U.S. Soccer head coach Bruce Arena is getting ripped for his comments about Major League Soccer. How outrageous of him to suggest that the MLS may be an inferior league to those overseas in Europe… Arena, commenting on what U.S. soccer needs in order to go further in future World Cups, spoke honestly.
“The way for us to get our players to get better is: We do need to get more of our younger talented players in Europe,” said Arena. “We need them in a year-round soccer environment. We need them playing in more intense games to help develop them mentally, as well as soccerwise.”
Today, numerous articles appeared on sports websites and in newspapers across the country with the backlash against Arena’s comments.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “If I were him I’d take a deep breath and think about what I say before I criticize anyone in American soccer.”
There’s just one thing: Arena is absolutely right. Any knowledgable soccer fan is aware that the competition in Europe far surpasses that in America. The MLS is like a AAA-league compared to leagues in Europe like English Premier League and those in Italy, Spain and Germany. It’s unsettling that there’s so much backlash against Arena’s comments instead of support for them.
I can understand why Garber is upset with Arena, who basically suggests draining all of the top talent out of MLS and sending it abroad. Obviously this would not be in the interest of the league. However, it would be in the best interest of the U.S. National team, which should to be the top priority.
Those criticizing Arena’s comments should take a look at what Brazil does. There is a professional soccer league in Brazil, a country that produces more soccer talent than any other country in the world. The list of Brazilian superstars includes Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu (I could list their entire national squad but I’ll stop there). NONE of them play in the Brazilian league. Not a single one. They’re all playing in The Spanish or Italian leagues.
Part of the reason for this is that there is more money to be made in the European leagues. On the other hand, great players seem to aspire to join a European league, where the competition is the most intense in the world and clubs can actually get more than 10,000 fans show up to each game. If the U.S. is to be taken seriously as a soccer nation, then the best Americans need to master their skills in Europe, where the game demands more than does the MLS.
This latest story falls in line with the trend of all the supposed soccer experts like Eric Wynalda blasting Arena and faulting him for the U.S. not advancing out of group play. In reality, the U.S. was outgunned and overmatched against Ghana, Italy and the Czech Republic. Right now, the U.S. boasts far less talent than most of the other teams in the World Cup. A spirited effort and an own goal, not skill, explains the tie against the Italians. They were lucky to earn a single point in the “group of death”. They had no true goal-scoring threat, nobody capable of producing a booming shot from outside the box. There was nobody skilled enough at placing a ball to scare opponents on set pieces. Sure, they entered the tournament as the fifth-ranked team in the world, according to FIFA. Unfortunately, those rankings are a joke, since they don’t take strength of schedule into account. It’s easy to look good in friendlies when you’re playing against Guatemala and Jamaica. In total, the U.S. recorded a pathetic four shots on goal in group play, second worst in the World Cup. I blame that on the lack of firepower, not Arena.
In order to take the next step, the U.S. needs goalscorers and playmakers, and Landon Donovan doesn’t cut it. Somebody has to be able to create chances. As of now, there is nobody in U.S. soccer who can hold a candle to the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Pavel Nedved, Michael Essien or Francesco Totti. Until we develop a similar threat (or convert Lebron James from shooting guard to striker), we should stop blaming Bruce Arena for bashing the MLS and start trying to unearth the next star and quickly send him to Europe.