International Success For MLS Will Make the USMNT Better

Altidore, Shea, Kljestan’s return to MLS can change the course of the national team
by Robert Mera   |   Friday, February 27, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

While some may think that the USMNT may be losing bite by having their marquee players return to MLS, an argument can be made for overall improvement of the league as its more experienced stars grace the field once more. The next logical step is improvement on the international stage.

It's true. MLS has not won an international tournament in quite a long time. The closest it got was Real Salt Lake’s run to the final of the Concacaf Champions League in 2011. Lately, even making it out of the group stage has been hard. Just ask Kansas City and Portland.

It's no secret, however, that MLS has been trying for years to improve its international standing, specifically in the Concacaf sphere. Don Garber has made it clear that this is a priority and the clubs involved in the knockout phases always get a lighter league schedule if they make it through to the semifinals and the final.

So why has MLS failed so far and what can be done to remedy this? It really comes down to depth and scheduling. Bruce Arena made it quite plain when he complained about the number of competitions his team was involved during the month of August. Other coaches have argued the same. But then again, Mexican teams do not struggle nearly as much. Is it depth?

My argument is depth, but not just in talent but in tradition and infrastructure as well as competition in the Libertadores and Sudamericana tournaments. Although a case can be made for the up-and-coming Costa Rica league, most competition from Central America and the Caribbean are much weaker and, sometimes, comparable to teams from the NASL.

A berth in a Conmebol tournament would provide top notch competition starting at the group stage, with legendary squads like Boca Juniors, São Paulo, Peñarol. These are squads that feed European teams with names like Neymar, Messi, Luis Suarez.

And that's where our own stars can make a difference. A team with Altidore and Michael Bradley has a fighting chance against a South American powerhouse. That kind of competition, in turn, makes the players more disciplined, maintains fitness, and enhances their competitive spirit. It is no doubt what Klinsmann has in mind for his team.

Perhaps the greatest impact of international participation for our league is that it makes playing in Europe far less necessary for top American players than it is today. It is the key to optimizing player development. Depth at the club level means even more depth for the USMNT and less need to search for dual citizens in Germany. A successful league in the world stage creates successful players and national teams.

Robert MERA

NC State
Club Domestic:
PTFC, DC United
Club Foreign:
Emelec (ECU)
Robert is a climate scientist by day and soccer columnist by night (and weekends). He covers all things DC United, from player development to international tournaments.