It's been a tough week for Major League Soccer. It's embarrassing when a successful coach in charge of a national team that's a World Cup perennial pretty much comes right out and says that playing in MLS is incompatible with the top level of international play.
Bob Bradley, how could you?
The last time the European-based/domestic player divide was this pronounced, Alan Rothenberg was paying half the team to tour the country, and Bora Milutunovic was openly saying that games without the international players didn't REALLY count.
Let's look at the videotape. Seven out of twenty called up for the big Mexico game labor in Major League Salt Mines. Out of those seven? Frankie Hejduk and Marvell Wynne will compete in an essay contest to see who replaces Euro Steve Cherundolo. Robbie Rogers and Jonathan Bornstein probably aren't going to see much action. Ricardo Clark might start, because it never pays to underestimate how conservative a coach can get - but I think we'll see Michael Bradley instead. Brian Ching has earned a start, but people will probably complain if he gets it. The only uncontroversial MLS-based starter is Sacha, and if the Tims weren't so damn cheap he wouldn't still be in MLS.
In the 2005 version of this game, this was the winning lineup:
USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 2-Frankie Hejduk, 22-Oguchi Onyewu, 3-Gregg Berhalter, 7-Eddie Lewis; 19-Steve Ralston (23-Santino Quaranta, 81), 10-Claudio Reyna (capt.), 14-Chris Armas, 17-DaMarcus Beasley; 21-Landon Donovan (25-Pablo Mastroeni, 74), 20-Brian McBride (11-Jeff Cunningham, 90+)
Four MLS starters, three more coming in from the bench.
The 2002 Jeonju game: five starters, two subs from MLS. (Inexcusably, US Soccer doesn't have a link to a writeup of this game, so the first hit on Google for that game is here.)
However, when we check to see who in the rosters and lineups have MLS in their backgrounds? Quite a different picture.
In 2002, six out of the roster had no MLS time: Reyna, Keller, Berhalter, O'Brien, Stewart, and, uh, Regis (seven, after Cherundolo replaced Vanney who replaced Armas). Three who were crucial, one who was useful, two who saw no time.
For 2005 in Columbus, [CORRECTED] four players out of the fifteen listed for the game at that point had no MLS experience: Keller, Onyewu, Berhalter, and Reyna. That game isn't won relying on those with MLS experience.
For Wednesday? Three [EDIT - four - I wrote this WAY too quickly] out of the 20-man roster. Gooch, Heath Pearce, Charlie Davies and Jose Torres, two of whom don't look likely to see the field. (That number goes back up to five if you count the absent Cherundolo, of course.) Take MLS out of the equation at this point, and Mexico is, what, a four goal favorite?
What does this tell us?
Now, most of the US starters would have ended up with some work abroad - toiling in second divisions, fighting for playing time attempting to impress Yankophobic coaches, sure, but it's not as if they'd be unemployed. Interestingly, what hasn't happened - yet - are the best young players in America simply skipping MLS and heading directly to Europe.
But there are still a couple of pretty indisputable conclusions.
MLS is producing and developing players.
MLS ain't keeping them.
(For those who are curious, Landon's club is currently listed as "Bayern Munich." Sunil and I agree. FREE LANDON!)