I sort of had an epiphany of the obvious the other day. Almost all of the US world cup squad and perhaps all of the starters (assuming you put Spector or Bocanegra at LB instead of Bornstein) will not just be playing abroad, but will be doing so in top European leagues. With the moves of Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, even the US bench will be stacked with European based players.
8 players in the Premier League: Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jonathan Specter, Stuart Holden, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann
2 in France: Carlos Bocanegra, Charlie Davies
3 in Germany: Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Steve Cherundolo
1 in Italy: Oguchi Onyewu
2 in Scotland: Damarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu
1 in English Championship: Jay Demerit
1 in Denmark: Benny Feilhaber
That is 18 European players in top leagues out of 23 in the squad.
Now you could take issue with considering the Danish, Scottish, and Championship top European leagues. But I would say Rangers is no doubt a big European club that is of Premier league quality and that plays in the Champions League. Watford is not a Premier League side, but Jay Demerit is a premiership caliber player and has played there. Denmark albeit is a good, not great league, but Feilhaber also has a history in the Bundesliga and Premiership. You could also say that Landon Donovan is on loan and could be with MLS when the tournament starts, sure, but that is quibbling. In other words I think the point stands. And demonstrates that American players are improving and European clubs are taking notice.
US soccer has come a long long way and I think those that are dismissive of the US team and its improvement need to think twice. This should be the best, most complete US squad ever. In 2002 and 2006 there were 11 MLS based players and 12 Europeans. In 02 actually 11 of the 12 Euro-based players played in top leagues, while in 06 just 7 played in top leagues. Even if you eliminate Demerit and Feilhaber we will have 16 players in the top European leagues. So more than double the number that were in the 2006 squad and this is 4 or 5 players more than 02, and we know how 02 went, don’t we. This is a much deeper team than we have ever had before and Bob Bradley will perhaps have more talented options off the bench than other managers ever had. I think this clearly demonstrates the growth of the game in the United States.
But even more than this, it also indicates that there will be far fewer MLS players on the national team. In fact, it is possible (although not likely) that the US could have just 1 MLS based player on the squad (Jonathan Bornstein). Now in my mock up squad above there are some assumptions – Davies will be fit, Beasley will be in form, and no more injuries. None of these are safe to assume. But assuming things go as planned, that would leave just 5 or 6 spots open. Among the candidates for those spots there are 2 players from the Mexican league in Jose Torres and Edgar Castillo and 4 European-based players that are in contention in Kenny Cooper, Clarence Goodson, Eddie Johnson, and Marcus Hahnemann. While I think there will be more than 1 MLS player, with the likes of Chad Marshall, Robbie Findley, Jeff Cunningham, Conor Casey, Heath Pearce, Troy Perkins, and Brian Ching all possibilities, I don’t think most of these players will go. If I had to predict a Bob Bradley squad right now it would only have 4 MLS players:
Forward: Altidore, Davies, Casey
Mid: Donovan, Dempsey, Holden, Beasley, Bradley, Clark, Edu, Feilhaber, Torres
Def: Spector, Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Gooch, Demerit, Bornstein, Pearce, Marshall
Goalie: Howard, Guzan, Hahnemann
Hence, the squad of MLS based players and Nordic European players that participated in the Honduras friendly is much more of a C squad than a B squad.
So what to take away from this? Should MLS panic that fewer Americans are MLS players? I think not at all. In fact, MLS should trumpet this. 13 out of the 16 European-based players above started their careers in MLS. The league is clearly producing quality players and is a launching pad for talented players, instead of resisting this the league has to realize that selling talented players to Europe is part of the geopolitical make up of the soccer world right now.
UPDATE— This post has been updated – I somehow forgot Onyewu!