By Arturo Rivers
This Week's Edition: Another Step Closer
Desperation and uncertainty have been two feelings shared at one time or another by every Mayor League Soccer fan around the world during MLS’s first nine years of existence.
Desperation to see the level of soccer in MLS raised to a point in which our great country’s teams would be able to compete on the world’s stage and uncertainty to see when the league’s rules and regulations would be finally be brought into sync with those all over the globe.
Patience and time have paid off! MLS teams’ faithful have been rewarded little by little on an increasing basis for their loyalty over the years but this year we take a big leap forward.
Going into 2005 it is undeniable that the soccer level in the USA as a whole has reached a point in which Americans can compete against anyone anywhere!
Now don’t misunderstand my statement; I am not saying that the US will win the World Cup in 2010 like some officials high up in the US Soccer chain of command have suggested at one point or another. The only thing that I’m certain of is that soccer in this country has finally reached a point where the USA has its own style of play based primarily on the speed and physicality of its players that on the world stage can give any club a fair battle any given day.
Fans of MLS have seen an unbelievable impact of MLS on the US Men’s National Team who have now risen to the point where they can now hold their own against any other nation in the world and who whenever they take the field can be expected to compete if not win.
And by that I mean play and win consistently in good games not "fluke" games like the performance of the USA in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil where the Yanks beat England 1:0 in what still exists in peoples’ minds as the greatest US victory ever (after being destroyed by Chile 5:2 and tooled by Spain 3:1). That victory my friends and contrary to what the movie "The Game of Their Lives" will tell you in theaters next summer was pure luck.
I’m talking about American performances like we saw in the 2002 World Cup. Games like USA vs. Mexico where our own Rapids Team Captain Pablo Mastroeni turned in a world class performance manhandling the likes of Cuahutemoc Blanco. Games like that same tournament’s USA vs. World Cup runners-up Germany where players like the MLS’s Landon Donovan made the Europeans look outmatched and lucky to not lose. Games in which our country can play without having their fingers crossed hoping for a miracle to happen but instead by putting their bets on their players’ skill style and confidence in their abilities.
Today with US Soccer’s own identity the US National Teams have a great chance of competing against any of the 204 nations affiliated with the world’s governing body of soccer FIFA.
Now is the time that fans can hope to see that same level of confidence be transferred from the national team level down to America’s domestic league level.
But who is to be responsible for the MLS identity style and character of play?
To begin with (and I think it’s one of the most important factors) we need to look at the environment that was created in MLS up until this year a structure in which the league’s players have not been able to fully develop to the highest levels of competition.
MLS until now has had a system that compared to other leagues around the soccer world was a very basic one. It has had a system that has been able to produce (and even export) quality players without most of the resources that can be found in other countries.
Now what happens to MLS when they add next year a new system of reserve teams inter-squad tournaments bigger rosters and more room for international talent?
The answer: nowhere to go but up.
Last week MLS announced that some of those disadvantages that our league and therefore our country have had to endure will disappear. The announcement that MLS will be implementing a reserve team system as well as expanding the rosters of each of the league’s clubs will give MLS a real new sense of depth. This in return will get the fans a step closer to that which they have craved for so long: a system of lower divisions that will increase the level of competition for starting spots pushing MLS players and teams to be that much better.
Starting in 2005 MLS team rosters will expand from 24 to 28 players. Those new rosters will include 18 senior roster spots with a max of 4 international players and 10 developmental slots with a max of 3 international players. That means that MLS teams will have the opportunity to sign up to four instead of three Senior International payers as well as three Youth International players.
This expansion will help to further make up for the lack of lower division leagues in the USA……although lower divisions reportedly will also become a reality in the not so distant future.
If you add to that the announcement of an "MLS Reserve Team Tournament