Osorio impressed with MLS' progress, wants Mexico's best in Europe

German Alegria-USA TODAY Sports

Previously dismissive of Liga MX's rival league, Mexico's coach clarified his views, saying MLS is fine for his players that aren't in Europe.

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LOS ANGELES -- Juan Carlos Osorio says he's a fan of Major League Soccer, believes its progress on the field will continue as clubs bring in foreign coaches with different philosophies, and says the league's work off the field should “be a model to be followed by many, many other countries.”

That said, given a choice, he'd rather his players find jobs in Europe.

I have the utmost respect for United States, not only as a country, but also for MLS as a league ... I never really meant to say that MLS is a second-tier league.

The Mexican men’s national team coach has MLS experience as an assistant coach under new Canada boss Octavio Zambrano with the MetroStars in 2000-01, and he served as head coach of the Chicago Fire in 2007 and New York Red Bulls in 2008-09. But he came off as dismissive of the league in a January interview with Mexican national daily newspaper Excelsior, claiming MLS “at this time is for the end of a career and not [for a player who] still has much to give.”

Asked about MLS on Tuesday, he was far more complimentary.

“I think that MLS has made big progress,” Osorio told FourFourTwo. “On the field, I think the quality is improving. It's a very athletic league, very competitive, and is fun to watch ... It's very entertaining. Teams play to attack. Very dynamic, and I think a lot of action in the boxes. In general, very good entertainment.”

Osorio, in Southern California to tour upcoming MLS club Los Angeles FC's facilities, and promote El Tri's Coliseum friendly May 27 against Croatia, is more impressed by the advances the league has made off the field.

“Outside the field, I think MLS is the league to be a model to be followed by many, many other countries,” he said. “The amount of stadiums -- soccer stadiums, football stadiums -- is just unbelievable. Every single year when I come to the United States to visit or on vacation with my family or for any invitation, I'm always surprised by a new stadiums.

“And this particular one [Banc of California], the one that we were exposed to today, the LAFC [stadium], goes to show you the improvement in the league. [It's] a football stadium that will be a fantastic venue to play football, and I can just imagine the atmosphere that will create because of the proximity between the fans and the players.”

When the players come [to MLS], they become stronger, they become more athletic, they improve the football ...

Osorio said he was thankful for the “opportunity to clarify” his remarks in Excelsior.

“I have the utmost respect for the United States, not only as a country but also for MLS as a league,” he said. “I coached here. I went to university here. I got my education here. Than I went to coach in other countries, and I came back here. So I never really meant to say that MLS is a second-tier league.

“What I did say, and I still say, is that if any Mexican player -- whether he's playing in Mexico or playing in Argentina or playing in the MLS -- asked me where he should try to go and play, my answer would be Europe. And I will probably even say if I ever had the chance to tell any American player where he should be looking to play his football, I would say play in Europe. Simply because Europe is the aim for every single player in the world ... because the quality of the European leagues, the competition, it would help any player to develop and become a better player.”

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Osorio said that once a player has hit 30 and has a family, once “your responsibilities change and now you have to raise kids and do other things,” then a move back home, to Mexico or MLS, makes sense.

“Like Rafael Marquez did for Mexico, he came back and he's trying to finish his career in Mexico. That is normal. A lot of players do it, and I understand it,” he said. “In conclusion, what I want to say is that although MLS is a reputable league, a very competitive league, if I have a choice for my players to play, I would say try to play in Europe. And when you're in the last part of your career, you want to come and play in a very competitive league where you can have a [good] quality of life, secure your home [and] your family, then United States is a very good league [to play in].”

In MLS, I would say that there is a certain way of playing and a certain structure that most teams identify with .... in Mexico, the variety is wider.

MLS has been home for many Mexican stars -- including Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Rafael Marquez, Claudio Suarez, Jorge Campos, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Hermosillo, Ramon Ramirez and Gonzalo Pineda, who came to the league later in their careers -- and includes has two players in Mexico's current national team pool: LA Galaxy forward Giovani Dos Santos, 27, and Houston Dynamo forward Erick “Cubo” Torres, 24.

Dos Santos, of course, has been a key player for El Tri, at times. Torres has seen limited time with the national team. Osorio said he's fine with both of them playing in MLS.

“I respect this league. I think it's a very reputable league, and Giovani, for instance, when he's healthy, he has been selected for the national team,” Osorio said. “So I have no qualms over any player that wants to play his football in the MLS.

“I do think that when the players come here, they become stronger, they become more athletic, they improve the football, and, hopefully, that will be the case not just for Giovani and Cubo, but for any other Mexican players that come into the league.”

Osorio, who played in his native Colombia and Brazil, agreed that a shift in emphasis to younger foreign players, many approaching or just hitting their primes, has led to advances in MLS play. There is still much room for growth, and first-year club Atlanta United has shown a path forward by bringing in former Barcelona coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

“I think that [the game technically and tactically] will improve if the mentality of new franchises and new expansion teams are to bring other types of coaches, because, historically, the top countries around the world have played their own brand of football ...,” he said. “If somebody brings a Dutch coach, they will probably play 4-3-3. That doesn't mean that all coaches should be playing in that system, but it will definitely strengthen MLS, tactically speaking, because then the other teams have to adjust to a new structure of play, a new idea of playing and a new tactical structure. And if you bring a Brazilian coach, he would probably bring a different accent to the game. And so on and so forth.

“Adding to a good amount of good coaches that are working in MLS, if they want to strength that soccer as a game, then the variety [in coaching philosophies] should be a factor to be considered.”

That's the primary lesson MLS can learn from Liga MX, he said.

“In MLS, I would say that there is a certain way of playing and a certain structure that most teams identify with,” he said. “Whereas in Mexico, the variety is wider. There are many more teams playing different ways, and at the end of the day, that turned out to be better for the game, for the entertainment, and for the spectacle.”

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Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.