By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 29, 2016) US Soccer Players – It doesn’t take much to imagine Don Garber, sitting at his desk at MLS headquarters in New York, shaking his fist his yelling “OSORIO!” to no one in particular as he read the recent comments from Mexico National Team coach Juan Carlos Osorio. The former Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls manager went public with what might be a reasonable stance on the league. That still makes MLS look bad when blasted into the news cycle via an incendiary headline.
As if Garber doesn’t have enough to deal with considering Jurgen Klinsmann’s well-known antipathy for some things Major League Soccer. Adding the boss of El Tri to the list of critics, just as MLS is pushing to attract dynamic Mexican players in their prime, is salt in an open wound.
Rather than cite one of the numerous headlines, all of which amounted to a variation on the theme “Osorio slams MLS”, it’s better to look at the original (translated) quote.
“I believe that when a footballer is in his peak he should play in Europe and not MLS,” Osorio said in a recent interview with Mexican outlet Excelsior. “[MLS] is for the end of a career and not for when a footballer still has a lot to give.”
Osorio, like Klinsmann, is responsible for putting together a team to win games at the international level. Osorio, like Klinsmann, views “Europe” as the pinnacle of the club game. Osorio, like Klinsmann, believes playing in “Europe” gets players to their highest level. The one that would then presumably help the national team win games.
Both Osorio and Klinsmann are guilty of conflating the word “Europe” with the recognized top leagues in the world, but we’ll give them a pass. In the shorthand of world soccer, “Europe” very rarely means leagues in countries outside of Germany, England, Spain, Italy, and perhaps France, and it almost never means a second division in any country. When Osorio says Europe, we mostly knows what he means. The same goes for Klinsmann, who most recently played a role in getting Jordan Morris to test out European waters with a trial at Werder Bremen.
MLS has already snagged one in-his-prime Mexican international in Giovani Dos Santos and is reportedly making a serious effort to attract names like Carlos Vela and Alan Pulido to the League. Osorio’s comments severely undermine the push to bring those players to MLS because Osorio dictates their immediate national team prospects. There’s already speculation that Dos Santos’s absence from El Tri is down in part to his joining the Galaxy last year.
Osorio doesn’t have the same pressure to support MLS that Klinsmann does, but the drama is playing out in an eerily similar manner to that of his USMNT colleague. After Osorio’s initial comments caused a stir–and provided plenty of ammunition for the anti-MLS crowd both here and south of the border–the Colombian coach attempted to “clarify” his position by explaining that he wouldn’t rule out an MLS-based player from the national team. He simply prefers that the best of Mexico play in Europe while at the height of their powers.
“I did say that for any player the ultimate goal, especially at their peak, should be playing in Europe,” Osorio told Ives Galarcep at Goal USA. “This goes for any league in the Americas, whether it’s MLS, the Mexican league, Brazilian league, Argentinian league or any other. I have never said that I won’t call in players from MLS. Any suggestion of that idea is false. I would never ignore a player because of the league they play in.”
From there, the rhetoric settled into the same tone that Klinsmann used. Osorio “respects MLS” and spoke of the League “improving.” He made sure to highlight the difficulty – read competitiveness – of the league. A man who once coached in MLS and no doubt still maintains many connections to it felt the need to provide further context to his previous comments. Not just because of those connections, but because he likely understands that MLS will only be home to more Mexican internationals (and potential internationals) in the future.
Note that Osorio also chose to lump Mexico’s own league in with the batch that includes MLS. That’s another comment that puts him squarely in line with Klinsmann as a coach who wants his best players in Europe, not in their domestic league. The message isn’t as forceful as the one he and Klinsmann sent about MLS, but it’s there, hanging in the air. Mexico might be ahead of MLS, but the head coach of the country’s national team still feels comfortable telling players to jump across the ocean.
As a foreign coach, Osorio has a bit more freedom to point to Europe rather than Liga MX as the best situation for Mexico players in their prime. Like Klinsmann, Osorio doesn’t feel any particular loyalty to the league of the country he coaches. He bring an outsider’s mentality to a job long held by Mexicans who might not have felt comfortable biting the hand that would one day probably need to feed them again. Though Osorio must be careful because of the way the Mexican National Team head coach is hired and fired (on the whims of the collective group of Mexican league owners), his attitude is less provincial.
Whether or not Osorio’s comments have an effect on Liga MX players is an open question. However, there’s little doubt it will have at least a short-term impact on Major League Soccer. Mexican players who might follow the money to MLS will think twice if their spot on the national team is in jeopardy.
Like Klinsmann, Osorio said he would not pass over a player for selection if he was playing in MLS. But until he proves it, Garber and his bosses have reason to worry that the head coach of the Mexican national team just blocked their chances with a talented group of players who could help change the face of Major League Soccer.
More From Jason Davis: