Recently we have seen multiple USMNT members coming back to play in the MLS, including regular contributors Mix Diskerud and Jozy Altidore. With Jurgen Klinsmann’s continuing comments about the quality level of the MLS and Europe, I began to wonder how many members of each World Cup team play in their domestic league. Luckily, Pew Research has the results. Note: They took at the results of which club the players were a part of at the time, so those numbers will be different now.
The United States had nine players from the World Cup on MLS teams. Michael Bradley is a part of Toronto FC, which is technically a Canadian team. So a total of 10 players from the US team were from the MLS — and that’s before Mix and Jozy came over, although before DeAndre Yedlin left for Tottenham. I wondered how this stacked up against some of the other teams. I found that every team had at least one member in their domestic league.
16 of the 32 teams had between 5-15 domestic league players on their roster during the World Cup. Of the six South American teams, five teams had 5 or less domestic players, with the exception being Ecuador, who had 8. All four of the CONCACAF teams fell in the 5-15 range, having Costa Rica on the low end with 9, and Mexico topping the region with 15.
The Asian countries were very similar to CONCACAF, with South Korea being the low team with 6, and Iran having the most with 14. Africa’s teams had a very different make up. Nigeria had the most from the region with 3 domestic players, Algeria and Cameroon had 2 apiece, while Ghana and Ivory Coast had just a single domestic league representative.
Europe was the most unpredictable region, having teams on both ends of the scale. Russia had all 23 team members in their domestic league, while England wasn’t far behind. The Three Lions had 22 of their members in the Premier League, with a backup goalkeeper playing at Celtic. On the other end of the spectrum, Bosnia & Herzegovina had a single domestic player, while Belgium and Croatia only had 3. Germany, Italy, and Spain had 17, 20, and 14 respectively. All of the other teams had between 7-10 domestic leaguers. Only 13 players from European teams played outside of Europe, with Bosnia & Herzegovina claiming 6 of those.
Just getting there isn’t the goal for most squads, so I next examined the squads that progressed out of their groups. Brazil, being the hosts, were almost guaranteed to go through. Of the 16 squads to progress out of the group stage, eight had 7 or more domestic league team members. The same 50% ratio continued through each round, all the way to the final. In the final four, Germany led the way with 17, while 3rd placed Netherlands had 10. Runners-up Argentina had 3 domestic players, while hosts Brazil had 4.
Basically, there is no association between domestic league team members versus foreign team players. Some might argue that the foreign players on some of the teams are playing in some of the elite leagues, which makes the entire team look better. Germany had plenty of players in the Bundesliga, but had other players from the Premier League and La Liga as well. On the other end of the spectrum, England had most of their players in the Premier League, yet failed to get out of their group. For all of the success that the Netherlands had at this World Cup, Spain and Italy had just as many struggles, despite being homes to “top leagues.
Without diving into the individual teams too much, I would say that Jurgen Klinsmann’s assessment is just a little bit off. As a national team coach, you certainly want to have your players playing at the highest level. But I find that his MLS criticism is a bit baseless. Now, I’m not saying that he should portray the league as all sunshine and rainbows, but surely he can slow down the negativity train.
Now, we do have to understand that US Soccer needed a national team coach that questions some of our long-standing traditions, as some are not positive for our development. Some of the questions just seem to go a little over the line. The Landon Donovan exclusion particularly. Americans tend to be very loyal to athletes who are known stars, loyal to a fault at times. We could debate that issue for years, but it could have been so much simpler. If Jurgen had just included Donovan as a “leadership presence” or late game sub, I think all parties would have been satisfied. Instead, Jurgen decided to open pandora’s box.
At the end of the day, we could debate for hours and hours about domestic league participation and World Cup success, but until we get some clear evidence that says playing in England or Spain will help you win the World Cup, I think we will be fine with players in the MLS. We should focus on what we can control, which is helping the MLS grow its talent level and respect across the globe. We’ve taken every other major sport and created the best league in the world here. Why not soccer?