How Brazil’s Failure Could Help MLS

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.

7 thoughts on “How Brazil’s Failure Could Help MLS”

    1. Argentina has a grand total of three players in their squad who play in the domestic league. Clearly they’re suffering from a total lack of identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness in their ranks.

  1. A lot of players on the Spanish national team play in their domestic league yet they crashed and burned worse than any other high profile team in the World Cup. A healthy domestic league is a plus but it’s not the be all end all.

  2. I think Michael Bradley’s form in the WC shows what happens when a player transitions from a top European league to the MLS. I admit, he faced a difficult situation: Do I stay at Roma, where I’ll never see the field and am resigned to the bench or do I…

    a) Make a move to an irrelevant team in a relevant league and make decent money?
    b) Stick it out at Roma and never see time?
    c) Make a move to an irrelevant team in an irrelevant league and make max money?

    Obviously he chose c). I don’t blame him because he was doing what he felt was best for himself and his family. I think we are kidding ourselves if we ignore the impact of that decision. His sharpness was completely gone in the WC.

    Improving American players has to start well before they enter their professional careers. From an early age they need to be exposed to quality soccer. Watching it, immersed in it… Playing with older kids, watching them, picking up ideas, practicing them… Fact is, most of the talented American kids go to Europe, already behind the learning curve because the opportunity for soccer consumption in America is limited.

  3. The quality of coaching and what is being coached to kids in the US needs to be improved dramatically and the pay to play system needs to be done away with. The collegiate soccer system needs to change. More Universities need to do what BYU did and put their team in USL PDL instead of the NCAA.

  4. Robert you note that “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.”

    I don’t know if you follow Brazilian football (League) and if so, how closely but more and more Brazilian players are leaving for European also (mainly?) because Brazilian clubs are seeing a big opportunity to make big money (transfer fees) off of these players.

    That is one of the biggest gripes by fans from various Brazilian clubs.

    Be it Russian teams or other European teams. It’s often felt by fans that Brazilian players are being groomed by clubs to quickly sell to cash in on them.

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