By Joe Tutino
Americans need to play.
I’ve been fortunate enough to call LA Galaxy games for 18 years. That’s over 500 games under my expansive waistline as my career has been attached to the sport of soccer from day one.
As the sport continues to grow in this country, we have more eyes on the U.S. National Team, wondering when it might win the World Cup. Plus, there’s more attention on Major League Soccer, where many of these players are developed. No, they’re not all sons of American service men and women abroad.
The argument in the sport is: Where should these emerging stars play to help the U.S. team?
You may have been exposed to Landon Donovan, the greatest American soccer player of all time. He chose to play in States with the majority of his career with the LA Galaxy. His decision to stay in the U.S. went against conventional discussion (or soccer snobs who are still wet around the ears) that if you’re going to be great in this sport, you must play in Europe. And, if you’re going to be considered to be among the best, you must play in England, with one of the top four teams and be an important player there.
That was not in Landon Donovan’s heart. But Landon Donovan is American soccer’s Babe Ruth and Wayne Gretzky all in one. The numbers don’t lie.
Here is the dilemma.
It’s true, European Soccer is the standard. The best from around the world play there. Much like the NBA and MLB here. If you’re good enough, you need to go to those leagues.
But you need to play or it won’t help your national team and your career will come to an end sooner than. And, let’s be honest, the only national team that matters on a global scale, is the national team in the sport of soccer. Nothing else comes close.
Brek Shea recently returned from his ‘experience’ in Europe, with Stoke City. Not the greats of the EPL. By all accounts a failed experiment for him. He left a sure selection to the U.S. team for Brazil 2014 and fell into the abyss once he left FC Dallas of MLS. He’s back in MLS, signed with expansion Orlando City.
Jozy Altidore is not doing anything special at Sunderland; he’s considered an important part of the U.S. team and not improving.
Let’s turn to the opposite end of the spectrum.
Lionel Messi is considered among the world’s greatest player. His Argentina team struggled with him on the pitch in many competitions. It finally broke through this last World Cup and was beaten by Germany, made up predominantly of domestic players. Yes, the German league doesn’t suck either.
Cristiano Ronaldo is on the other side of the ‘best player in the world’ argument. His Portugal squad has finished twice behind the USA at the World Cup. The Portuguese league, ehh, not all that great.
It’s not just about the stars playing abroad.
Ask England about its national team. It finished behind the USA at South Africa. It has the same expectations as Raiders fans of the NFL – myopic.
Its league is great. Its national team – not great.
To be clear, the majority of Americans in Europe and those that wear the USA shirt have come from or are from MLS. Very few foreign Americans have had an impact on the U.S. team. That’s reality.
The other reality is the MLS continues advance and grow, with more money than ever spent on developing American youth soccer players. And, like any other sport, you must play to get better.
If you want the U.S. National Team to become a consistent contender at the highest stage, then Americans must play and the domestic league must continue to produce these players. If a player is good enough to play with a top team in Europe, great, but there are a handful of those teams.
If you really want to understand soccer’s culture, here’s a good example. For years, if an Italian player did not play in Italy, he would not sniff a chance at playing for his country. Yes, Italy is one of the best leagues in the world – true. It was built with their own blood.