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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.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

10 Responses to The Championship vs MLS: Can a Case be Made for the Yanks?

  1. NJ says:

    Kartik, nice to see you back off the ledge. I was starting to get used to the MLS bashings. Just kidding, you have to continue to look at both sides which is why people visit; so much appreciated.

    I know I’ve said this time and time again in comments but I agree with the leagues focus on bringing in Latin American players. The Argentine league is an immensely good time as is Brazil, not to mention the Mexican league and other Latin American leagues. You have creativity on the ball , solid passing and movement. MLS must work to create the most entertaining brand of soccer/football they can, and not worry what it resembles. An attractive game is what will draw fans not a mirror of Europe.

  2. Soccer Guru says:

    Great piece except for your defense of England regarding the plastic pitch. Russia did not import that pitch! They always use it. You on one hand crticize rightfully the English media but on the other embrace its whining and carrying on about not qualifying for the Euros.

    But the premise is right. DC United would for sure and Houston likely win the Championship.

  3. Joe says:

    The Championship is totally unwatchable unless you are an advocate of straight up route one football. For the Brit in all of us it’s cool, but for the soccer fan it’s garbage or as the Brits say rubbish.

  4. bandeeto says:

    I completely agree. For me, the ideal brand of American Soccer would meld the athleticism we already posess with the flair and creativity of the latin american game. Oops, I just described brazil.

  5. No Eurosnobs Allowed says:

    GREAT POST! Right on brother Kartik!

  6. Ray says:

    The Championship is simply a league which resembles a boxing federation. The league is totally unwatchable, totally devoid of skill. MLS should never be compared to such a poor product, and those who do are simply trying to be provocative to get a reaction out of us who support the game’s growth in the country.

  7. JustinR says:

    I am sorry but the Championship is a good league. It is probably the best second division in the world. The depth, salaries, coaching and talent make it a very solid league. The MLS can be compared to this league.

  8. Mike says:

    Spot-on post as usual Kartik; I have to take issue with one point: why D.C. United and not New England as your second MLS team? New England has been in three straight finals, four overall and if nothing else, been the most consistent team in the league. Minor point, but one worth considering.

    http://startingeleven.blogspot.com/2008/03/starting-eleven-football-blog-roundup.html

  9. JustinR,

    The Championship is no where near the best second division in the world. The Bundesliga 2 and Siere B would wipe the floor clean with Championship opponents. Brazil and Mexico also have very tough second divisions.

    I would even go as far to say that the best Championship side would have a hard time staying up in Bundesliga 2. Route one football never works and it shows why most teams that get promoted instantly go back down (with the exception of this year where it is possible only one team that was promoted the season before goes right back down).

    I know it must be a hard pill for the English to take.

  10. Daniel F. US Open Cup says:

    Once again a great blog report Kartik. Myself personally I don’t want MLS compared to any of the leagues in the world because there are many areas of MLS that aren’t equal too the many years of football that is in Europe, South America and so on. I understand we have to be measured up somewhere and somehow to these current leagues, but for myself personally, we can’t do it. When it comes to the construction of stadiums and or stadiums getting off the drawing board, youth academies that aren’t league wide at the moment as well as the continued argument of pro/rel many of our fellow American supporters that only mention pro/rel don’t really take a real indepth look at the USL.

    So far only three clubs in Atlanta, Charleston & Rochester has a real Soccer Stadium. Recently the Carolina Dynamo are thinking of expanding their capacity so they can get back into USL’s pro leagues from PDL. But when you look at all the clubs as a whole from USL-1st & 2nd divisions majority of the clubs are playing in college stadiums for NCAA Football, Athletic complexes & for the Charlotte Eagles of USL-2nd Division, they play their home matches at a high school on their high school football field.

    So when you tell these people that it’s not going to work, then they start adding a new wrinkle to the old conspiracy, it’s called MLS 2 league. That can be the only way pro/rel would work. MLS has enough on their plate keeping MLS 1 afloat. It’s really pathetic by these pro/rel conspirators to make up anything and everything just to hear themselves sound smart.

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