Playing The Percentages
About 60% of those on the current list of MLS players are American-born. I wondered how that compared to the NASL. Taking a quick snapshot of three specific seasons in NASL history (each five years apart), I came up with the following quick chart:
|USA||59 (20%)||102 (19%)||39 (21%)|
|Canada||10 (3%)||32 (6%)||25 (13%)|
|UK||103 (35%)||162 (30%)||49 (26%)|
|Other||120 (41%)||239 (45%)||76 (40%)|
The percentage of American players (and I used American-born when possible – the NASL had a fairly-significant number of naturalized US citizens as well, as we’ll see in a minute) remained fairly constant in those snapshots at around 20%. But the percentage of Canadian players went from 3% in 1974 to 13% a decade later (with two teams in Canada in both of those years – Toronto and Vancouver). It may not be a coincidence that Canada qualified for its only World Cup in 1986, as 17 of the 22 players on that squad played in the NASL.
Anyone who followed the NASL knows there was significant UK (especially English) representation (basically the reason we play in the summer is because of the number of players we needed to import during Europe’s off-season just to fill out rosters). That percentage dropped a bit over the course of this quick study, from 35% in 1974 to just 26% in 1984. Meanwhile, the percentage of players from elsewhere (South America, substantially) remained fairly constant.
That was just a quick snapshot based on pure numbers of rostered players, but I wanted to go a little bit deeper. The 1982 NASL season is one for which I have minutes played stats for everybody, so I wanted to check to see if Americans were just tokens or if they were playing substantial roles (keep in mind the NASL had fluctuating requirements for how many North Americans had to be on the field at all times, but there was always a requirement of at least a handful).
Looking at it by minutes played, the 1982 NASL season broke down thusly (with teams ranked by their percentage of minutes played by US-born players):
|Team||#||USA Min||Total Min||USA Pct.|
(The team totals of US-born players add to 49, but five players spent time with more than one team. There were only 44 American-born players in the NASL in 1982, though there were another 22 who were naturalized citizens.)
So, in all, about 14% of the available minutes went to American-born players.
Chicago led the way with eight American-born players, but only three were regulars (Rudy Glenn, Mark Simanton and Charlie Fajkus).
The Tulsa Roughnecks had six Yanks, including three who played substantial roles in goalkeeper Winston DuBose, forward Tim Twellman – Taylor‘s dad -and defender Don Droege. Twellman actually ended up in Chicago via a midseason trade.
And here were the top 10 American-born players in terms of minutes played:
|2||Mike Hunter||D||San Jose||23||2,817|
|8||Bruce Savage||D||Ft. Lauderdale||21||2,325|
|9||Dan Cantner||D||Ft. Lauderdale||20||2,240|
You have to remember two things – had the NASL not had a quota system (which varied from year to year, but was gradually increasing, in general) mandating a certain number of North Americans on the field at all times, the numbers would probably be lower. We didn’t have a lot of guys who could actually play. And MLS has gone the other way – limiting the number of foreign players (without green cards) who can be on a roster, which tends to boost the numbers.
Are there more quality American players now than in 1982? No question (there’d better be, after nearly 30 years of development). Is MLS too Americanized? That’s for you to decide, I guess.