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.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Gunners and Saints clash, as the third round of the League Cup takes place this week.
Sep 22, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
Zwanziger: “Medics say they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions.”
Sep 22, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Joining the NBC Sports crew from the crap part of SoHo, the MiB break down van Gaal’s topsy-turvy day.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
A report documenting FIFA’s internal investigation into alleged World Cup bidding corruption will not be published.
Sep 22, 2014, 11:28 AM EDT
Gunners defensive woes compounded as Debuchy will be out for over three months.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the incredible storylines from the PL during Week 5.
Sep 22, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Rog and Davo welcomed guest after guest for a very special pod.
Sep 22, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT
Pellegrini on City’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea: “I think we played 90 minutes against a small team trying to defend.”
Sep 22, 2014, 8:32 AM EDT
German midfielder would be exactly what Arsenal need. Will he arrive in January?
Sep 22, 2014, 7:53 AM EDT
Will Defoe be heading back to England at the end of the 2014 MLS season? Reports suggest its likely.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:37 AM EDT
Toronto FC vs. Chivas USA was the only MLS match to occur on Sunday.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
Roundup of Serie A and La Liga matches from the weekend.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:09 PM EDT
Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta thinks the referee let Diego Costa off without a red card during their encounter that spurred a red card for the Argentine.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:07 PM EDT
Barcelona beat Levante 5-0 on Sunday to continue their winning streak in all competitions.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
Short written and video recap of Sunday’s games.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Manchester City goalie Joe Hart confirmed that he hadn’t discussed a new contract with the club, and Liverpool is a prime candidate for his services, according to the Metro.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
More racism was thrown at Mario Balotelli, but this time, it appears law enforcement will get involved.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck scored and assisted each other during the Gunners 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Alessandro Florenzi hugged and kissed his grandmother in the Stade Olimpico stands following his goal in AS Roma’s 2-0 victory over Cagliari.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:34 PM EDT
Everton manager Roberto Martinez laments loss to Crystal Palace, saying that his squad lost its drive for victory.
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