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Sunday Cup-o-American Soccer: Schrödinger’s wave of young American players moving to Europe

This is about angst and physics but mostly angst

Everton FC v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Author’s note - by me, the author. You may have noticed that we added more members to the SSFC writing cadre and are covering news in a new way. As such, it’s not really necessary to post about news as I had been on Sunday mornings. So I’m needling this horse in a new direction and will cover a topic that is at least not completely extraneous to American soccer on Sunday morning from now on. Enjoy.

It seems like there is something of an improbable miracle going on, the United States is producing good male soccer players. This has long been a struggle for our country. As I noted just 18 months ago when using MLS salaries to make the point that American men aren’t that good at soccer:

Overall, what the salaries indicate is that the US player development system, including MLS academies, are overwhelmingly good at producing defenders who can’t do much to stop Carlos Vela from looking like Messi. The American central midfielders in the league are decent and seem pretty representative of where the US finds itself in the newest FIFA ranks - good but not great with a long way to go to make the leap to compete with the top sides in the world. Attackers are a different story with the ones who are on the higher pay scales either content to stay in MLS or on teams that figure to finish near the middle or bottom of their conference tables.

Wow, things have changed - at least for now, and at least in this universe. Every week a talented American soccer child emerges and is snatched up by a team playing in the Champions League. Most of them play right back but some are attacking midfielders. This is really good news, because it means that the USMNT has the most important thing that a good soccer team needs: good players.

This has never really happened before. It looked like it might start happening around the 2010 World Cup when the roster was filled with players plying their trade in Europe. Things changed in the decade or so following as more and more players stayed in MLS or played for Nantes or something. Going into 2020 and even through the first half of the year, it seemed like there might be a few exciting prospects in Europe, Christian Pulisic, and then Gregg Berhalter’s favs making up the core of the National Team heading into 2022.

Then suddenly the domestic development of kids born in the early 2000s paid off all at once. This happened much sooner than expected thanks in large part to MLS academies and has led to some eye popping transfer fees paid for Americans over the last six months. Not only that but the players making moves have been paying dividends for their clubs, pretty much all of them.

Honestly it seems a little terrifying, every time that a team makes a transfer, the club really does not know what they’re getting until they’ve invested in a transfer fee. They are essentially buying a box with a cat in it with a small amount of radioactive material that will or will not decay and set off a reaction killing the cat. The transfer will either be a success or failure and neither result would be all that surprising. However, with the number of clubs involved in transfers, there’s a chance that the player might be successful or fail at another team. But, that’s a reality that exists and we can’t see.

For us, the box keeps opening, the player is good and this universe seems impossible. There’s surely another one where the box opens and the press makes fun of the American for saying “field” and the fans throw pie sauce at him and his teammates won’t pass him the ball in training. It’s there, we can’t see it, but it’s there and I hope this is a new thing that keeps going and not a string luck that ends the minute that William H. Macy shows up.