As the United States Men’s National Team undergoes a makeover in its player pool, fans are beginning to consume more information about youth players from MLS to the third division in Germany. And when talented youth players are coming up through the ranks, the debate over the league they should move to cultivate and develop their talent is a contentious one. Many fans consider one of the big 4 European leagues—the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga or Serie A—where players should go to develop. Others think a second division European league, like the English Championship or 2. Bundesliga, is the way to go. Some stay in Europe in leagues like the Danish Superliga (Denmark) or the Allsvenskan (Sweden). There are also those that feel that staying in MLS or heading to Liga MX is the right move.
However, there are some leagues that fall under the radar that could be a nice proving ground for young Americans looking to develop and improve as a player. Some of these leagues are known for breeding young talent to be sent elsewhere, and others can be leagues that Americans can play against some of the best players in the world. Let’s take a look at just a few of the leagues that more Americans should consider:
Primeira Liga, Portugal
The Primeira Liga in Portugal is a league that has a similar playing style to La Liga, and has some teams that are widely regarded throughout the world. Teams like Benfica, Sporting Clube de Portugal, and Porto are regularly competing in European competition, and while it’s a top heavy league (those three teams have won 81 of the 83 league titles), they are known for developing many great players. Currently, young American midfielder Keaton Parks plies his trade for Benfica and has done well thus far. More young players should add the Primeira Liga to their list of possible career destinations.
Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, Brazil
Some of the best talent in the world comes from Brazil, and the Brasileiro is a league that Americans could improve their technical ability and the drive to be the best. Players like Desmond Armstrong, Cobi Jones and Freddy Adu have had stops in Brazil, but when people think of the best places for young Americans to develop, Brazil is rarely on their lists. The best footballing nation in the world deserves more credit for the cultivation of young talent, and if you can make it there, the world is your oyster. The history of teams like Corinthians, Santos, Palmeiras, Vasco da Gama, and Flamengo is top notch. How great would it be to have more Americans feature into some of those teams?
Ligue 1, France
This is basically one step off the Big 4 in Europe, but there are so many examples of American players (and coaches—shoutout to Bob Bradley) making it in Ligue 1. Currently, the American carrying the flag is 18-year-old Timothy Weah, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Alejandro Bedoya, Charlie Davies, Carlos Bocanegra, Freddy Adu, and Greg Vanney have also played in Ligue 1. It may not be England, but Ligue 1 is a major league that could help players develop and perform well for the national team.
Liga Aguila, Colombia
Another league that is under the radar to most Americans is Liga Aguila in Colombia. Clubs like Atletico Nacional, Millonarios, America de Cali, Deportivo de Cali, and Santa Fe have had a ton of success in Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, South America’s regional competitions. And secretly, Liga Aguila has become one of the better leagues in the entire world. Some fans enjoy the flair that South Americans play with on the international level, so this may be an option for getting some players to play with some of the best young talent in this hemisphere, and it would definitely improve our player pool if that happens.
Eredivisie, The Netherlands
There is a long history of Americans playing in the Eredivisie, from Earnie Stewart to DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu to Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Currently, Matt Miazga is on loan with Vitesse and Andrija Novakovich is on loan with Telstar in the 2nd division, but there aren’t many other Americans of importance who have played in Holland recently. It’s not the best league in Europe, but one that can develop young players and send them on to greener pastures when they’re ready. It’s probably time to redevelop the pipeline of American players calling the Eredivisie home.
Superliga Argentina, Argentina
River Plate. Boca Juniors. Independiente. Racing. Newell’s Old Boys. The teams that make up the Superliga Argentina are some of the most famous in the world. The River Plate-Boca Juniors rivalry is unparalleled, and some of the very best to ever play the game have started in Argentina’s top league. Could some Americans try to make it here? Currently, Joel Soñora is on loan with Talleres Cordoba from Stuttgart, but more Americans should definitely attempt the leap to Argentina to advance their careers.
We all want young American players to get playing time on the field and develop their games against the best competition possible. However, the path isn’t always to Germany or England or Spain. Sometimes, you have to take the road less traveled by. With some of these leagues and others that fall under the typical American radar, that road could lead to a successful career for club and country. It could also spark more American interest in these leagues as they watch American talent test themselves against top level competition.
Which leagues do you think Americans should consider that aren’t typically on the radar?