The American Player’s Complex – Inferior Or Superior?

Written by Ian Thomson

There have been some bewildering pronouncements from American soccer stars past and present in recent weeks.

Major League Soccer’s Media Day brought a further line of head-scratching statements from United States national team midfielder Michael Bradley that hint at a complex among top American players. Whether it is one of inferiority or superiority is unclear.

Bradley recently turned his back on the stiffening challenge to procure playing time at an A.S. Roma side battling for Italy’s scudetto in favor of the on- and off-field comforts of Toronto F.C. in MLS. Yet the 26-year-old seems to believe that the game’s European elite discriminates against him and his countrymen.

“There’s no doubt that as Americans we continue to have to fight for respect,” Bradley told reporters gathered at Red Bull Arena on Monday. “We have to continue to show we have teams and players to fight at the highest level.”

American players are no different to those from any other nation in this regard. Every player in every top league must fight for the respect of his teammates, coaches and fans every single week. That is what separates the elite player from the rest – an unwavering drive to be the very best, to stay the very best, and to keep proving it among the very best.

Bradley chose to give up that fight.

Three good years with modest Dutch club Heerenveen earned Bradley a move to Bundesliga strugglers Borussia Moenchengladbach in 2008. Chievo took Bradley to Italy in 2011, and Roma acquired him the following summer after an impressive year with the Veronese club.

Bradley’s own career rise defeats his assertions. Head coaches select players based on whom they think will best help them to win games irrespective of their passports. Roma’s Rudi Garcia is no different, and the Frenchman decided more often than not to leave Bradley out of his starting line-up this season.

Princeton-born Bradley was the second U.S. national team player from the post-1994 World Cup era to earn a move to Serie A after Alexi Lalas spent 18 months with Padova in the mid-1990s. Lalas echoed Bradley’s thoughts about the plight of the American player on social media last week.

“Society, domestically and internationally, tells you that as a U.S. player you’re not as good,” said Lalas in a Twitter post.

Results tell us that U.S. players have not been as good rather than some societal slight. Not one American outfield player has carved out a career at the very highest level.

Some U.S. players have made a respectable living in Europe’s big leagues. John Harkes was part of the Sheffield Wednesday side that challenged for England’s championship in the 1991-92 season and he appeared in three Wembley cup finals for The Owls. Claudio Reyna spent 13 solid years with Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland and Manchester City. There are few Stoke City players with greater minutes on the field than Geoff Cameron since his transfer from Houston Dynamo in 2012.

The presence of a perceived stigma is further weakened by American-born and raised Giuseppe Rossi leading this season’s Serie A goalscoring table, and even by Calgary’s Owen Hargreaves winning the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

Opportunities have been presented to Americans. Too often they have not been taken. Landon Donovan opted to remain in Southern California after two decent loan spells with Everton, while national team captain Clint Dempsey snatched the Seattle Sounders’ money when his outlook at Tottenham Hotspur diminished.

It can even be argued that American hype has led to players receiving more offers from England than their talents have warranted.

Jozy Altidore was given a second chance with Sunderland despite a dismal year at Hull City that yielded one Premier League goal in 28 appearances. Tim Ream earned a move to Bolton Wanderers despite lacking the strength and courage required of a top class center-back. Brek Shea’s transfer to Stoke remains the most astonishing move of all. Shea has subsequently slipped out of the starting 11 at second-tier strugglers Barnsley after failing to make any impact during his current loan spell.

“There is still a feeling that if you can have an American or an Argentine, you’re taking the Argentine,” Bradley told reporters without offering one example of when this has occurred or being challenged to give one.

“It’s up to us to show and prove we have the players who can play at the highest level,” Bradley said.

It is a challenge that he is content to watch from the sidelines.


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