OK England, we get it…you invented the sport we all love, your top league is the most popular in the world and you think its your birth right to win the World Cup. Too bad all of that hasn’t translated in to anything of note over the past decade or two on the international soccer stage.
In fact, I’m about to say something no one would’ve thought possible just a few short years ago: The United States national team is better than England. The nation that invented the sport has rested on winning the World Cup in 1966 for far too long and it’s time for some brutally honest truth to be spoken.
International soccer is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and lately the Three Lions have been mediocre at best. After crashing out at this year’s World Cup England and the United States are at very different crossroads.
The United States is in the knockout round for the second straight World Cup, something it had never done before, while England is sitting home and watching—something it has only ever done once before.
Yet, it’s more than just that fact that tells me that its USMNT > England.
Before you think this is just some jingoistic American piling on the former motherland because of the 2014 World Cup, let’s take a trip down memory lane for a while.
If there was one hard fact about England coming in to this World Cup it was this: As long as England made it, it was getting out of the group stage.
Before this World Cup, England had only missed out on qualifying for the knockout round once and that was in 1958.
Then there’s the albatross of a United States 1-1 tie with England in the last World Cup too. Pundits everywhere gave the United States no chance to tie or win heading in to that game, yet it was that tie that got the USMNT in to the round of 16. Heck, the United States won the same group for crying out loud.
Yet, the real story that tells us the USMNT is in a better position is that it is set up for long-term success and England’s hopes ebb and flow with a few star players coming in to the setup. England came in to this World Cup as a hobbled bunch, missing some of the players they were going to need to be at full strength.
The United States came in healthy, but left the first match with a starting forward out and multiple players dinged up. Yet, the USMNT soldiered on and advanced without using injury as an excuse.
So, how did we get to the spot where England is stuck wondering what could’ve been and the United States are out of the “Group of Death” and in to the knockout stages? There are two reasons for it, first is that the United States is a true team, while England is often a collection of superstars expected to gel together quickly.
There’s little doubt that England’s national team has individual talent that trumps most of what the USMNT puts on the field, but the USMNT understand each other much better and Jürgen Klinsmann has focused on finding the set up that plays best together. It’s a luxury Roy Hodgson hasn’t exactly had.
Secondly, and most importantly—it all has to do with the domestic leagues of the two countries.
While the English Premier League is the most watched league in the world, it’s also become a haven for foreign-born players who are often preferred over English players because of the price of doing business in the EPL.
The proof of that comes in the form of Luke Shaw, a fine English defender but hardly the best in the world, getting a record transfer fee for a teenage player. He will move to Manchester United for a record £30 million ($53 million US Dollars) fee from Southampton.
Yet, Red Devils legend Paul Scholes may have put it best last week when talking about this potential move.
“The proposed £34 million transfer for the 18-year-old Luke Shaw to Manchester United is another example of something which has a bad long-term impact,” he wrote, via The Telegraph. “Clubs are priced out of this market which is why they go abroad for cheap options – they’re not better players. For a left back to be worth £34 million shows how silly the game has gone. For that money I want a centre-forward who’s going to score 30 goals a season.’
The exact opposite of that is MLS, where American-born players are the backbone of the league and big name players from outside the country are sprinkled in for some flavor. One look at the USMNT roster for the World Cup is all you need for proof of this system working. A full 15 of the 23-man roster have played in or are currently playing in MLS (10 of the 19 are current MLS players).
Conventional wisdom was that American’s needed to go overseas to become good enough to play at a high level on the international stage. Yet, many are finding out that playing time and an increasing level of play are making MLS a viable option.
After all, it was that MLS-heavy roster that just got out of the “Group of Death,” while England and its vaunted EPL-based players were bounced in the next-hardest group (Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica were the other three).
One could easily argue that without MLS’ emphasis on growing American players and focusing on doing the work needed to help grow the USMNT set up there would be no way we’d be here comparing the United States and England as equals at best (for England’s case).
Obviously the English league is set up much different than MLS and the rules MLS is governed by would never work over there. However, in the broader sense the model of emphasis on the homegrown American is something the EPL may want to take a look at.
England’s FA appears ready to make changes to tighten up its policy on foreign players. Currently players with a European Union passport don’t need to meet some pretty stringent qualifications to earn a work permit.
According to the Daily Mail in the UK, the English FA is looking at getting rid of that rule in favor of having everyone under the same 75 percent rule (meaning a players has to have played in 75 percent of the national team games for his home country in order to qualify for an English work permit).
It’s a good first step, but until the FA proves its serious about emphasizing its own players along with playing attractive soccer in the EPL, the United States will have the upper hand. After all, it has proven in the last few World Cup cycles that it has become the better team on the international stage.