Grantland’s Noah Davis has an article up that asks the curious question: is Major League Soccer improving the USA’s potential rivals in CONCACAF?
The majority of players growing up in Central American nations or the Caribbean islands now see MLS as an aspirational league. For many, reaching a team in Europe is a bridge too far — either due to talent or distance — but the United States is closer, mentally and physically. International club tournaments like the CONCACAF Champions League give them a chance to gain familiarity with MLS teams, players, styles, and facilities, while offering MLS coaches an opportunity to scout talent and make inroads.
The result is more, and better, talent coming to MLS from CONCACAF countries. Last month, Soccer America reported that 68 of the 132 starters on the 12 MLS playoff contenders were internationals. Some of these players hail from non-CONCACAF countries — Colombians make up 4.7 percent of MLS, for example — but plenty are from the region. Which raises two questions: 1) Is MLS making CONCACAF’s national teams better? And 2) How does the affect the U.S. national team?
Davis is a good writer, but I’m not convinced of his answers. On the first, he argues it’s a “yes,” mostly on the back of a quote from US national team coach Juergen Klinsmann in which he remarks that “All of our opponents are better than they were a few years ago.”
First, is Klinsmann the right person to be making this kind of judgment? He’s been at the helm of the USMNT for just under a year-and-a-half, not exactly an enormous period of time in which to make sweeping statements about improved teams. Even if this notion of improvement is true, it doesn’t follow it’s because MLS exists. Davis at least concedes the obvious on the second question: if MLS benefits CONCACAF nations, it definitely benefits the US. I would say the latter benefits outweighs any and all concerns over potentially aiding the enemy.
That said, the whole argument doesn’t hold water. For many central American players, MLS is just one more option among several, and is not the most obvious choice for elite footballers when held up against Mexico, Argentina, or Brazil, and of course, Europe. It’s not even clear that CONCACAF nations have improved that much in the intervening years. If there’s a convincing metric, it wasn’t in this article.