With both nations announcing their rosters, many were quick to point out the makeup of each side. It started a discussion about the leagues where the players are currently at. With twitter user @xGoalsMX pointing out that Mexico has more (4) MLS players in camp than the USMNT (3). A much larger discrepancy was evident in the number of players in the “Top 5 European Leagues” with US Soccer having 16 players to Mexico’s 5. The question has to be asked, do these numbers indicate Mexico is behind US Soccer in producing quality players for their national teams?
My answer? No…. at least not yet. However, this gives US Soccer more chances at having their players develop in Europe. Which is what many think Mexico need to do to get to that next elite International level. To get a better idea at what those numbers mean, we need to look deeper.
As I have been saying for a long time, USMNT will always hold an advantage in getting players to Europe. This comes down to many Americans being able to trace their ancestry to Europe. It is those familial ties that make it much much easier for them to move overseas. That is exactly how a 16 year old Christian Pulisic was able to sign with Borussia Dortmund. He acquired a Croatian passport via his paternal grandfather and did not need to apply for a German work visa. That is one avenue that US players use that Mexicans cannot take advantage of. Off the top of my head, only Miguel Layun and Gerardo Arteaga were able to acquire EU Passports to make their moves abroad much easier. Jurgen Damm has a German passport and was rumored to move overseas but never made the jump.
The ability to move overseas at such young ages and on free transfers coupled with MLS moving towards becoming a selling league means, to me at least, Mexico will never have the numbers of European-based players that US Soccer can claim. Mexico will have to hope their quality trumps US Soccer’s quantity. Something that is getting harder to do if the trickle to Europe from Mexico slows down.
Dual-nationals also play a role in the high number of European-based players for US Soccer. Anyone else remember when Jurgen Klinsmann was getting any German with American ancestry to play for the USMNT? Some of those players had never even been to America before beginning their switch to US Soccer.
Even after all that: the EU Passports and Dual-Nationals, why do I think Mexico still produces a better player pool? LigaMX. American players go play overseas because they feel they can develop better in that type of environment over MLS clubs/academies. Mexican clubs do a good job developing talent and feeding Mexico’s Youth national teams. Whether they hold onto that talent too long is another story but even that story seems to be changing. Since the “Pacto de Caballeros” seems to be weakening, clubs have been open to selling talent overseas rather than letting them leave on a free. This is why the average Mexican player moves to Europe in their 20s for a fee instead of signing on a free as a teenager.
There’s a difference in playing for the Colorado Rapids than winning the CCL with Tigres and finishing 2nd at the Club World Cup. If only the FMF, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL could come to an agreement to allow Mexican clubs to play in the Copa Libertadores. That would have a positive impact on the league as well as the national team.
I am in no way dismissing US Soccer’s current player pool. Just pointing out how young and unproven it is. Yes, the bulk are in Europe but they are mostly potential rather than end product. Not all of them but enough of them where I am still giving the advantage to Mexico right now. But I am not naïve in believing that advantage will always be in Mexico’s favor. US Soccer made the right call after failing to qualify for Russia. They went all in on youth and focused on developing their youngsters rather than keep calling their veterans. They only have 3 players in their March roster with more than 30 caps while Mexico’s squad has 3 with over 100 caps and 11 with at least 30.
Mexico would be the favorite in a game tomorrow but with so many promising players, USMNT can quickly raise their level of play. The Gold Cup is 4 months away. That will provide a good measuring stick for the young Americans. Beyond that, US Soccer hosts Mexico later this year in World Cup Qualifying on November 12th. El Tri return the favor at the Azteca March 24th, 2022. A revitalized US Soccer is good for the region but CONCACAF still runs through Mexico.