I have spent the last two days watching the world’s top soccer players take part in the UEFA Champions League. Forget the World Cup, European Championship or COPA America, the best soccer competition in the world is the Champions League.
Can you name any of the top players who are not participating in Champions League soccer? I cannot. The teams left in the Champions League at this stage are all-star teams, stacked with the best players from around the world.
National teams benefit from this level of competition. I attribute a lot of Scotland’s recent improvement to the fact that Celtic and Rangers are once again starting to have some success playing in Europe. Mexico’s young players are getting experience playing with the best at Barcelona and this will undoubtedly benefit the Mexican national team in the years to come.
So where are all the Americans? Playing in the Premiership with Fulham is certainly a step-up in class from MLS, but if America is ever going to break into the world’s elite, it needs its players to be playing against the best in the world and that means Champions League soccer.
One question is whether any American players have the skills to compete in the Champions League? Freddie Adu at Benfica and DaMarcus Beasley at Rangers both participated in the group stages this year but I don’t think any of the other European contingent did.
Until more Americans start playing in the Champions League on a regular basis, the US will never be able to make that jump into a top 16 elite national team. By top 16, I mean getting out of the group stages at a world cup on a regular basis.