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MLS remains in identity crisis with restart

Article Written by J.R. Eskilson
Published: July 10, 2020

The MLS resumed on Wednesday night with a battle between the two Florida franchises. Orlando City prevailed with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Inter Miami. Following the return of NWSL in action in Utah, MLS is the second team sport back in play in the United States. With both of the top professional leagues in the United States now back on the field, U.S. National Team fans might start looking forward to erasing the memory of the men’s failure in 2018 and dreaming of a Men’s World Cup appearance in 2022 - fingers crossed on the timeline there. 

Those hopes were certainly buoyed when U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Greg Berhalter was shown on the sidelines of the game between Orlando City and Inter Miami. Remember the national team? Feels like years ago now. 

The coach was responsibly wearing a mask so it was hard to gauge his enjoyment of the contest, but it’s hard to imagine he was too pleased with who was on the team sheets. 

Orlando City started only two players eligible for the U.S. Men’s National Team - on the positive side Chris Mueller scored. 

Through the first two games of the #MLSisBack tournament, 16 of the 44 starters were eligible for the U.S. Men’s National Team. That percentage would put MLS slightly behind the Premier League (37%) from the the start of the 2019/2020 season. That 37% was a high for the Premier League since the 2010/2011 season. 

Comparing the two leagues is a silly exercise considering, well, everything, but it should give the perspective of what is missing from MLS - a sense of identity. 

The league has gone through many iterations. From the stars and scrubs approach to the Beckham rule to the balanced roster with a minimum salary increase, there were signs in recent years that MLS front office staffs had warmed to the idea of becoming a selling league following the success of Atlanta United - and possibly seeing the transfer fee for American Christian Pulisic. 

However, the average of Orlando City SC’s starting line up last night was nearly 28 years old. No one is commanding much of a transfer or any transfer at that stage of their career - excluding the greatest player in the world. 

It seems like many franchises treat their USL teams as the showcase/sell-on team and the MLS team as the testimonial match squad. Perhaps that may change as teams hit a crowded schedule during the tournament in Florida. 

For Berhalter who should be planning for 2022, the start of the #MLSisBack Tournament has to be a disappointment. The lack of U.S. MNT eligible players is only part of that though. The coach has to plan for the future - MLS should be doing the same. 

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