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MLS’ new TAM rule could lure European-based USMNT stars to league

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With Wednesday’s announcement by MLS, the league has made a major stride forward now that nearly $37 million will be invested into league-wide player compensation during the next two seasons. This will certainly allow MLS clubs to be competitive in attracting players on the international market and give the league a better opportunity for its clubs to win the elusive CONCACAF Champions League crown, which has remained in the hands of Liga MX sides since its creation in 2009.

The increase in targeted allocation money (TAM) that was announced Wednesday will be supplemented by an incremental increase of $125,000 per season to be made available to each club to sign Homegrown Players. This is a positive development for MLS academies and the investment in growing young players. But the increase in TAM money might in fact affect the future of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) in a detrimental fashion. This might come as somewhat of a shock to a few people since the narrative has long been created by bloggers and some regular beat writers that “what is good for MLS is always good for US Soccer and the USMNT.” However, that’s not always the case.

US Soccer’s Technical Director and Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has already complained openly about national team regulars returning to MLS from Europe. Now the few that are left in Europe might be lured back to MLS both by money and the possibility of increased playing time.

Over the past few years, we have seen a reversal in the previously established pattern of mid-level American players leaving MLS at the end of contract and moving to second and third tier leagues in Europe. Now more often than not those players never venture over the pond in their playing careers. But we have also seen an increase in the number of USMNT regulars like Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez, among others, accept increasingly lucrative contracts to stay in MLS.

This past summer, when MLS allowed clubs additional allocation money and the new “core player” rule this past summer, the LA Galaxy was able to keep Omar Gonzalez on decent salary terms while signing Giovani Dos Santos. In the future as clubs seek to sign more foreign Designated Players (DP’s), they will be able to use allocation money and the core player rule to keep USMNT stars on their rosters.

The additional allocation money in the form of TAM could be also used to attract USMNT players back to MLS, something Klinsmann likely does not want to see. Here are some potential movers.

Alejandro Bedoya

Bedoya has already entertained a move to MLS and might be further enticed by this development. The south Florida-raised midfielder has spent his entire professional career in Europe. Bedoya will be 29 in April and his effectiveness at Nantes in Ligue Un has been decreasing recently. He would be a prime target for any MLS team, particularly Philadelphia Union who thought they had an agreement for Bedoya this past summer.

Brad Guzan

Facing likely relegation from the Premier League at the end of this season, Guzan would be a prime target to return to MLS at age 31. In fact, the former Chivas USA Goalkeeper who is now the US’s “co No.1 “ under Klinsmann’s odd keeper rotation, might even be tempted to jump in January if Aston Villa is willing to let him go and MLS offers a reasonable transfer fee.

Tim Ream

The former New York Red Bull defender got out of Bolton this summer before the ship sunk. But Fulham isn’t a destination club anymore for Americans now that they are in the Championship.

Ream would be a big prize for any MLS club. Ream has proven he can play both left back and central defense, and given MLS’ clubs lack of spending on defenders in recent years, Ream could be a critical signing for the league. Don’t be surprised if he makes the move back home in January.

Geoff Cameron

Cameron had a run of games playing as a central defender for Stoke City while Ryan Shawcross was injured. But now that the reliable Englishman is back, the versatile Cameron doesn’t have a regular place. He did start in the midfield against Manchester City this past week and looked good. It’s doubtful Cameron would move in January to MLS, but this summer is a different matter as Mark Hughes continues to turn over the Potters squad to a more slick passing team.

Aron Johannsson

Johannsson was playing regularly for his new club Werder Bremen prior to injury in late September. As a young attacking player who when fit is a core USMNT player, Johannsson would be a big get for MLS. Much like Mix Diskerud who grew up abroad but is a USMNT player, Johannsson’s move to MLS at a young age would make him a poster child for a league that wants as much domestic talent at home as possible.

Bobby Wood

Wood has been abroad for about five years now and while his national team career has taken off, his club career is not at the point anyone would have hoped by this point. Currently plying his trade for Union Berlin, a club with an intense cult following in Bundesliga 2 but little in the way of promotion prospects, he would be a perfect candidate to return home. As a goal-scoring hero in two of the USMNT’s most famous recent friendly wins, Wood would be greeted as a conquering hero should he come to MLS.

With all these players, they have an opportunity for a big payday with MLS, and the league would directly benefit from their return. However, it would likely be a very damaging development for the USMNT. But criticism and linking of these issues is often missing in the US press. This is because some soccer journalists and American soccer fans have yet to learn the prosperity of MLS and welfare of USMNT are different things and that the correlation between the two is constantly evolving. This change in MLS policy might in fact be the latest example of something that is good for the league but bad at least short-term for the US Men’s National Team.

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