One way to measure the growth of USA soccer is to see the where our top players are making their living each World Cup. Are they competing at the highest levels? We'll start from 1990, the US' first WC after a 40 year absence, and note where the 22 or 23 man squads spent the season right before each World Cup.
Edit: I've updated it after the 2010 roster was announced.
1990 22 Man Roster
Tony Meola (Virginia Univ), Kasey Keller (Portland), David Vanole (Los Angeles) - 1 College, 2 Domestic.
Steve Trittschuch (Tampa Bay), John Doyle (San Francisco), Jimmy Banks (Milwaukee), Mike Windischmann (Albany), Brian Bliss (Albany), Paul Krumpe (Chicago), Desmond Armstrong (Baltimore), Marcelo Balboa (San Diego) - 8 Domestic.
John Harkes (Albany), Tab Ramos (Miami), Eric Eichmann (Fort Lauderdale), John Stollmeyer (Washington), Bruce Murray (Washington), Chris Henderson (UCLA), Paul Caligiuri (UCLA), Neil Covone (Wake Forest Univ) - 3 College, 5 Domestic.
Chris Sullivan (Raba ETO - Hun), Peter Vermes (Volendam - Ned), Eric Wynalda (San Francisco) - 2 Europe, 1 Domestic.
Total: 2 Europe (1 Hungary, 1 Netherlands), 4 College, 16 US Domestic League
1994 WC 22 Man Roster
Tony Meola N, Brad Friedel N, Jurgen Sommer (Luton Town) 1 Europe, 2 Domestic.
Cle Kooiman (Cruz Azul), Mike Lapper N, Thomas Dooley N/Germany, Marcelo Balboa N, Paul Caligiuri N, Fernando Clavijo N, Alexi Lalas N - 1 Mexico, 6 Domestic.
John Harkes (Derby County), Tab Ramos (Real Betis), Roy Wegerle (Coventry City), Claudio Reyna N/Virginia Univ, Mike Burns N, Hugo Perez N, Cobi Jones N, Mike Sorber N - 3 Europe, 5 Domestic.
Earnie Stewart (Willem II), Eric Wynalda (FC Saarbrucken), Frank Klopas N, Joe-Max Moore N - 2 Europe, 2 Domestic.
Total: 6 Europe (3 England, 1 Germany, 1, Spain, 1 Netherlands), 1 Mexico, N (No Club team) 15 - either signed to play exclusively for USSF or in college.
1998 WC 22 Man Roster
Brad Friedel (Liverpool), Kasey Keller (Leicester City), Jurgen Sommer (Columbus) - 2 Europe, 1 MLS.
Frankie Hejduk (Tampa Bay), Eddie Pope (DC United), Mike Burns (NE Rev), Thomas Dooley (Columbus), David Regis (SC Karlsruher), Jeff Agoos (DC United), Marcelo Balboa (Colorado), Alexi Lalas (NY) - 1 Europe, 7 MLS.
Joe-Max Moore (NE Rev), Tab Ramos (NY), Cobi Jones (Galaxy), Claudio Reyna (Vfl Wolfsburg), Chad Deering (Vfl Wolfsburg), Roy Wegerle (DC United), Brian Maisonneuve (Columbus) - 2 Europe, 5 MLS.
Earnie Stewart (NAC Breda), Brian McBride (Columbus), Eric Wynalda (San Jose), Preki Radosavljevic (KC) - 1 Europe, 3 MLS.
Total: 6 Europe (2 England, 3 Germany, 1 Netherlands), 16 MLS
2002 WC 22 Man Roster
Brad Friedel (Blackburn), Kasey Keller (Tottenham), Tony Meola (KC) - 2 Europe, 1 MLS
Frankie Hejduk (Bayern Lev), Jeff Agoos (San Jose), Eddie Pope (DC United), Tony Sanneh (FC Nuremberg), Gregg Berhalter (Crystal Palace), David Regis (FC Metz), Carlos Llamosa (NE Rev), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) - 5 Europe, 3 MLS.
Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), John O'Brien (Ajax), DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago), Earnie Stewart (NEC Breda - Netherlands), Joe-Max Moore (Everton), Eddie Lewis (Fulham), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), Cobi Jones (Galaxy) - 5 Europe, 3 MLS.
Brian McBride (Columbus), Landon Donovan (San Jose), Clint Mathis (NY), Josh Wolff (Chicago) - 4 MLS.
Total: 12 Europe (6 England, 3 Germany, 2 Netherlands, 1 France), 11 MLS
2006 WC 23 Man Roster
Kasey Keller (Gladbach), Tim Howard (Man U), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading) - 3 Europe
Eddie Pope (Salt Lake), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham), Jimmy Conrad (KC), Eddie Lewis (Leeds Utd), Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus), Chris Albright (Galaxy). Cory Gibbs (ADO Den Haag) and Frankie Hejduk (MLS) both replaced by last 2 after knee injuries. - 5 Europe, 3 MLS.
Claudio Reyna (Man City), John O'Brien (Chivas USA), Landon Donovan (Galaxy), DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), Bobby Convey (Reading), Clint Dempsey (NE Revs), Ben Olsen (DC United) - 4 Europe, 5 MLS.
Brian McBride (Fulham), Eddie Johnson (KC), Brian Ching (Houston), Josh Wolff (KC) - 1 Europe, 2 MLS
Total: 12 Europe (7 England, 3 Germany, 1 Belgium, 1 Netherlands), 11 MLS
2010 WC 23 Man Roster
Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) - 3 Europe
Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Jonathan Spector (West Ham), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) and Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA) - 6 Europe, 1 MLS
Landon Donovan (Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Michael Bradley (Gladbach), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus) and Francisco Torres (Pachuca), DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers) - 7 Europe, 1 Mexico, 1 MLS
Josimer Altidore (Hull City), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Edson Buddle (Galaxy), Robbie Findley (Salt Lake) - 1 Europe, 1 Mexico, 2 MLS
Total: 17 Europe (8 England, 3 Germany, 2 Scotland, 1 Italy, 1 France, 1 Norway, 1 Denmark), 2 Mexico, 4 MLS
In 1990, we had 2 players in Europe, 4 college players and 16 in the domestic league at the time, which, for our purposes, is comparable to the MLS as its forerunner. Result: 1st round exit.
In 1994, we had 6 in Europe, 1 in Mexico, and 15 under contract with the USSF. (Apparently in the early nineties, the US Soccer Federation began signing some of the top US players to exclusive contracts to compete for the US. Some were loaned by the USSF to European clubs as well.) For our purposes, we'll equate the 15 to the MLS. Result: 2nd round.
In 1998, we had 6 in Europe and 16 in the MLS (1995 is its inaugural season). Result: 1st round exit.
In 2002, we had 12 in Europe and 11 in the MLS. Result: 3rd round.
In 2006, we had 12 in Europe and 11 in the MLS. Result: 1st round exit.
This year, we will have 17 Europe, 2 Mexico, and 4 MLS.
So if you look at the stats, we significantly increased our number of European players (to 6) from 1990-94 and we had a successful WC. From 1994-98, the number of Europeans stayed the same, and we subsequently exited 1st round.
From 1998-2002, we doubled our Europeans (to 12), and we again had a successful WC 02. From 02-06, our number of Europeans stayed the same - 1st round exit.
From 06-10, we will increase our number of Europeans up to 17 out of the 23. In 2006, while we had about the same number of European players (12) to MLSers (11), we will only have 4 from MLS this time. So what's this all mean? I dunno, but I can't wait for June!
Yes, I'm making a lot of broad assumptions here. I'm assuming that all these European leagues are superior to the MLS, which isn't necessarily true. I'm overlooking the fact that many players in Europe were playing in the 2nd division or worse at the time. (And no, I'm not taking the time to find out. I'm also not taking the time to debate or compare a 2nd division to the MLS). I also am not looking at those playing in non-US and non-European clubs, which would be Mexico. Of course someone playing in Mexico in the early 90s was definitely at a level higher than the MLS but they're excluded from this research because 1) the Mexican league is not necessarily better than the MLS now, while top tier Euro leagues definitely still are and 2) its just too small a sample size (2 or 3 players). And yes, I know that Landon is possibly our best field player and has been in the MLS the entire time.
1990 - 1 College, 2 Domestic
1994 - 1 Europe, 2 Domestic
1998 - 2 Europe, 1 MLS
2002 - 2 Europe, 1 MLS
2006 - 3 Europe
2010 - 3 Europe
Our strongest position through the years.
1990 - 8 Domestic
1994 - 1 Mexico, 6 Domestic
1998 - 1 Europe, 7 MLS
2002 - 5 Europe, 3 MLS
2006 - 5 Europe, 3 MLS
2010 - 6 Europe, 1 MLS
A big jump in Euro defenders in 2002.
1990 - 3 College, 5 Domestic
1994 - 3 Europe, 5 Domestic
1998 - 2 Europe, 5 MLS
2002 - 5 Europe, 3 MLS
2006 - 4 Europe, 5 MLS
2010 - 7 Europe, 1 Mexico, 1 MLS
We seemed to have taken a small step backwards in 2006 but we're back on track this year.
1990 - 2 Europe, 1 Domestic
1994 - 2 Europe, 2 Domestic
1998 - 1 Europe, 3 MLS
2002 - 4 MLS
2006 - 1 Europe, 2 MLS
2010 - 1 Europe, 1 Mexico, 2 MLS
In contrast to GKs, this is obviously our weakest position. You could argue that this year our Euro striker, Jozy, is not as strong as the Wynalda or McBrides of past WCs. Also, interestingly, our best showing was in 2002 when we brought 4 MLS strikers.