Why It's Not Home Sweet Home for US Players
Less than half the 2022 World Cup Roster is made of MLS players. The chances of a US player being selected for the National team may be more challenging if they are based in the US and play in the MLS. This summer, coach Gregg Berhalter gave some US players opportunities when he chose his squad for the Gold Cup. Was this because it was in the middle of the European close season and players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Giovanni Reyna may not have been available? Or would the Americans players have been selected even if players such as Pulisic, McKennie, adams and Reyna were available?
But come the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign, and the European stars will all be back, meaning US based players will be scrapping for a limited number of squad places.
A major reason is due to the typical career path followed by a US soccer player. Their development normally goes through high school and club soccer and then to College and ODP (The Olympic Development Program) if they qualify.
By the time they are finished with college they are 22, which is far too late to try and get into a professional league in Europe. At that age, their European counterparts will have been established first -team players for several years, and the elite amongst them will have broken through with their national sides.
The only way to short circuit this route is if they quit high school and choose to forgo college altogether.
Take the case of Pulisic, now part of the Chelsea squad that won the Champions League last season. Although he was born in Pennsylvania, he lived in England for a year at the age of seven, where he played for a local youth team.
He then joined the Borussia Dortmund academy system when he was 16, moving to Germany, where he was fast-tracked into their first-team.
Adams followed a slightly different trajectory, in that he joined the New York Red Bulls Academy system as an eleven year-old and progressed through the ranks to the first team, until Bundesliga side RB Leipzig came calling and signed him as an 18-year old.
The fact remains that both Pulisic and Adams knew that not only could they earn better money in Europe, but the standard of play there is generally higher. MLS, for example, is now full of talent from South America who move to the US because the salaries are better. Yet the cream of the crop continues to move to Europe.
The reality is that the MLS still has some way to go in terms of competition. Compare a top level European and US-based player, and the European will usually win hands down every day. They will be better trained, more experienced, and better able to cope with the strains of top flight football.
This is not the same for female players incidentally.
Many of the best US women play in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), but that is because the USA has long been at the forefront of the women’s game. That is because competitive women’s soccer was banned in some European countries, like England and Germany, until the 1970s, and they are still partly playing catch-up.
soccer was banned in some European countries, like England and Germany, until the 1970s, and they are still partly playing catch-up.
But for the men, it is a case of home not sweet home if they want to pull on an international jersey.