The Championship vs MLS: Can a Case be Made for the Yanks?
No doubt exists in the minds of many that the English Premier League is the best league in the world and the England National Team is one of the best international teams in the world. One BBC Five Live commentator in fact recently argued England has the third best pool of talent on the planet behind Brazil and Argentina. I am not one to argue with a BBC commentator whose knowledge of European football and European leagues is far beyond mine. So let us accept his notion in good faith that England has far superior talent to the United States (which I think we can all pretty much agree on) and also has superior talent to Italy, Germany, Holland and France. (Which I have a harder time believing but will accept as a premise of this post.)
England’s superior talent however does not however mean that every team in a second division made up almost entirely of players unable to crack their national team or to qualify for their continental championships. Some commentators based in the United States recently commented that the best team in MLS would probably miss the Championship playoffs. So for this comparison, I choose two Championship clubs: Watford and Charlton, both relegated from the Premier League a year ago and both in a playoff position this season as of this writing. For the MLS I choose Houston and DC United, arguably the two top teams in the league and the two representatives in the CONCACAF Champions Cup from the United States.
In a favor to the supporters of the Championship in this debate I choose not to evaluate the two overachieving teams pushing for automatic promotion: Stoke and Bristol City. To use those clubs as a basis of comparison would have been to give MLS and its supporters an unfair advantage.
Let’s take a look first at Charlton Athletic coached by the incomparable Alan Pardew who nearly got a rag tag Reading side promoted many years ago and did get West Ham promoted one year and into Europe the next before being sacked. The bulk of the Addicks squad is made up of players from the British Isles. Most are not part of their national player pool and of course no nation from the British Isles qualified properly for the European Championships, although England can rightfully argue that the plastic pitch imported by the Russian FA for their October match was unsporting at best and at worst flat out match theft. But one would expect trickery from the Russians since they have seldom qualified for major tournaments on their own merit recently despite much bluster year after year. But I digress.
Zheng Zhi is a player of a high class who has become a fixture for China’s National side and he competed in the Asian Championships this past year as well as in a 4-1 thrashing of China by the United States last June. He also famously broke Djbril Cisse’s leg in a pre World Cup tune up and Cisse’s broken leg was the only reason Louis Saha and David Trezeguet saw the field to infamously draw yellow cards and miss penalty kicks. Leroy Lita is on loan from Reading and he is of course a player who performed admirably for a heroic England U-21 squad this past summer. Scott Sinclair who will be a full England international in due time is on loan to Charlton from Chelsea. I recall Jerome Thomas playing for England in the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship, where American Eddie Johnson won the Golden Boot, but I don’t recall him doing much since. (Johnson’s career has been headed downhill since sadly.) Svetoslav Todorov has played many years for Bulgaria but has yet to play in a European Championship. That’s it for Charlton Athletic whose squad as we mentioned above is dominated by journeymen footballers from the British Isles with no international experience.
As for Watford, Jay DeMerit represented the United States in both the CONCACAF Championships (the Gold Cup) and COMNEBOL’s Copa America. Mart Poom is as most of our readers are aware an accomplished international goalkeeper whose service with Estonia spans back to the rebirth of the nation. Collins John has played one or two time for Holland, much like the often ridiculed Dave Van Den Bergh of the NY Red Bulls, and John’s call ups to the Dutch National Team took place BEFORE Van Den Bergh’s. But otherwise, Watford is filled much like Charlton with uncapped footballers from the nations of the British Isles.
Now let’s look closely at DC United. The club sent Benny Olsen to the 2007 Copa America for the United States and Jaime Moreno to the same tournament for Bolivia. The club also has Marcello Gallardo from Argentina a veteran of the 1998 and 2002 World Cups as well as countless Copa America Tournaments. Gonzalo Martinez helped lead Columbia to a Copa America triumph in 2001 and also played on the 2004 Copa squad. Jose Carvallo has played for Peru at every youth level and has been named to the squad for several of this year’s World Cup qualifiers even though he has only come off the subs bench once, in a rout of Jaime Moreno’s Bolivia a few months back.
As far as Houston is concerned the obvious names are Dwayne DeRossario and Pat Onstad both of whom have represented Canada in five CONCACAF Gold Cups. Bobby Boswell and Rico Clark both played for the United States at the 2007 Copa America, and Brad Davis scored the winning pk in the shootout to give the United States the 2005 Gold Cup, a tournament Richard Mulrooney also participated in for the US. Rico Clark played in the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championships while Stuart Holden and Patrick Ianni are both part of the current US U-23 setup.
The obvious comeback to this post by those convinced that somehow MLS is inferior to the second division in England is that it is much tougher to qualify for international competitions in Europe than in North America. While this is partly true, the reality is DC United is drawing players from competitive nations outside the region and in addition none of the so-called home nations qualified for the European Championships. Another comeback is that every game matters in England, an argument I often hear, but honestly when a team can seemingly lose as often as West Ham did and escape relegation like they did last season, I find the “every game matters” argument hollow. West Ham is a good example this year: they aren’t going to be relegated and they aren’t going to reach Europe. They are simply playing for the shirt which should be reason enough to fight hard, but to claim every game has some sort of impact on the league and who goes down and who qualifies for Europe is utter bunk.
MLS isn’t perfect but the complaint many have about the league is that it is not European enough for their tastes. Our nation is a melting pot seperated by a wide pond known as the Atlantic Ocean from the European contininent. Much of American looks inward at one another and much of our nation looks outward to Latin America and Asia. Applying a strictly European standard to anything American, be it football, politics or culture is flat out wrong. The beauty of the melting pot is we can take a fusion of all cultures and styles and make a beautifully and distinctly American product.