early returns will be seen at the World Cup. Only nine leagues across the world will have a greater representation in Brazil, and within the U.S. national team, there will be more than twice as many MLS’ers in the squad.
That may not mean the U.S.’s team is built around league talent, but if this new pattern holds, it won’t be too long before the domestic league is again claiming a majority of the national team’s spot.
May 27, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Sepp Blatter has served as president for 17 years and is expected to easily win reelection.
May 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Let’s take a walk through the six yard box with the Premier League’s 10 best ‘keepers for 2014-15.
May 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
A press conference is scheduled to be held at 10:30 a.m. ET from the U.S. Department of Justice.
May 27, 2015, 7:52 AM EDT
Texas has been hit with massive flooding that has left at least 19 dead, as soccer takes a backseat.
May 27, 2015, 6:55 AM EDT
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch speaks about the FBI’s investigation into widespread allegations of corruption at FIFA.
FIFA fallout continues: Swiss authorities open criminal proceedings into allocation of 2018, 2022 World Cups
May 27, 2015, 6:08 AM EDT
Mark down May 27, 2015 as perhaps the lowest point in FIFA’s history.
May 27, 2015, 5:20 AM EDT
FIFA officials from CONCACAF region and South America dominate the FBI’s wanted list.
May 27, 2015, 12:44 AM EDT
An unprecedented blow to the upper tier of FIFA’s personnel structure could be the beginning of a sweeping takedown of the organization’s corrupt inner workings.
May 26, 2015, 11:17 PM EDT
Toronto FC has put a “projected Starting XI” on Twitter, one that includes Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco.
May 26, 2015, 10:28 PM EDT
Well, the Premier League season has been over for a solid 59 hours, and we shouldn’t let it get to 60 without digging through the muck that is the transfer rumor mill.
May 26, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
All-in-all, he’s played for 11 clubs — four on loan — and only one for more than 30 matches (Standard Liege).
May 26, 2015, 8:36 PM EDT
He finished off the speech with a brilliant line regarding Chelsea, “They played from August till May and sometimes they brought the bus.”
May 26, 2015, 7:47 PM EDT
Chicharito’s career will make an interesting case study when all’s said and done.
May 26, 2015, 6:42 PM EDT
“Surely he knows … that outside of the voting chambers, that the world … the players and supporters, want change,” Delaney said.
May 26, 2015, 5:51 PM EDT
The USMNT faces Germany on June 10 in Cologne after a June 5 date at Amsterdam Arena against the Netherlands.
May 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
A great deal of clubs can find young talent on our list, as the 2014-15 season review continues.
May 26, 2015, 4:33 PM EDT
Napoli finished fourth in Serie A, and made it to the Europa League semifinal before being bounced by Dnipro.
May 26, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT
This list will tend to include more high-profile names than low-risk moves that didn’t pan out.
May 26, 2015, 2:38 PM EDT
Find out which 11 players shone during the final matchday of the 2014-15 PL season.
May 26, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
The grades are in… Let’s see who is top of the class.
- FIFA presidential elections will go on Friday despite arrests 1
- FBI, US Department of Justice issues damning statement on FIFA, details corruption investigation 5
- FIFA fallout continues: Swiss authorities open criminal proceedings into allocation of 2018, 2022 World Cups 1
- Nine FIFA officials, including CONCACAF president, arrested in Switzerland during dawn raids 10
- Report: Multiple FIFA officials arrested in Zurich, will be extradited to United States 5
- Mourinho rips Top 4 rivals at awards dinner; Takes extra shot at Wenger’s Arsenal 2