MLS is a better option for top American stars than underwhelming Premier League

clint-dempsey

A lot of discussion and ink has recently been spent on the need for American players to ply their trade in European soccer. While I tend to agree with this notion, particularly for developing players, I believe not all European leagues are created equal, and Major League Soccer is probably a preferable destination when compared to the Barclays Premier League for most American field players in their prime.

US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stressed the need for Americans to play abroad “at the highest level.” The Premier League, while one of the top four leagues on the planet, has revealed itself to be unwelcoming not only to American players but to many other foreigners who have been successful in other parts of Europe, even in arguably more competitive and stronger leagues.

The Premier League has proven to be an inhospitable territory to American field players in the last several years as the overall quality of the top flight in England has declined. The league, which stresses an over-emphasis on pace over technique (hence the recent failures of English clubs in European competition), also has demonstrated to be a poor proving ground for American players.

Jozy Altidore’s failures at Sunderland were in retrospect entirely predictable. Forced to play the game with his back toward goal, not getting quality service from uncreative midfielders and playing the sport at a frenzied pace where every touch was scrutinized and every miss magnified, it did not serve the American number nine well. Nor was Michael Bradley, the US’ best field player who played in Germany, Holland and Italy, aided in his development by a loan spell at Aston Villa.

The decline of Jonathan Spector as a player, once one of the United States’ great hopes as well as that of Tim Ream, a more recent defensive option, show the perils of Americans spending too much time in the British Isles with mid-table Premier League or Championship level sides. Both players would have been better served international career wise (but perhaps not financially) by a move to another European league or back home to MLS. The non-development of many young Americans who have gone to England at the early stages of their careers like Eric Lichaj and Will Packwood also show the limitations and dangers of developing American talent going to Premier League clubs.

While Major League Soccer is not the ideal destination in many cases for players, it provides a competitive environment. Brek Shea’s recent move from Stoke City where he was getting little time to Orlando City SC in MLS has revitalized the player’s international career and taught him the ability to play another position as a left-back.

One criticism of MLS is that the training techniques and fitness regime at most clubs are not up to European standards. I would concede this point is valid, but game time and emphasis on player development in MLS is an asset. English football seems unable to provide for American field players at this time.

It is important especially with the new work permit rules that will come into effect next season that player agents who represent Americans look for other options in Europe beyond England. American players can benefit from the training, pace of the game as well as the technical and tactical emphasis of coaching that comes from being in the Dutch, Spanish, Italian or German leagues. By comparison, while England provides an entertaining TV product, and a more comfortable move due to the common language, it is not an ideal destination for American players.

While Jurgen Klinsmann is certainly correct in wanting more of his stars abroad, the Premier League is absolutely the wrong place for them. MLS in fact appears a better option than England’s top flight.

 

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