There was nothing particularly pretty about the point the United States stole from Mexico on Tuesday in a scoreless at Azteca Stadium. The U.S. was out shot 19-1 and easily could have given up a few goals if not for some spectacular goalkeeping and the referee swallowing his whistle on a couple occasions. It was a historical moment, to be sure, but it was ugly.
Glorious? Sure, if you've ever casually appreciated a Lee Greenwood tune. But nothing to get overly pompous about.
There was at least one note from the game that should make the defenders of American soccer proud though: Everyone who played spent at least some time in MLS.
Sure, that's happened before. At least as recently as Sept. 7, 2005, against Guatemala, all 14 players used by the United States national team in a World Cup qualifier had played in MLS. I'm sure if you go back to the 1998 qualifying campaign, you'd find even more examples.
But this was a little different, I'll argue.
The match against Guatemala in 2005 was a World Cup qualifier in name only. The U.S. had already secured a spot in Germany and were heading into that match with a 6-1-1 Hexagonal record. They were also coming off an emotional 2-0 win over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, just a few days prior.
The team Bruce Arena rolled out was a shell of the one that beat Mexico. Not a single starter from the Mexico game started against Guatemala, only four of them were even on the bench and Landon Donovan and Steve Ralston were the only two to play in both games.
At best, the match could be called an audition for the guys on the fringe and only nine of the players on the 18-man roster that night even made the United States' 23-man World Cup roster.
It remains to be seen how many players from Tuesday's match will ultimately become national team fixtures, but we know that it was a very different kind of match. Whether or not Jurgen Klinsmann's hand was somewhat forced by circumstances, the reality is that players with MLS pedigree were the ones that carried the day.
The Man of the Match was undeniably LA Galaxy man Omar Gonzalez. The center back was a beast in the middle, logging seven clearances, five recoveries and four interceptions. He was partnered with Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. Besler wasn't nearly as dominant, but he stood up just fine despite heading into the match with only a single international cap. It wasn't the first time that the USMNT defense was anchored by a pair of current MLS center backs, but it was the most important game in which that has happened since probably the 2002 qualifying cycle.
That a pair of MLS players stood up so well in arguably the toughest environment CONCACAF has to offer says much about how far MLS has come. Defense has usually been one area that the U.S. has looked abroad to fill. Guys like Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector and Steven Cherundolo have never played a single minute in MLS, while the likes of Jay DeMerit and Gregg Berhalter didn't play in MLS until after their USMNT stints.
In the past, that made a lot of sense. As talented as American-born defenders may have been, they weren't getting tested at a high enough level in MLS. The league is obviously physical, but the attacking prowess has sometimes been lacking.
That seems to have slowly started to change in recent years. Whether it's foreigners like Fredy Montero and David Ferreira, veterans like Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane or even guys like Chris Wondolowski or Eddie Johnson, MLS defenders are getting tested by high quality attackers.
When the final roster comes out, it's entirely possible that a few non-MLS players will help fill out the defense. Timothy Chandler and Fabian Johnson may even be the starters at fullback, two players who have barely spent time in the United States let alone MLS. Jermaine Jones falls into the same camp. But there's a good chance that as many as 20 of the 23 players brought to Brazil will have spent at least some time here. That would be a record.
No, MLS is not and is not poised to be one of the elite leagues in the world. But when it was founded, the goal was to help build the foundation for the national team. That's exactly what's happening. Finally.