Saturday, December 25, 2010

Message From a Long Time Season Ticket Holder

I had a long time season ticket holder email me about a comment that I made on Bigsoccer about Robb Heineman's comment with regards to the roster and the lack of American players it seems like we're going after. The STH asked if I could post this for them. Have a Merry Christmas everyone, enjoy.

I am not often inspired to write on player matters of our club, but kuhnscoot/Down the Byline's post on BigSoccer about his father's concerns provided just such an inspiration.

Briefly summarized, he mentioned that his father (like myself, a long-time season ticket holder) expressed concern that next year's roster could have less of an American influence as ever, with as few as 3 or 4 starters coming from our shores.

First, is that correct? As of today, the following players would probably comprise our starting lineup:

Omar Bravo
Ryan Smith
Kei Kamara
Stephane Auvray
Craig Rocastle
Davy Arnaud
Michael Harrington
Roger Espinoza
Matt Besler
CB to be named later, but let's roll with Shavar Thomas
Jimmy Nielsen

I suppose Teal Bunbury could start at the expense of one of the attacking players above, but, either way, you're looking at only three or four players who are currently eligible for the USA. Ryan Smith could become eligible at some point. Matt Besler, the most local of all our current options, is also decidedly penciled in rather than written on the team sheet in permanent marker.

Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza could both have pursued the route of playing for the US; both went to high school and college in the US, and both are much more products of the US than Smith, but the fact is that both chose to accept the offer to play for their homelands instead. As such, those who wish to deem them “foreign players” aren't all wet, even if they don't count against our international roster spots; after all, there is a special thrill that comes from seeing our
boys pulling on the US shirt, and that will never happen with those two.

The “club vs. country” debate is one that rages on message boards and in pubs worldwide. I haven't asked him about it specifically, but from reading his writing, I would imagine the owner of this blog is in the same camp that I am; namely, that, in principle, it doesn't much matter to us what shirt a player wears in international play as long as they perform with honor and pride in KC colors. After all, what player was more beloved in Wizards history for his unquestioned effort
and desire to play for the badge than Mo Johnston (oh, the irony!)?

Yet, how do we as American soccer fans balance our competing desires for the best possible team on the field and also the possibility of seeing them play for the USA? Or to know that our players have experiences and that are something akin to ours...namely, the burning hope that the US one day wins a World Cup?

A few different ways to look at it:
--Vermes and co. have as their job to put the best possible team on the field. Their job is not to produce players for the US National Team, no matter how much we as fans enjoy it, or even how much pride it gives them to see our boys put on the US jersey.

--I'm not wholly convinced that there's anything about an average American player that makes them any more devoted to our club in particular than any given foreign signing. Actually, it isn't that I'm not wholly convinced, it's that I genuinely don't believe it. I've seen nothing over the years that made me think players from California innately cared more about playing for us than players from Caledonia, Kinshasa or Qatar. After all, who are the regular players that have actually put down roots here that have extended/look to extend past their playing days? Other than the obvious examples of Peter Vermes and Kerry Zavagnin, Nick Garcia and Paul Rideout come most firmly to mind, and they came here in completely different ways from completely
different places, Nick being a US college players that played most of his career here, and Paul having just played a few twilight years here during a three-continent journeyman career. Maybe it means something that both have families and are from solidly middle-class backgrounds, but I'm just throwing darts.

--The short term. In a short-term mode, it is very difficult to improve your squad by adding American players, because the most likely means of acquiring American players (trades) are a two-way street. Most of the better American players are either in MLS already, thus requiring a willing trade partner and giving up materiel to obtain those players, which is possibly counterproductive, or they are overseas. Further, signing American players from abroad may not be good value for money, given that our immediate competition perceives those same advantages (no foreign roster spot taken, easier cultural integration, possible better marketing potential, and so on). Our team absolutely should pursue Americans abroad, but probably shouldn't pay over the odds for them, so as not to impact...

--The medium term. Our team has to set itself up for the next several years of success, and one good way of doing so is by maintaining roster/cap flexibility. We can't bog ourselves down in too many long-term deals, and most of the US players of proven quality coming back demand just that, complete with the elevated price of the home player compared to his value on the open world market. So, if you believe that:

PV, Robb and friends have it as their duty to put the best team on the field in both the short and medium terms. Also, insofar as there is any exclusivity, putting Americans on the field should never come at the expense of winning. And if you agree, at least on some level, that there isn't much distinction between the desire to perform and become part of our club between non-KC Americans and foreigners, then the only way to get what I think we all want (players with a connection to the club who can contribute to the US) is...

--The long term. That's the academy. We need to develop and promote academy players, and along the way instill in them pride in our club and our community. Jon Kempin is a great start, and nothing would make me happier than to see him take over when Casino Jimmy's contract expires in two years (?). Konner Knoll would be cool because he's a regional player (Wichita) long as he's good enough, of course. Jordy Rideout has the air of a pro about him, even though he isn't a standout athlete. I hear lots of whispers about some of the younger Juniors teams being a quantum leap of advancement in terms of individual potential, but until we see them for ourselves, the whispers are just that.

In short, I think the original kernel of thought here was right – namely, that next season will probably represent a trough, or close to it, in the number of US-eligible players getting regular time for our club. Further, I think all of us agree that we want more guys who are dedicated to the club; there's a real team-building aspect to the psychology of winning. I just hope we all can see that dedication to our club and region should not be prejudged based on nationality, that it is ideal that winning, talented players are also those that see our club as a part of a bigger picture, and that the only true route to that is through the continued improvement in our academy/Juniors programs. I'm beyond excited to see where this road takes us.

- Long Time Season Ticket Holder

1 comment:

Drew Farmer said...

I don't think it's a big deal if there are a lack of US born/green card holders/passport holders on the team. I do have a problem if there is American talent (and there is) that is being pushed aside for foreign talent. I've argued for a long long time that there is very good USA (and foreign) talent in the NASL and USL leagues that could be signed. However, I'm going back to an argument I've long had. MLS and MLS teams tend to sign Central and South Americans not because they're any better than their US peers (in some cases yes they are but not always) but they sign them for marketing reasons. Many teams assume people of Hispanic backgrounds will come to MLS games if their countrymen are playing in the games. This was true with Blanco in Chicago, but players like Christian Castillo in DC didn't bring anymore people out.
Again I have no problem with KC or any team having more foreign players than US born players, but I do have a problem if there are better US players not getting a chance. It will hurt the domestic league and player development.