The USMNT, Jermaine Jones, and Great Allure of Europe

Grit, Hustle, Heart, blah, blah, Jordan Morris, blah.

In a world of takes exponentially rising in temperature following the United States loss to Trinidad and Tobago, Jermaine Jones provided one of the hottest.

Naming names. Check

When I used to (insert platitude) we did (something vaguely better). Check

Obligatory reference to some sort of lost mentality and weakness. Check

But most importantly, the old adage, “Players need to test themselves abroad.”

It was perhaps the most Jermaine Jones-y statement possible. He ran from topic to topic, held little back, and stepped on enough toes to make those around him straighten up and listen. That’s why we love Jermaine Jones. Good ol’ American straight shooter. And he makes some valid points. The United States doesn’t need another Bruce Arena. MLS has miles to go in developing players, and Pulisic is without a doubt the best player we’ve ever had.

But the issue that bothered me and continues to bother me is the American fascination with Europe. It’s a question that rises with every USMNT manager, and one that’s been gleefully seized upon by Bruce Arena. Arena was probably the best of the initial crop of American coaches. And he knows that. In probably the only similarity he holds with Jose Mourinho, both seem most comfortable in asserting their own exceptional knowledge- In the case of Arena, his experience in North America.

Perhaps best seen in his recent statement, “I’d love to see one of those European hotshots come over here and play in CONCACAF.”

I don’t really have much to add to this one. If you haven’t seen Taylor Twellman’s statement, watch it. For someone so angry, he really does a fantastic job rebuking Bruce Arena’s CONCACAF posturing. It’s incredibly easy (if not rational) to listen to Bruce Arena speak and think, “Jesus, this is the best American coach? No wonder they’re shit.”

In this context, I understand why the United States seems toxic to player development. If the last two coaches of our national team think a formation with one (incredibly average) center midfielder is ever going to succeed, the system is obviously broken. Logically, Jermaine Jones’ argument makes sense as a timely counterpoint to Arena and his revival of the Monroe Doctrine towards player selection and development.

As Jones says, young players should flee the coop. Go to Holland. France. England. Especially Germany, the land of milk, honey, high-pressing, and Nagelsmith’s on every corner.

And I don’t think Jones is necessarily wrong in this point. Players improve by playing with better players, and for coaches that focus more on technique than “heart, grit,” or whatever recycled flavor of the month the MLS continues to preach. Most of the world has moved on from this style, and it’s a uniquely American form of arrogance to think it might still pay dividends. But in the same sense, it’s another distinct type to say, “What we have isn’t working. Let’s just give up and go elsewhere,” essentially Jones’ message regarding American soccer and its players. It’s the charter school equivalent of fixing the educational system. In a country with 4.2 million youth players, you don’t build a legitimate powerhouse by cherry-picking a select few to be educated elsewhere. Sure it might find you a Pulisic or McKinnie. But it ignores even acknowledging the fundamental brokenness. There’s no doubt that a player like Jordan Morris in Seattle is inspiring legions of young Jordan Morris’ to be involved with, or even play for their hometown club. It’s a small thing, but it matters. He’s one of us.

Leagues and identities don’t grow on the backs of a never-ending supply of low-grade Marcelos and Juninhos. A few decades prior, there was nothing. Today we have something average. Building legitimacy isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s testament to a commitment that maybe in the future we can have a country full of our own competitive players and coaches.

So don’t demean the lack of a soccer culture in the United States, and then criticize those that stay here to create it.

Good players will always go to Europe, and some will stay at home. Each will have their own reasons, and that’s fine. But one constant that every top team in the world possesses is a stable base in which to build from. You can’t undercut an essential step in international development simply by ignoring it. Applaud those that test themselves abroad, but at the same time, appreciate players that challenge themselves by working to cultivate something at home.

Because as Bruce Arena has proved again and again, a solution that doesn’t even pretend to acknowledge the deep flaws is at best, a temporary fix.