Welcome home: MLS return becomes increasingly popular option for US national team hopefuls

GLENDALE, Ariz. – In the not so recent past, a move away from Major League Soccer was encouraged, perhaps even necessary, when it came to furthering a US national team career.

After 16 domestic-based players made what became a disastrous trip to France in 1998, the number dropped to 11 in both Korea/Japan and Germany. Then 2010 came around, and Bob Bradley drew almost exclusively from Mexico and Europe, calling on just four MLS-based players.

The lone holdouts in South Africa? Jonathan Bornstein (who promptly headed to Liga MX after the tournament), Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan and Robbie Findley.

But after an exodus of national-team standouts from European to North American shores in the past year -- six players on the current roster are MLS returnees -- there could be as many as 13 MLSers on their way to Brazil this summer – a sign, perhaps, of a shifting tide.

“It’s great for me personally to see, having been in the league for so many years,” Donovan said. “It’s beautiful, and I hope it happens. The hope is that going forward, that’s the case. And if that’s the case, that means that our league is succeeding, our national team is succeeding, soccer in our country is succeeding.”

Of course, the perception of success – in 2014, at least – will be based almost exclusively on three games.

If the US bring an MLS-heavy group to Brazil and fail to move on to the knockout stages, the naysayers will likely point to the fact that the team’s stars, the likes of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, traded European climes for home cooking.

And while Bradley and Dempsey’s big-money moves certainly raised a few eyebrows, it is telling that Clarence Goodson, Maurice Edu, Michael Parkhurst and, less recently, Eddie Johnson decided MLS was their best bet in pursuit of a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man World Cup roster.

“It is interesting that now in this past stretch it’s shifted that a way a little bit,” Bradley said. “Now if you’re playing a game with the domestic guys, it’s your core group of guys, whereas for a lot of years, it was the opposite.”

With Mexico looming Wednesday night in a high-profile friendly that is the last chance for players to impress before May’s pre-World Cup gathering, 19 of the 20 players available hail from MLS, a situation born of necessity – April 2 is not a FIFA fixture date, and Puebla refused to release DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco Fiscal – but also a sign that the talent pool is shifting stateside.

If Klinsmann had his way, it would almost certainly still be a European-based squad, one boasting Champions League participants. As it stands, Klinsmann will be judged in large part on the merits of MLS, as there’s a good chance the US will take the field against Ghana in Natal on June 16 with seven domestic players in the starting lineup.

“If there is an opportunity for another player in the future to play in a big club in Europe, I will tell them 'go,'” Klinsmann said. “But everyone’s situation is different, and I understand that. I take it in a positive way. If it’s Clint or it’s Michael or whoever comes back into MLS, [I’ll help] to keep that level and keep going and maybe raise the bar even more, especially now as we go into camp for the World Cup.”

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