web analytics
Berhalter after USMNT thrash Mexico: “MLS is extremely important to our program” | MLSSoccer.com

Berhalter after USMNT thrash Mexico: “MLS is extremely important to our program” | MLSSoccer.com

Yet the manner of this latest ‘Dos a Cero’ result looked and felt quite different. This was a markedly superior USMNT side, so much so that El Tri coach Jaime Lozano did not, could not hesitate to acknowledge it – first in his tactics, which were far more passive and defensive than Mexico have ever used against their northern rivals, and later with his words in the postgame press conference.

Nor, it should be noted, did the journalists in the room asking him questions.

“I believe it is the time at which they send the players to the European clubs. That makes a difference,” said Lozano in Spanish when asked how the United States had opened up such a gap between the two programs. “For me, that’s it. Because today they’re in very good leagues, they compete in different games every week. And that is what we have to take in mind in Mexican soccer – to send our players internationally early, so they can compete at the same rhythm at which they [the US] are doing.

“I think it’s the coaching, to have better coaches, invest more money at the bottom, and evidently – and obviously – export. That’s what I see as a solution. I don’t know that it’s an immediate solution, but perhaps it can elevate our competitiveness in this type of tournament.”

USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter was asked about this as well, and he noted his current squad reflects massive growth in the overall soccer ecosystem at home, as MLS and its burgeoning culture of player development paves the program’s burgeoning talent pool.

“What I’d say is, MLS developed probably three-quarters of our team,” said Berhalter. “All you tell players is [to] play at the highest level you can play at, where you’re consistently getting game time, and when you start to dominate wherever you are, you move on. And that’s wherever you are – whether it’s MLS or the second division in Holland or first Bundesliga, you want to keep progressing, you want to keep being challenged. And we ask all our players that.”

Talent development

Of the 16 players who saw the field for the Yanks on Sunday, more than half spent some part of their early careers in Major League Soccer.

Haji Wright spent four years in the LA Galaxy’s academy. Tyler Adams joined the New York Red Bulls youth system at age 10 and was the first player to progress through its full structure, from its Regional Development School to the academy, on to the RBNY second team (he was that side’s first-ever signing) to the MLS roster. Tim Weah was a teammate of Adams for one season in the Red Bulls academy. Tim Ream began his pro career with the Red Bulls, too, drafted out of St. Louis University in 2010 and shining in MLS for two seasons before a multi-million-dollar transfer to then-Premier League side Bolton Wanderers.

Weston McKennie and Chris Richards were spotted by FC Dallas and nurtured in the North Texas club’s academy before moving to Europe; the same can be said of Brenden Aaronson and the Philadelphia Union. Goalkeeper Matt Turner’s ongoing Cinderella story was powered by his exploits with the New England Revolution, where he won Goalkeeper of the Year, Best XI and All-Star honors as the Revs won the 2021 Supporters’ Shield. And Gio Reyna, the man of the USMNT moment after his game-defining performances against Jamaica and Mexico in these CNL finals, came of age in the New York City FC academy (Joe Scally was a teammate), first blazing into the spotlight with dominant outings at the 2017 Generation adidas Cup.

A glance down the US roster reveals the influence runs deeper still. Miles Robinson is a cornerstone of FC Cincinnati‘s MLS Cup aspirations. Ricardo Pepi is yet another FCD alum; Mark McKenzie is another Philly export. Backup ‘keeper Drake Callender backstops Inter Miami’s ambitious Lionel Messi-led project.

Combine many MLS organizations’ increasing investment in the youth space with a greater willingness to trust those kids with more playing time and on-field responsibility, then add the growing openness to sell them on to clubs in prominent leagues abroad, and you have the foundations of the US come-up on the nation that dominated Concacaf for decades.

“So MLS is extremely important to our program,” said Berhalter. “And we have a really good group of generational players right now, and one thing that we just need to be cautious about is that we keep developing, and we don’t get too confident, we just keep doing the work, because we’ve done a lot of good work in the last years to develop this group of players. But we need to continue because time evolves and we need a continuous player pool.”

Changing course

It’s striking to see Mexico so firmly behind the curve in this area. El Tri have been a talent incubator for decades, winning two FIFA U-17 World Cups (2005 and 2011) and reaching the finals on two other occasions, in addition to their gold-medal capture at the 2012 Olympics and a bronze finish in 2020.

Yet lately they’ve been looking north at youth levels, ramping up their recruitment of dual-national prospects in US and Canadian academies. Pepi is one example; more recent ones include Seattle homegrown Obed Vargas and Real Salt Lake’s Fidel Barajas, who notched two assists in his first MLS start on Saturday, pacing RSL’s 2-1 comeback win at Vancouver, and has represented both Mexico and the United States in youth international play.

Yet another signpost: One of Mexico’s brightest young coaching prospects, Lozano’s career very nearly shifted to MLS two years ago. After leading Mexico’s Olympic squad to that 2020 bronze medal, he was reportedly a finalist for the Houston Dynamo’s coaching vacancy (which was eventually filled by Paulo Nagamura).

“I can’t speak highly enough of Major League Soccer and its role in both setting the standard for professional leagues in North America, with the facilities, with the stadiums, with the level of competition, and then also youth development,” said Berhalter last week.

“Major League Soccer has a huge impact on our player pool and always has, since its inception. So we’re grateful for the role of Major League Soccer, we work closely with all their teams, with the first teams of a lot of teams, and if a guy’s good enough to break into the lineup, it doesn’t matter where he plays.”

Read More

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *