This is just a quicky, an idea I want to throw out there to see if I can’t kick up a discussion/round of speculation. For the record, watching Urawa Red Diamonds play AC Milan this morning inspired it.
Question: Is Japanese club football at a higher level than Major League Soccer (MLS)?
My answer: The way Urawa played against Milan makes me think yes. And it’s less that I think an MLS club couldn’t manage the same result than I suspect we would look at lot less polished and a lot more desperate in earning it. More to the point, whenever I watch Japanese, or even South Korean teams and players, I get the sense that they’re learning a more efficient and tactically sophisticated style of play. Add their insane fitness level and I’m to the point where I’d be less surprised at seeing Japan or South Korea win the World Cup than the United States National Team.
Fortunately, we’ll have something of a test on club side of the equation during this spring’s newly announced Pan-Pacific tournament, which will include two MLS clubs – the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo – plus one from Australia’s A-League and one from Japan’s J-League. That won’t be the best of tests, mainly because MLS’s clubs will be in preseason – early preseason, no less – and, well, LA is LA, by which I mean they’re the distracted mess from 2007 as opposed to one of their earlier incarnations. But, if my theory holds true, the Japanese team should do well in the tourney.
Against the larger theory, though, are two factors. 1) Apart from having a larger population all told, we’re making more babies than the Japanese and will have a generally younger population going forward; this augurs better for our future; the growing Hispanic/Latino influence in that population growth hardly hurts, either. 2) On the international level, we’ve held our own and, if you trust a really small sample, things might be trending our way already.
This last point is based on something less than the most thorough research – in fact, I’d love it if someone who knows where to look up the United States’ all-time record against the rest of the world would tell me where to look. But it looks like we’ve split the all-time series with Japan, losing in 1993 (referred to in an article that mentions an upcoming friendly in 2003, but we played Venezuela on the date mentioned) and beating them in a close one ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Now, it’s possible we played the Japanese “B-team” – I don’t know Japanese players well enough to say one way or the other – but, against that, we definitely played our B-team.
So, that’s a theory, one possibly informed more by impatience than reality. In any case, have at it.