Since the beginning of the 2014 World Cup, there’s been enormous local support for the USMNT. According to Forbes, U.S. vs Ghana drew record viewership. Over 11 million Americans watched their team dramatically defeat Ghana on ESPN.
Even though soccer isn’t the most accepted sports in the States, I’m not surprised that millions are tuning in to watch their country attempt to advance out of a strong group. However, it’s disappointing to know that all these people choose to ignore their professional soccer league.
Unlike the NBA and NFL, MLS struggles to sustain a dependable fan base. Some criticize the young league’s quality, while others simply dismiss the idea of watching it because they prefer European competition.
I sincerely understand their reasoning, but I believe that it’s time they start paying serious attention to the MLS.
The players that ply their trade in the highly-criticized league will certainly be future USMNT stars.
The combination of parity, experience and accessible playing time has molded the league’s young players into extremely bright talents.
In the English Premier League, it isn’t a secret that there will be certain teams occupying the top of the table at the end of the season. However, it’s almost impossible to predict the top teams in the MLS; one can only assume.
Take the New York Red Bulls as an example. Last year the team led by Thierry Henry finished the regular season in first place. Through 15 games this season, the Red Bulls are occupying the 11th spot in the Supporters Shield standings.
The competitive level has brewed the finest youngsters. This season we are witnessing Fabian Castillo’s breakout year because of his willingness to challenge his vying opponents.
Players like Castillo are making it their responsibility to take advantage of their unique situation. Instead of crumbling in the presence of unnerving pressure, they are standing tall and accepting the challenges bestowed upon them by the fans and coaches.
The presence of certain players with excellent soccer minds is somewhat responsible for all these courageous demonstration of confidence. Competing with and against players like Henry, David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, Jermain Defoe, etc. has certainly left a mark or two on multiple young talents.
All the names mentioned have had success playing at the top level, which is why they are crucial to player development. It doesn’t matter if they come to the MLS to retire, they still have large amounts of knowledge and technique that benefits those without experience.
Take Toronto FC rookie defender Nick Hagglund as an example. The Cincinnati native has acclimated himself with the rigors, stress and constraints of professional soccer.
Playing alongside former Scotland international Steven Caldwell has polished Hagglund’s defensive skills. The 10th overall pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft is more aware and understands his role any time he steps on the pitch. Defoe – one of the greatest scores in EPL history ‒ has definitely made an impression on the youngster.
Another example is Seattle’s Sounders’ Deandre Yedlin. The flashy right-back has been one of the biggest success stories in MLS history. Practicing with Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey has improved his level of play.
Don Garber and the front office’s decision to make MLS teams field a reserve team or partner up with a lower tier side has been fruitful, and will continue to produce exquisite talents. The affiliation teams offer a unique platform for players who’d be warming the bench in the MLS. These players get to play regularly and improve their individual skills.
Dom Dwyer is the prime example of how regular minutes can bring the best out of a young player. After being drafted, the Sporting Kansas City’s forward couldn’t break into the starting lineup. It wasn’t until after his successful loan spell at Orlando City did he get his chance. This season he leads the league in goals scored (11).
This year, 10 MLS players made the Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup squad. USMNT fans have to start paying attention to the MLS because the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Fagúndez, Dillon Powers and Harry Shipp will lead the march for the Yanks in 2018.
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