Major League Soccer was launched in 1996 on the heels of the 1994 World Cup hosted in the U.S.
In fact, the awarding of the World Cup was tied directly to a FIFA-required launch of a Division 1 league in the U.S. after the World Cup.
Soccer had been booming in the 1970’s in the U.S. with the North American Soccer League (NASL) showcasing world-class talent in the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Best, and U.S. star Shep Messing.
A poor financial plan caused the crash of the NASL in the early 1980’s and soccer in the region was dominated by the Mexican league and national team in the late 80’s and 90’s.
Opening the doors
MLS not only gave American players an opportunity but also opened the doors for a host of North American, Central American, and Caribbean footballers to play in a growing developmental league away from the turmoil and pressure other regional domestic leagues offered.
Mexican stars still streamed to Europe and stayed at home where the money is better, but every other CONCACAF national team has seen a rise in form due to their players playing on a larger and larger stage in MLS over the years.
Recent MLS call-ups for World Cup qualifiers reads like an all-star list of players in the league…and we’re talking about teams other than the U.S. There were 43 call-ups from MLS for CONCACAF sides not counting another 18 American call-ups during the September international window.
The region’s best players now see MLS as a real option where they can continue to play at a high level and get paid a competitive wage right here in the CONCACAF region.
Coming at the expense of Team USA
All of this regional success, however, has been at the U.S. National team’s expense as players are now very familiar with the U.S venues, players, and tactics they see week in and week out in MLS.
Raising the level of play has been a good thing for CONCACAF but there has been a noticeable change in the difficulty level for the U.S. team in each new qualification cycle.
It had been 50 years between U.S. appearances in the 1950 and 1990 World Cups but after 1994’s success the U.S. has been a lock to qualify every cycle up until Russia 2018 qualification began. The U.S. has struggled this time around and needs very positive results in their final two games to have any shot at Russia 2018.
In the Russia 2018 cycle the U.S. has been beaten twice at home (that hasn’t happened since 1957) by both Mexico and Costa Rica (last home loss to Costa Rica was in 1985).
To further illustrate the MLS-effect over CONCACAF, the Costa Rican goal scorer with a brace in the latest round of qualifiers is none other than San Jose Earthquake forward Marco Urena who followed his brace over the U.S. with a goal just days later in the 1-1 draw with Mexico.
Other MLS-CONCACAF players of note were:
Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis who scored a goal in the 2-1 Honduran win over Trinidad and Tobago and then went all 90 minutes versus the U.S. in a 1-1 draw.
Romell Quioto also from the Dynamo was the forward for Honduras to net the goal in the 1-1 U.S. draw.
The LA Galaxy and Mexican star dos Santos brothers Gio and Jonathan both played 70+ minutes in El Tri’s 1-1 draw at Costa Rica.
Seattle Sounder midfielder Joevin Jones scored a goal for Trinidad versus Honduras and then played 63 minutes in a loss at Panama.
Earthquakes midfielder Anibal Godoy played all 90 minutes for Panama as they lost 1-0 at Mexico and then defeated Trinidad 3-0 at home.
Forever changing the landscape of the CONCACAF
MLS has certainly increased the depth of CONCACAF national teams as more and more regional players find success and a home in the league.
The huge CONCACAF stars might still look to Mexico or Europe for professional soccer but MLS has clearly given the younger players and lesser-known players an opportunity to shine.
Competition is a great thing and MLS has forever changed CONCACAF soccer in just over 20 years…
Written by Forrest Wimberly
Follow Forrest on Twitter @ForrestWimberly
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