Here is today's money quote from none other than the current reigning Greatest American Hero (which I found on the always excellent du Nord:
"If you're in Denmark or Norway or Sweden, you're playing a little bit or you're on the bench, that's not helping you. If you're playing in MLS every week, that's a lot better than playing a minor role on some team in Europe. So if you have the opportunity to actually play games at some of the big leagues in Europe, great. But if not, you're hindering your development by not playing games." - Landon Donovan
I could not agree more. Now, to be certain, I am not a coach. I am not an athletic development expert. I also would never, ever begrudge anyone who's length of career is generally about 5-6 years from taking a massive short term payday.
However, the truth of what LD is saying is so obvious to me it frequently gets lost in the shuffle. Of course, players should test themselves against top competition. Of course players should always, always try to improve. But also of course, in the best of all possible worlds, there is someone who should be there to keep the player grounded to reality. And the reality of the situation is that for so many Americans, playing every or most games in MLS is far superior to riding the bench, and sometimes not even making the game sheet, on some team in Europe.
And the thing is that we all, all of us footy freaks, can come up with a long list of players right off the top of our heads that prove this statement to be true. Here's mine, and I guarantee both of these lists took me only about 20 seconds each.
PLAYERS WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN FAR BETTER SERVED TO HAVE STAYED IN MLS
(The list of players riding pines in Denmark, Holland, Turkey, etc.)
PLAYERS WHO CLEARLY BENEFITED FROM STAYING IN/COMING BACK TO MLS
Landon Donovan (arguable in the German experiments, perhaps not so much at Everton)
Dwayne De Rosario
I am sure you have others who would qualify for this list. (Jozy Altidore perhaps?)
Now to be sure, there are many players for whom making the trip over there was very important to their development (Deuce Dempsey, Donovan in Everton, Brian mcBride, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, etc.), and others for whom the book is still out (Stuart Holden, Brad Guzan, etc.). But for so many players, MLS is a viable option. Playing is a viable option. Playing regularly is the way to develop. But more important perhaps, staying realistic is the most crucial thing.
So thanks LD for that little dose of reality. Read more!