The Mass Return Of USMNT Players To MLS Was A Catastrophic Mistake

As much as we hate to admit it, Jurgen Klinsmann was painfully correct in his assessment of MLS.

In the wake of the USMNT’s utterly pathetic defeat to Trinidad and Tobago and subsequent bouncing from the World Cup, perhaps no man on the planet has greater license to say “I told you so” than former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. That’s not to say that Klinsmann shouldn’t have been fired or that he would’ve steered the U.S. to the World Cup, it’s just to say that he’s ultimately been vindicated in his criticisms of Major League Soccer and American player mentality.

Over the last few years, MLS has celebrated the homecomings of a large portion of the roster that capitulated on Tuesday. Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Paul Arriola, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore were all among the 23-man squad and all have returned home after various stints abroad over the course of the last three years.

Klinsmann was involved in an infamous feud with MLS commissioner Don Garber following Dempsey’s decision to sign for Seattle and Bradley for Toronto. 

“[MLS] is getting better and stronger every year, which we are all very proud about, and I want everyone to grow in the environment,” said Klinsmann, “but the reality also is that for both players, making that step means that you are not in the competitive environment that you were in before.

“I made it clear with Clint’s move back and [Bradley’s] move back that it’s going to be very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. Reality is that both players making that step means that you are not in the same competitive environment that you were before. It’s not easy for Michael, and it’s not going to be easy in the future.” 

Klinsmann now appears to be a soothsayer. The German never shied over his desire to see more Americans play their club ball in Europe, and it’s obvious that players like Matt Besler, Darlington Nagbe and Jordan Morris electing to stay in MLS rather than agitate for a move abroad will have irked him as well. 

“That talent is not there yet when it comes to the national team, when it gets to big tournaments, when it gets serious,” said Klinsmann before the Copa America Centenario. “Whatever path they took the last two years, we’ve got to make it clear to them you’ve got to do more…What is going on on the goalkeeper front? Tim Howard is 37. Guzan is 31. Nick Rimando is 36. Where is our next wave? Holy moly. We lost that generation that didn’t qualify for [the] London [Olympics]. What happened to the Bill Hamids, the Sean Johnsons, the Break Sheas, the Mix Diskeruds?”

This inability to show up when it gets serious, when everything is on the line and you’ve got to be accounted for, was on full display last night — as well as the burgeoning disaster at the goalkeeping position. It all harks back to playing in a competitive environment week in, week out with fan criticism and media scrutiny part and parcel of the job, something MLS clearly lacks. 

After Toronto FC clinched the Supporters’ Shield, Michael Bradley penned an open letter to the city. In it, he described how the team had made winning the Shield their goal back in preseason:

“Now the challenge was to do it all season long. Week in and week out. No nights off. No tossing points away. No coasting through the hot summer months…in a long season it can be so easy to lose track of things, to take your foot off the gas.”

Jurgen Klinsmann MLS criticism

Unstoppable in MLS, poor against Trinidad & Tobago. Photo: @SBISoccer | Twitter

While congratulations are in order to Toronto for achieving that goal, it’s also a sort of absurdist remark that’s totally in line with what Klinsmann was saying. In MLS, it’s totally normal to just not give a s**t some weeks. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. In MLS, you set yourself apart by caring every week, a ridiculous truth rarely mirrored in other professional sports. 

You wouldn’t last a month in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga or Serie A with that mentality, but MLS is just your family-friendly July outing with the away side showing up just to complete the numbers.

If the USMNT couldn’t perform in front of a sparse crowd at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, one shudders to think what this group would’ve accomplished against the likes of Brazil or Germany. 

There’s obviously a case for optimism with the continuing development of abroad-based players like DeAndre Yedlin, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Matt Miazga and Weston McKennie, not to mention the veritable truth of Major League Soccer’s continued improvement, but just for once, let’s admit that Klinsmann was right. 

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