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.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Sometimes words can’t be used to express emotions, so this team resorted to throwing wild haymakers instead.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
A friendly reminder that we’re all entirely too knee-jerk with our reactions these days.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
This one is an absolute beauty from Bobby Wood, who’s doing his part to keep Erzgebirge Aue from being relegated out of 2. Bundesliga.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Freddy made his second appearance for KuPS last week, and dare we say it, he looked pretty good. See for yourself.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT
Only an all-time historic meltdown of epic proportions can keep Bournemouth out of the Premier League now.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Maybe the best player in MLS that you don’t know about, it’s time to recognize Ethan Finlay.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
28 goals in 9 games means choices aplenty for this week’s MLS Team of the Week.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Now 21-year-old midfielder John McGinn is set for three weeks on the sidelines, though he also has a heck of a story.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT
The 29-year-old Belgian center back joins a unit which has conceded just 19 goals in La Liga play, the best total in the league by six goals.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
Hazard is now the PFA’s reigning Player of the Year. We doubt very much this video will make his peers think they voted incorrectly.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
Backup keeper Erik Kronberg is ineligible for the competition since he was a part of Sporting KC earlier in the tournament.
Apr 27, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
The headlines aren’t being kind to Newcastle on Monday morning, and it seems their manager is sick of his players’ performance and grief from supporters.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT
True to form, the West is leading. Perhaps not to expectations, but leading nonetheless.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at Week 34 in the PL.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:10 AM EDT
Find out which club put forth a performance that was second to none in Round 34 of the Premier League.
MLS official squashes rumor of emergency intra-MLS goalkeeper loan for CONCACAF Champions League final
Apr 27, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
A potential week-long loan of Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to the Montreal Impact for this Wednesday’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Club America is not going to happen.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:35 AM EDT
Find out whose star shone above the rest in the Premier League this weekend.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:08 AM EDT
Elton John. American skippers and Harry Potter. Get to know the Hornets ahead of their PL return.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
Sturridge and Luis Suarez registered 52 PL goals last season. Liverpool as a team has 47 this season.
Apr 26, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
Final: Sounders 1-0 Timbers
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- Premier League Playback: Chelsea brilliant, not boring, as title inches closer 0
- MLS official squashes rumor of emergency intra-MLS goalkeeper loan for CONCACAF Champions League final 11
- VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week — Round 34 0