MLS Defenders to the National Team

Discussion in 'USA Men: News & Analysis' started by strawman, Jul 14, 2009.

  1. strawman

    strawman New Member

    Aug 16, 2008
    oxford
    Club:
    Fulham FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    No, this is not a cap defenders in the MLS thread, but I want to encourage discussion about the role MLS has with regards to developing defenders for the National Team. Before I launch off I'll briefly (emphasis on briefly, don't take off my head) highlight how MLS has done at other parts of the field.
    GK---Friedel and Howard both moved form the MLS directly to a top four PL team, respectively. Hahnemann moved form an MLS team to Fulham and then to Reading. Keller went abroad long before MLS came into existence. Guzan went frm the MLS to a top 8 English side in Aston Villa. So out of our 5 most recent accomplished goalies, four went directly from the MLS to top flight competition (fulham wasn't in the PL when Hahnemann transferred), while the 5th was abroad for much longer.

    MF- this one is a much larger list, so I'm going to condense and talk about a shortlist of players. Donovan--went on loan directly to Bayern Munich. Dempsey- transferred directly to the Prem. Klejstan---despite his woeful form of late, was involved with Celtic talks at the turn of the year. Edu---MLS to top Champions Leauge team Rangers, Bradley--- MLS to Hereveen at a young, young age. Ricardo Clark---that Rennes rumor, plus he went on Trial with a Spanish team a couple years back. Beasley--- From MLS to PSV. Eddie Lewis---from MLS to England.
    Notable midfielders to not have any development in MLS. Feilhaber---from the U-20 World cup to Hamburg. Szetela---I know he was on Columbus's books, but he got that move to Spain because of youth national team play. Torres---obviously choose to go the Mexican route, which I wish more of our players would take.
    Conclusion---MLS at least gives midfielders the oppurtunity to ply their trade abroad, combined with solid national team play (though not always). Still, the direct Euro route can still be just as successful.

    FW-The dearth of the national team for the past cycle, alongside left back. Johnson--MLS to Fulham, also he recieved looks from top Spanish sides. McBride---was able to get Loaned from MLS to the PL, and eventually transferred directly. Casey---MLS to Bundesliga II side. Mathis---MLS to Germany, though largey on World Cup Form. I'll list Dempsey here too, rather than in MF, just because he's a tweener and he plays up top for us so much, and Fulham occasionally. Altidore--- from MLS to top Spanish side. Beyond that we have a ton of forwards that have bypassed the MLS and are all over the various lower leagues of Europe. MLS forwards have always been given strong looks at the International Level. Charlie Davies might be the argument that Euro experience might be a better route, but MLS still works.

    Finally we have defense. I'm going to go from positions across the backline. LB----Pearce and Bornstein. Pearce went from College abroad(to the same team Parkhurst transferred to. Bornstein has stayed in the MLS, and probably wouldn't transfer to a bigger league then the Danish League. MLS nor other options have really produced a quality fit here. Bocanegra is an argument I'll leave to you guys.

    CB- Oneywu, Bocanegra, Demerit, Parkhurst, Marshall, Califf. Out of those 6, 2/6 had minimal (Demerit had Reserve league) and Oneywu MLS experience. For the Centerback position, I'd argue they have the best pedigrees, with Bocanegra edging Demerit out slightly. Parkhurst and Califf both went MLS to Danish Leagues. Marshall, the reigning MLS defender of the year got strong looks from a Bundesliga II team as a rotational player. Also, note that Pope played the entirety of his very successful international career in the MLS.

    RB-- Cherundolo, Wynne, Spector, Simek, and Hejduk. Cherundolo, one of our most accomplished field players never touched MLS. Wynne is still a project and Hejduk has played his whole career in MLS. Spector, Simek had overseas connections with Spector's dad being an Ex-Pat and Simek's dad getting sent overseas.

    Granted all of this is not the whole sample size, but here is my ultimate conclusion: For whatever reasons, MLS is simply not developing defenders that are capable of playing at a high level on the international level. This could be a fault of our youth system. This could be because European teams will be more likely to take a chance on an unknown attacking player than a defender due to foreign quotas, etc. Only one US defender (Ryan Nelson withstanding) has transfered directly from MLS to a top 4 league, Carlos Bocanegra. Many people like to debate wether US players should bypass the MLS in lieu of going directly to Europe. With the exception of defenders, I would argue that many people have seen just as much success from spending time in the MLS. Ultimately, the MLS simply has not been able to improve the quality of our defenders at the same rate as it has other positions, or at the rate that Europe has improved them (Oneywu and Bocanegra stand out as having benfited immensly from European moves). So how can we make American defenders more attractive to European clubs. How can MLS improve our defender's development. Is this a level of play, style of play fault within the MLS? Is it a Youth system flaw? Discuss.
     
  2. Clint Eastwood

    Clint Eastwood Member+

    Dec 23, 2003
    Somerville, MA
    Club:
    FC Dallas
    Marshall's transfer situation was telling. When MLS' best defender was available on the open market...........his one real offer came from Mainz (then in BundII) to be a back-up player. They low-balled him for a salary, and he decided to play in MLS. While I wish he had actually gone to Mainz (not a bad place for Subotic to start his Euro career), I could understand his reluctance.

    But surely, Marshall deserved to be looked at seriously from Euro clubs. The problem with a move to England, of course, is these guys can't get a work permit. Euro players like Gooch, Boca, Califf, and DeMerit get most of the caps. And then the leagues with foreigner restrictions (Spain, Italy, etc.) aren't going to use one of those slots to sign an American of unknown international quality. If Marshall was getting playing time for the USMNT and doing well against Mexico and Spain, etc. then they'd have a better feel. The same could be said for Parkhurst. He was MLS' best defender in his last seasons there, and he moved to a mid-table Danish team. Curious.

    I think what it comes down to is the European market doesn't respect MLS that much. To them it doesn't mean much that Marshall can shut down Chad Barrett and Alan Gordon. I mean, who cares? But if you can get that chance to play against Honduras, and shut down Carlos Costly...........people notice that.

    Another guy who looks to be making the "next step" in Europe is Zak Whitbread at Millwall, who's all over the transfer talk. He's never been in MLS. Eric Lichaj isn't far from Villa's first team at this point, and has been brought into a USMNT camp. He's never been in MLS.

    I'm a card-carrying Eurosnob, and freely admit it. I want all of our top players challenging themselves at the highest levels in Europe. I'd happily see none of our Bradenton players go to MLS, but straight to European academies/reserve teams. So it's not distressing to me that MLS isn't producing top defenders. After all...... Bocanegra, Gooch, DeMerit, Lichaj, Spector, Pearce, Cherundolo, etc. all came thru the US system (including Subotic for that matter). Most of them played NCAA ball. They just chose to get a different route.

    [By the way, I do think that we're going to see a vast majority of our current U-17 squad go to Europe than go to MLS. Renken, Jerome, Gyau, etc. aren't going to spend one second in MLS.]
     
  3. canikickit82

    canikickit82 New Member

    Apr 14, 2009
    ryan nelson went strraight from mls to key player if not captain for blackburn rovers...
     
  4. cpwilson80

    cpwilson80 Member+

    Mar 20, 2001
    Boston
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Good post.

    I looked at the background of our players here.

    I think MLS will continue to play a role in national team development, but not exclusively.
     
  5. FirstStar

    FirstStar Hustlin' for the USA

    Feb 1, 2005
    Time's Arrow
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I think MLS has a reputation in Europe of producing top flight goalkeepers (really the USA has that reputation and I've seen it credited to all the "hand" sports (mainly basketball and football) that American kids play, especially basketball which really focuses on eye-hand coordination and integrating that play with footwork) and hard working, hard-nosed defensive midfielders (recall that Dempsey started as a D-mid for NE). These players have a value in various leagues.

    However, MLS has a reputation for producing tacticly naive players and producing defenders who lunge and hack too much. Those are dangerous traits in defenders in leagues that will call the fouls near the box- too many dangerous set pieces conceeded.

    I think MLS would benefit greater from much tighter refereeing.
     
  6. quinn

    quinn Member

    Feb 20, 2009
    Club:
    --other--
    Heydude spent 2 years at the Tampa Mutiny and then spent 4 years at Bayer Leverkusen, but only played 19 games there, partly due to injuries.
     
  7. Mullet&Talon

    Mullet&Talon New Member

    Jul 20, 2007
    DC
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Heydude did not play his entire career in MLS. I don't know his resume exactly but he was at Leverkusen for several years in the nineties.
     
  8. cpwilson80

    cpwilson80 Member+

    Mar 20, 2001
    Boston
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    He went after the '98 World Cup...amazing what a shot on goal against Germany will do for your career ;)
     
  9. Marko72

    Marko72 Member+

    Aug 30, 2005
    New York
    Despite the fact that his appearances at Leverkusen were limited, Frankie's stay there was far from unnoticed by the German fans, who seemed to have a love/hate relationship with him. They loved his competitiveness and athleticism and irreverent California Heydude-ness, and were puzzlingly less than enthused by his technical skill level. I personally think that a portion of the enduring international perception of the US as a bunch of hard-working athletic team guys who can't pass, trap or dribble a ball to save their lives is in some part a legacy of Frankie Hejduk's time in Germany.

    I believe it was during this time that Leverkusen signed Landon Donovan before his 17th birthday. I'm guessing that means that Leverkusen didn't think that lowly of Frankie.
     
  10. Sachin

    Sachin New Member

    Jan 14, 2000
    La Norte
    Club:
    DC United
    Here's what you need to know about MLS Defenders:

    Late 1990s Eddie Pope - Legit top-tier/high 2nd tier Euro offers. Turned them down for personal reasons.

    Late 1990 Frankie Hejduk - Bayer Neverkusen (Top 5 German club)

    1999 - Tony Sanneh - Hertha Berlin (Top 10 German club)

    2004 - Ryan Nelson - Blackburn Rovers (then just outside the Big 4)

    2004 - Carlos Bocanega- Fulham (then recently promoted, lower mid table)

    2006 - Bobby Boswell - Lost the plot - Houston

    2007 - Michael Parkhurst - Nordsjælland

    2008 - Chad Marshall - Stayed at home in Columbus

    2009 - ????? - USL1?

    The quality of offers for MLS defenders has been going down, slowly and steadily. I guess this years DOY will end up in the USL1.
     
  11. cpwilson80

    cpwilson80 Member+

    Mar 20, 2001
    Boston
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    A couple other thoughts:

    1) MLS is still in the early stages, so I don't think we can draw any complete conclusions from MLS v. Euro, when to play in either, and the impact on national team play

    2) My hypothesis would be that Euro clubs are more likely to come calling for an MLS player if they are:

    a) Young
    b) Out of contract

    The rule of thumb is that the average age for a position decreases as you move up the field. By the time an MLS defender compiled a few good seasons, they are probably older than a forward or midfielder with a similar body of work.

    I think McBride was the exception here. Altidore, Adu, Dempsey, Bradley, Beasley, Donovan, Edu, and even Howard and Guzan went when they were pretty young. Can't recall Bocanegra's age.
     
  12. cpwilson80

    cpwilson80 Member+

    Mar 20, 2001
    Boston
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Is that how you spell "Kelly Gray" in Wingdings?
     
  13. SUDano

    SUDano Member+

    Jan 18, 2003
    Rochester, NY
    Let's take the development of how young defenders presently take place in this country. They are trained at Club teams, about 8-10 16-17 yr olds go to Bradenton. Young players signed by MLS are more often offensive for a variety of logical reasons. Defenders are then left in limbo and most go to college. No way for a professional defender to be trained. They play too deep, they don't play the ball on the ground, they don't read the game well. Then they can be subbed in and out and have mandated limits with practice and games. So 99% of defenders are 22 yrs old and have not been trained to be young professionals, so now they need 2 yrs to acclimate them selves to professional game. So the most talented defenders don't play full time until mid 20's which in no way provides for a variety of dynamic development. They need to be trained by top professional coaches at age 15-17 and need ball skills.
     
  14. chrisinho

    chrisinho Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Back in HelLA
    Also, IIRC, he played mostly forward while in the BL. Perhaps they felt he could do the least damage to their own goal by playing him as far away from it as they could?

    ATEOTD, it comes down to the MLS player and whether they're good enough in the top Euro leagues. Nelsen and Boca where great defenders here and were good enough over there. Lewis and Hejduk, not so much. Sanneh is another one that comes to mind although I don't remember if he was brought in originally as a defender or a MF.
     
  15. kool-aide

    kool-aide Member+

    Feb 1, 2002
    a van by the river
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Lewis played quiet a bit for his teams in the UK. He wasn't generally a defender at the time, either.
     
  16. chrisinho

    chrisinho Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Back in HelLA
    Yep - he seemed to play more MF for PNE and in the beginning for LUFC. I think it was Arena and Leeds that experimented with him at LB. Again, IIRC, he started as a LB at the Galaxy. I forget where SJ played him but I imagine it was in the MF rather than defense.

    In any case, maybe it's better to have pure MLS defenders stay as defenders on the MNT rather than experiment with moving them to defense from other positions.
     
  17. Clint Eastwood

    Clint Eastwood Member+

    Dec 23, 2003
    Somerville, MA
    Club:
    FC Dallas
    This is really the issue. Very few 18 year olds (post Bradenton types, etc.) are going to be given an opportunity for playing time in MLS. Physically, they just aren't there yet. You don't see 18 year old linebackers in the NFL, and you don't see 18 year old defenders in MLS. Sure there will be a few, but just a few. So the vast majority of them decide to go to college to continue to develop their game, and from there it's a crap shoot. It's the Sheanon Williams conundrum. I'm not a big fan of the NCAA as a "developmental league." (I know there are some USMNT players that went to college. I just consider that the past, not the future, for our elite players)

    Our hope should be that our top ~5 defenders every Bradenton cycle all go to Europe for continued development. And then long-term we need MLS academies/reserve league, but that looks to be so far in the future that it's not really worth talking about here.

    Attackers are a different story. "Flair" players have a place in this league at a young age. Slight guys like Beasley, Adu, Donovan (although not so slight anymore) found a place in this league at a young age.
     
  18. cpwilson80

    cpwilson80 Member+

    Mar 20, 2001
    Boston
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Yes, Lewis played mostly at left mid, though he and Wade Barrett did start a few games in opposite roles.
     
  19. strawman

    strawman New Member

    Aug 16, 2008
    oxford
    Club:
    Fulham FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    This is where I really see the problem and you nailed it. By some accounts one of our technically best defenders (Spector) was brought up in the US Club system as a forward, he went over to Manchester United and was taught how to be a defender. The only other possibility for why the results are so poor to me seems to be either an unwillingness to buy defenders that are untried in European leagues/to waste one of the quotas on an American defender or the very style of the MLS which doesn't produce play that will help a defender at the International Level. Oh, and sorry to everyone about the Hejduk goof.
     
  20. mattjo

    mattjo Member+

    Feb 3, 2001
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Again, it is a mixed bag and not one size fits all. We have had more than a few players train with top academies and not pan out compared to some others. Danny K. Simek, and Whitbred had some time with the big clubs and have developed into solid Cola players at best at present. Of our current Nats, Gooch developed in lower European leagues by playing everyday, Boca was MLS, Demerit was lower leagues and NCAA, Cherundelo was NCAA but really developed in the Budesliga, Spector developed in the EPL, Hejduk well hard to say, Pope was fine in MLS, Sanneh made it to Europe but was in MLS again.... our Nats history has been a mixed bag based on MLS vs. Euro development.
     
  21. Sachin

    Sachin New Member

    Jan 14, 2000
    La Norte
    Club:
    DC United
    Actually, what happened is that Spector got pushed back to defense to cover for injuries, a ManU scout was in the crowd and saw him play.
     
  22. strawman

    strawman New Member

    Aug 16, 2008
    oxford
    Club:
    Fulham FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I know. But I doubt he was the same defender that he was before entering Man U's academy then when he left it. The problem is that even within the US system, he wouldn't advanced to nearly the same level as a defender in all likelihood.
     
  23. IndividualEleven

    Mar 16, 2006
    Eddie Pope, Jimmy Conrad, Carlos Bocanegra, Tony Sanneh, Bornstein, and Hejduk have all been major contributors to the National Side over the years. Of course you have a player like Ryan Nelsen who has done quite well for himself in the Prem. Michael Parkhurst and Califf are both starters in the Danish League.

    Chad Marshall has had severe concussion issues which affected his time with the National Team and his opportunities overseas.

    Looks decently balanced with the other field positions to me.
     
  24. IndividualEleven

    Mar 16, 2006
    In terms of the pipeline, I'd cite Cameron and Omar Gonzalez as two young centerbacks who look to have the goods to contribute down the road. Cameron imo could make an impact at fullback right now.

    One constraint on the development of defenders in MLS is that a player who in a more competitiive would get switched to the back instead stays at midfield or forward. Ricardo Clark would probably be a fullback in a more competitive league. Brek Shea would be a defender. A guy like Chris Albright in another environment gets moved to fullback earlier.

    In the case of a defensive midfielder like Clark this isn't a big deal as fullback and defensive midfield are relatively interchangable. For forwards like Brek Shea...
     
  25. deuteronomy

    deuteronomy Member+

    Angkor Siem Reap FC
    United States
    Aug 12, 2008
    at the pitch
    Club:
    Siem Reap Angkor FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    1. It occurs to me that the pipeline from MLS to Europe has slowed a bit, recently.
    2. I have been unimpressed with MLS defenders recently, look at Heaps vs Haiti. I thought Marshall did ok in his 2 matches but nothing to make me believe he was a sure thing to go to South Africa.
    3. As others have noted, many defenders begin as forwards and are moved back for one reason or another. Spector was a good example, Hejduk is another. To a certain extent, this causes defenders to be overlooked.
    4. I have to agree that the Bradenton Academy defenders usually end up going to college. This greatly inhibits their development and also exposes them to life other than soccer.
    5. In the current economic times one of the first areas where spending is reduced in professional sports is scouting. There is a trickle down effect and defenders are typically taken for granted (i.e. "We can make it with the defenders we have, let's not worry about getting some others).
    6. Most MLS teams would prefer to play (or make) a midfielder, already on their roster a defender if they have an injury concern as opposed to going out and getting one from another team. This reveals how low of a priority defenders are in MLS.
     

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