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Rubio Rubin signs with Club Tijuana

Has Liga MX become a more reliable place for playing time than MLS?

USA v Colombia: Round of 16 - FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 Photo by Alex Grimm - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

You remember Rubio Rubin? Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you remember that Bosnia friendly. Here, watch this instead.

That’s the type of stuff Rubio Rubin used to do on the regular, which helped him to a promising position with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie and landed him his USMNT debut at the age of 18. Unfortunately, things soured from there, as a long-injury layoff led to poor form at Utrecht, and failed stints at Danish side Silkeborg and Norway’s Bob Bradleys FC. Rubin needed a change of scenery, and news emerged as he participated in USMNT January Camp, usually reserved for MLS players, that the Beaverton, Oregon native was indeed in talks to play professionally in the States for the first time.

It appears that Rubin will indeed hop back over to this side of the pond to continue his career. But he’ll be doing it in Mexico.

Ives Galarcep and Goal are reporting that Rubin has signed a contract with Club Tijuana in Liga MX [UPDATE: now official]. The Xolos already have a long history with American players, and Rubin looks set to join the list of U.S. internationals that have put on the red and black of Tijuana.

Rubin not signing with MLS is no great sorrow to most; I’m sure the U.S. Soccer fandom at large will be relieved he’s playing in Mexico rather than grabbing minutes with the Colorado Rapids. A possible connotation of this move is curious, however: is Liga MX a safer choice for young American players looking to get professional playing time? And is that ultimately a problem for U.S. Soccer?

I do not think players going to Mexico is inherently a problem. Liga MX is the best league in North America, and playing on a Liga MX team is wonderful experience for any young player. But it is concerning to see so few young, professional, American players getting actual minutes in MLS. You can regularly make top 10 lists of young, exciting Mexican talent in Liga MX, players that actually start for their clubs and make an impact in games. Lately, it’s hard to make a top 10 list of American MLS players that just get on the field. MLS is supposed to be the easier league, the safer league of the two. Theoretically, it should be easier for young players to get more minutes there, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in actuality.

Rubio Rubin is a committed member of the U.S. program, and he’s said as much in both English and Spanish media. But the recurring theme of the last couple months has been the USSF’s failure to properly engage Latino and Hispanic players within its borders. If Rubin, in desperate need of a reset on his club career after playing at three successive clubs where he could not find playing time, thinks the best place for him to find that time is the high-stakes playing field of Liga MX, what does that say about MLS? And what does that say to the thousands of talented Mexican-Americans and other dual-citizen players, like Jonathan Gonzalez, about where the best path for their soccer career is?

Best wishes to Rubio Rubin. I hope he succeeds with Xolos, and fully believe he can recapture his form from just a couple years ago that made him such a bright prospect. He’s only 21. The book is not closed on him yet.

As for USSF and MLS, there is still more soul-searching to do. Let’s hope they do it.

Update: The deal is officially done.