The United States men’s national team has too many MLS players. Or not enough. It’s a debate that started when the league was first founded and, 20 years later, it’s tired. But it’s a common one after Bruce Arena, who is a long-time MLS manager and advocate, was hired to replace Jurgen Klinsmann, who rarely missed an opportunity to criticize the league.
How MLS players should factor into the national team is a hot button issue again. But here’s the thing — it shouldn’t matter.
What league a player comes from is irrelevant. They are either good — or in the case of the U.S., where talent can be thin at some spots, at least just better than the next best at his position — or they’re not. That’s all that matters.
Arena, who many believe will "take the U.S. backwards" with a reliance on MLS players sees it the same way.
“I don’t think the numbers matter. It could be 11 players playing overseas, or it could be 11 players in Major League Soccer,” Arena told ESPNFC. “We want the best players on the field, the best players that give us the right balance to be successful. Where they’re playing their club soccer is not that important.
“Are you the best player? Are you a player [whose] position would help our team be successful and help us win games? That’s the criteria.”
That right there is really all that should matter when it comes to picking players for the national team; Who will help the team win games.
If Arena brings more MLS players into the national team — which he almost undoubtedly will — it won’t be to increase the number of players from the league. It will be because he believes the players he is bringing in can help the team win, wherever they are from. And whether they stay with the team will come down to that.
So Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Bornstein will almost certainly get a look. If Feilhaber is better than the current crop of attacking midfielders — a group that is composed primarily of MLS players already — then he’ll stick. If not, he won’t. And that has nothing to do with his being in MLS. Bornstein doesn’t even play in MLS, but like fellow Liga MX left back Jorge Villafana, there’s reason to believe he can be a competent player at a position that the U.S. is often short on competency, league be damned.
That is how the national team should work.
If you don’t think a player is good enough for the national team, it’s not because he plays in MLS. You can say that Chris Wondolowski, Michael Orozco and Timmy Chandler should all be left off the team. One is from MLS, one is from Liga MX and one is from the Bundesliga. It’s not the leagues that make them not good enough. You simply think they haven’t played well enough in a U.S. shirt to get another call-up, and that’s perfectly fine. It also has nothing to do with MLS or another league.
Is MLS making the national team worse? Can they move forward with so much of the team coming from MLS?
Those are very valid questions and ones that should be debated. You can go either way on them, that the league’s quality isn’t high enough and players returning to MLS are worse because of it. That it is plenty high enough or even that the national team needs MLS to grow and provide the core of the team if they want to improve because producing domestic talent is the key to getting better. There is no reason to shy away from that discussion, but that’s not the same discussion as whether a manager is doing right or wrong by the team by calling in MLS players because that discussion shouldn’t have anything to do with league.
You’re either good enough or you’re not. And that applies to players from the Bundesliga, Premier League, Championship, Liga MX and even the NASL or college soccer as much as it does MLS.
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