There are myriad reasons for Brazil’s abrupt departure from the World Cup and honestly there is a sliver of truth in every theory or reason given for their poor play. One reason, however, for the change in the Brazilian soccer culture struck me as both very truthful and an opportunity for MLS to argue that it truly should be the laboratory for the United States national team.
The theory is that since the 1990s more and more Brazilian national team players have left for European leagues rather than play professionally in Brazil. As they become integrated into European team systems, they get segmented into positions and are trained to play that position. In Brazil, the theory goes, players are not limited to the style of one position but instead are allowed to “express” their individuality with the ball and find open spaces. This is the style of Pele and Ronaldo, a beautiful and creative style that dazzles opponents and befuddles organized systems.
The 1970 World Cup winners are considered by many writers to be the best World Cup winning squad ever. Because of pressure from the domestic clubs, every player on that squad played professionally in Brazil. In 2002, the last squad to win the trophy, many of the “name” players were playing professionally in Europe but a majority of the squad (12) still played in Brazil. In 2014, that number had shrunk to four, and included the disappointing Fred and Jo. Both Fred and Jo spent many years in Europe before returning to Brazil. More importantly, key players like David Luiz, Hulk, and Oscar have spent more time professionally overseas than in Brazil, meaning that unlike past Brazilians who went to Europe they did not spend a majority of their formative years in the Brazilian systems, but rather learning a European style.
Again, there is only a piece of truth in this theory but the loss of such an identity in their Brazil players selected for the squad cannot be denied. The reliance of a national team on a healthy and productive domestic league which would prevent the need to send players to Europe to develop should sound familiar to U.S. soccer fans, and is an unspoken refrain of MLS. As the league continues to boast about its achievements and how quickly it is climbing the ranks of the elite leagues, it has tied itself closer and closer to the national team. Players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey returning to the league at their primes are supposed to be examples of how much the league has grown and how it is helping Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad.
The Brazil debacle actually could boost this argument. MLS officials could point to Brazil and say, “look what exporting their best players has done to them. When they had a healthy domestic league, they were dominant. A healthy U.S. domestic league with its own top players allows us to develop a U.S. style that moves through all ranks of U.S. soccer and helps us continue towards our goal of winning the World Cup.”
There are two major differences, of course: Brazil has (and has had) much better players plus they have an actual style their players are taught that works. The U.S. system has lesser talent overall and no discernible style that is unique or successful. Maybe if Jurgen Klinsmann’s carte blanche control of U.S. soccer continues, he can begin to remake even MLS in his image and style; however, his reticence to welcome his top players back to the league makes this suspect.
Still do not be surprised if you begin to see more stories on the MLS website about Brazil needing internal reforms and strengthening their domestic league, or hear it references in league speeches. To the untrained ear, the connection could be a persuasive argument.