Sports Lounge.eps

Editor's note: The San Jose Earthquakes qualified for the MLS playoffs with its 3-2 win over LAFC, making the season finale against Seattle not having an impact on San Jose's playoff chances.

I’ve taken shots at Major League Soccer over the years, but the truth is, it has developed into a world-class league and a destination for players from around the world. Whether used as a stepping stone to bigger and better things or a final stop on a world-class career, MLS has developed into the solid domestic league the country has needed for the sport to succeed in the United States.

That being said, I’m glad to see U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Greg Berhalter going to an all-European based roster for a couple of upcoming friendlies against Wales and Panama because this is the kind of collection of talent that can do some damage on the international level.

And it’s a who’s who of the best the U.S. has had to offer in a generation. While 10 of the players on the roster will be making their first national team appearance, you can’t help but dream of what this team might accomplish in the coming years because this team should take up the baton left by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

Two generations ago, American soccer players in Europe were mostly seen, but not heard. There were a few field players who got some run, but most of the playing time came from American goalkeepers.

The last generation started working their way into starting rotations at lower-level clubs or seeing second-half or spotty playing time with bigger teams, with most of those American stars returning to, and shining in, MLS.

Many critics still look for American players to defer to the supposedly superior European players, but this current generation is stepping up and making big contributions at some of the biggest clubs in the world. Christian Pulisic, the current face of U.S. soccer, was handed the No. 10 jersey by world-renowned Chelsea in the English Premier League and is becoming one of the best attacking players in the EPL.

Pulisic is 22 years old and one of the most dynamic players in the world right now — when he’s healthy, which is a story for another time.

Weston McKennie, who has been developing in the German Bundesliga for the last several years, shocked the soccer world when he was loaned to Italian power Juventus and has already moved into the lineup.

McKennie is 22 and is developing into one of the top all-around midfielders in the world.

Segiño Dest, who chose to represent the U.S. over The Netherlands at the international level, is currently seeing action with Barcelona.

Dest is 20 and turning into a world-class attacking fullback.

Gio Reyna made the move to Borussia Dortmund, where Pulisic got his start, and is already drawing comparisons to his famous father, former USNT star midfielder Claudio Reyna.

Gio Reyna is soon to be only 18 years old and is showing to be more of a scorer than his old man.

Twenty-year-old strikers Josh Sargent and Tim Weah are also part of the “Now Generation.” Sargent is a regular starter for German side Werder Breman, while Weah is looking to recapture his 2018-19 form after being plagued by injuries last season in the French first division.

I’ve always believed for the U.S. to make any real progress at the World Cup level, they needed more players playing in the best leagues in the world. Now, the USMNT has a roster’s-worth of European-based talent. It’s time for the U.S. to finally enter the elite level of world soccer.

***

The start of the MLS soccer playoffs is a little more than two weeks away and the Bay Area’s San Jose Earthquakes are in line to make the postseason for the first time since 2017 and only the second time since 2012.

The Quakes still have some work to do, however. The good news is San Jose controls its own destiny. The simple math is win both games — hosting LAFC in a make-up game Wednesday and at Seattle Sunday — and the Quakes are in.

As long as they don’t lose both games, they should still have enough to get into the postseason. But if recent results prove anything, it’s that the Quakes are about what their records says they are — and at 7-6-8 (using the world standard of wins-draws-losses), that’s an average team. Over their last 10 games, the Quakes are 5-1-4 and 2-1-2 over their last five games. In the most recent games against LAFC and Seattle, San Jose has a win (2-1 over LA) and a tie (a scoreless draw against the Sounders).

Because the pandemic shut down MLS early in the season and as the virus continues to affect all professional sports, MLS decided to change its playoff criteria. Normally, teams simply add up their total points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie) and the top seven teams in each division get in.

This year, since not every team will play a full slate of games, MLS will take the number of points and divide it by games played, with the top eight teams in the Western Division qualifying for the playoffs. To that end, the Quakes are currently in eighth place in the Western Division — the final playoff spot with these final two games remaining.

Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: nathan@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117.

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