Americans Abroad, Not Playing

Monday, September 20, 2010 | View Comments
Jonathan Spector West Ham United 2010/11 Aston Villa V West Ham United (3-0) 14/08/10 The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

The "Americans Abroad" roundup is a popular feature with US-based soccer blogs because we're always interested in how our boys are playing in Europe, Mexico, etc.  There aren't so many Yanks (though the number is growing) plying their trade in foreign lands that we can just relax about it.  We need to know who played, who scored, who made a difference, and who furthered the cause of Americans in the world of soccer/football/futbol.  It's half about just staying informed on our national teamers and national team prospects and half about our continuing inferiority complex when it comes to the reputation of American players elsewhere.  When our Yanks don't play, we're naturally discouraged.

Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart has taken the Americans Abroad roundup and applied a twist of his own.  Dave is keen observer of the MLS roster rules, the talent pool the league has at its disposal, and what the future may hold in each regard; with that in mind, he has chosen to highlight several Americans playing elsewhere who are failing to find time on the field.  Dave's purpose in compiling the list is to point out that MLS roster size itself is a red herring in discussions of league quality; the real issue the talent level of the players who actually get on the field.

I encourage you to check out the list (and read the discussion in the comments).  While I take exception with some of the names Dave has included (Eric Lichaj, mostly), his point is valid; the talent pool shallows in part because American talent is elsewhere not playing rather than in MLS where they most certainly would.  Unfortunately, it's easy to say the league should do a better job (re)capturing that talent; but with the larger salaries and greater prestige signing with a European (or Mexican in some cases) club brings, it's very difficult to actually do.  When a player possesses a passport and/or a dream, there's little MLS can do to get him stay (or return in these cases).

Nevertheless, as Dave says, there are ways to improve rosters that have nothing to do with the number of senior spots available.

"When MLS fans talk about expansion watering down talent they tend to ignore that even on the short lists of Americans Abroad, several KNOWN Americans aren't playing."

The question then, is how to get those known Americans to come play at home rather than rot on the bench somewhere else.  From a development/National Team/level of competition perspective, it's an interesting question as to whether we would even want a player like Jonathan Spector, languishing a bit at West Ham at the moment but probably good enough to find another top-flight job on the continent, to come home and play in MLS.  He'd undoubtedly help raise the level of the league, but would he ultimately be a better player?

Expanding rosters does little to improve the quality of the players who actually dress and appear for MLS clubs, hence Dave's regular rejection of the notion that doing so will enable MLS teams to better compete in the CONCACAF Champions League.  While expanding rosters as a means to filling out a proper reserve division is a good thing, I'm willing to admit that he's probably right on that point.
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