Klinsman: Top Americans shouldn't play in MLS
It is the great debate of American soccer.
There is no doubt that in the long-term picture the U.S. men’s national team will only get better as Major League Soccer improves. The U.S. is no different than any other country in the world; it’s clear that a healthy domestic league directly impacts the quality of a national team.
At the same time, the U.S. would also benefit in the short term by seeing its top players in the best leagues around the world.
Thus the conundrum.
In order to grow and improve, Major League Soccer needs to see the trend of top American players signing back home — Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are the biggest examples, though Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and DaMarcus Beasley also signed with MLS in the last year. The hope is that those players improve the quality of play in MLS and help some younger players, like DeAndre Yedlin, Lee Nguyen, Luis Gil, to develop into top-class players who can make an impact on the national team.
But does the U.S. national program actually suffer when its top players, especially those in their prime, like Bradley, come home to play in a league that simply is not yet near the standard of the elite teams in Europe?
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann certainly seems to think so. Speaking specifically about Bradley, who left a Champions League side in Roma to join a Toronto FC team that will miss the playoffs for an eighth-straight season, Klinsmann implied that it would be difficult for Bradley to maintain the form he showed when he was playing in Europe.
“I think he’s faced with a very, very difficult year,” Klinsmann said. “Making that decision to go from Roma, a Champions League team, to now Toronto, a team that it seems like they’re not even qualifying for the playoffs, it’s a huge disappointment. That comes along with, you adjust yourself to whatever environment you are in, so he had to adjust to the environment he’s with in Toronto, instead of maybe an environment that plays Champions League football. So he’s going through that experience now, and still coming in now the first time since the World Cup he has to prove that he hasn’t lost a bit. Obviously we will keep working and pushing, but it’s down to him and his environment to see what level he is capable to play.”
Klinsmann continued when asked if he was concerned about Bradley’s environment in Toronto.
“Concerned? I mean, there’s nothing I can do about it. I made it clear, I made it clear with Clint’s move back and his move back that it’s going to very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It’s just reality, it’s just being honest. I want [Jozy] to get through a bit of a difficult time at Sunderland and maybe make a big step one day to a Champions League team in Europe, because that’s where the top players in the world play. Now making the step back, I totally get it. It’s a huge financial offer, it is also connected to many other elements, and this league is getting better and stronger every year. Which we are all very proud about. And I want everybody to grow in this environment, but reality also is for both players making that step means that you are not in the same competitive environment as you were before. And so it’s not easy for Michael, and it’s not going to be easy in the future.”
So the main question is: Is it more important that MLS grows by luring the top American players back home, or that the U.S. national team grows by seeing its best players at the world’s top clubs?