There's no two ways around it: The challenges Major League Soccer teams face in terms of keeping the United States' most talented youngsters is real. They've mostly fended off the unaffiliated youth clubs that dominated the landscape as recently as five or six years ago and seem to have found a way to work alongside the NCAA in a more symbiotic way, but they are still a long way off from effectively battling European clubs.
It's hard enough that many of these foreign clubs have virtually unlimited resources, both in terms of cold hard cash and opportunity. If almost any teams from Europe's top leagues really want a player, MLS teams can't offer much else other than an opportunity to remain close to home and, possibly, a quicker path to the first team.
So, maybe it's understandable that they are a bit sensitive to even the perception that someone like Jurgen Klinsmann may be making their jobs even harder. That's what caused MLS commissioner Don Garber to go on the offensive, after all. And in case we thought that was just one man flying off the rails, now comes an ESPNFC article that illustrates just how deep those concerns run among MLS ownership groups.
Chief among those expressing frustration is Seattle Sounders part owner and GM Adrian Hanauer.
"We are investing millions of dollars in youth development. It's hard enough to compete with foreign teams who are trying to poach players in the U.S. and Canada. I'm certainly not happy if our federation and its representatives are in any way pushing our players to sign with a foreign club and bypassing our professional environment."
- Source: ESPNFC
Although Hanauer apparently made a point of not addressing specific players with whom Klinsmann might be pushing toward Europe, it's not hard to see that Jordan Morris is probably among them. The Mercer Island native spent his senior year in high school with the Sounders Academy and has been one of their top prospects ever since. After a breakout year with the Sounders Academy, Morris has moved on to Stanford and continued to see his star rise, most recently with his second call-up to the senior national team.
While no one in this article is saying Morris' call-up is somehow part of scheme to showcase him for European clubs, there is certainly an element out there expressing that very concern. And even if it's not that overt, Hanauer clearly doesn't appreciate the idea that Klinsmann may be doing anything to undermine the Sounders' ability to sign players like Morris.
"At some point, if [this continues], clearly I -- and I assume my MLS partners -- would need to reconsider our investment in youth development, which I don't think is ultimately good for U.S. soccer," he said to ESPNFC.
In Klinsmann's defense, it should be said that it's entirely fair of him to encourage some players to explore their European options. The quality of play in the top European leagues is undeniably better than in MLS and it's going to be impossible for the USMNT to become a world power by all the best players remaining here.
At the same time, it's hard to blame MLS teams from feeling as though Klinsmann may be undermining them in some cases. It's hard to see how a player like Morris, for instance, would be better served by bypassing MLS and heading overseas where he's just as likely to get lost in the mix as he is to get a serious chance to develop, another point Hanauer made in the story.
"We're very confident about the environment that we create, the resources, the facilities, our ability to develop quality players and quality individuals. These are local kids and we actually care about their careers and their livelihoods as opposed to those players ending up as one of a bunch of players on some foreign team that is looking at it more as a numbers game, and have no built-in incentive or community objective to develop these players. Along with that, it is incumbent upon us to do as good of a job of providing those resources so that young players want to sign for the Sounders and be part of our club."
- Source: ESPNFC
It should also be noted the number of instances in which promising young Americans have skipped out on MLS to try their chances overseas seems to be going down in recent years. For every Emerson Hyndman or Rubio Rubin, there's a DeAndre Yedlin or a Victor Mansaray. As long as Klinsmann isn't actively discouraging young players from choosing MLS, exposing them to opportunities does not seem like the worst thing, especially if it's encouraging teams here to improve their offerings. The goal here needs to be making sure MLS is getting better alongside the USMNT, not one improving to the detriment of the other.