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The American Exodus

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 21:  Brad Evans is one of the few American players still with the Seattle Sounders. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 21: Brad Evans is one of the few American players still with the Seattle Sounders. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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One of the factors in yesterday's trade that got little notice was that the Seattle Sounders shipped out two more American players in Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle. Of course they got an American in return in Eddie Johnson, but, in addition to that transaction, the list of Americans the Sounders have lost this offseason is substantial. This includes the retirements of Kasey Keller, Terry Boss, and Taylor Graham; the Expansion Draft losses of James Riley and Tyson Wahl; and the Re-Entry Draft releases of Pat Noonan and Nate Jaqua. Erik Friberg is the only international of significance that the Sounders lost. In exchange, they added Michael Gspurning (Austria), Adam Johansson (Sweden), Christian Sivebæk (Denmark), and Cordell Cato (Trinidad and Tobago). Marc Burch was the only significant offseason American addition other than Johnson and a handful of SuperDraft picks who may or may not make the team.

This accelerates a trend that we've seen across MLS over the last few seasons. As the league has aggressively tried to both expand itself into hot markets and improve the quality of play, it evidently has outstripped the supply of suitable American talent. It was clear in the Portland and Vancouver expansions when those two teams (particularly Portland) used the Draft not to acquire players but largely to acquire assets to trade off in exchange for international roster spots and allocation money to bring in foreign talent.

It's also something the Sounders have been aggressive about since their 2009 launch. The early additions of Fredy Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado exposed a substantial international scouting effort and the team has always been assiduous about getting green cards for the players as soon as possible, which opens up international roster spots for more foreign additions. The result is that next season the expected starting roster will likely include only three players who developed in the American system — Brad Evans, Jeff Parke, and the newly acquired Eddie Johnson.

On the one hand, this is a positive development. A league outstripping its supply of domestic talent is nearly always a sign of increased quality and prestige. The EPL would certainly have a much lower standard of play if it was made up exclusively or largely of British players, but instead it has become the destination of choice for the best players in the world of any nationality. Similarly, MLS would like to make itself the destination of choice for non-European players of quality who want a highly visible leaping off point to make the jump to Europe.

But on the other hand, it's yet another piece of evidence that American youth soccer development is not where it should be. I won't belabor the point, because it's been discussed ad nauseum here and elsewhere, but it's worth repeating that the supply of American youth soccer players is massive — much larger than smaller European and South American countries like the Netherlands and Uruguay — and yet we produce top league and international talent at nowhere near the rates of those nations. It's a problem that Jurgen Klinsmann has identified as a top priority, and just this month we learned that the USSDA will be switching to a 10-month season and banning high school play for those players. While the latter is a controversial move, it's clearly an attempt to get young American soccer players into a situations where they're playing against top competition year-round, which is how it's done in more competitive soccer countries.

The goal of the Sounders, of course, is to win. And as a fan of the team, I can accept the loss of American players on the team if that's what it takes to keep the team competitive. But as a fan of American soccer, I hope that some day in the near future teams don't have to make a choice between developing American players and being competitive.

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