Marcelo Balboa, United States
Marcelo Balboa represented the United States in three different World Cups (1990, 1994 and 1998) and became the first player to play 100 games for the USMNT Via @marcelobalboa17 on X/Twitter

SEATTLE - It's been more than two decades since Marcelo Balboa retired from professional soccer, but the former defender remains as one of the most influential figures in the U.S. Soccer landscape.

The first player to represent the United States national team in 100 games, Balboa is a two-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year and had the privilege to play for the USMNT at three different World Cups. He was also part of the 1995 team that represented the United States at Copa América.

After a successful soccer career, Balboa took his talents to the broadcasting boot and has turn into one of the authorized voices of MLS and American soccer. He sat down with The Latin Times to share his thoughts about the USMNT, the upcoming Copa América and the present day of Major League Soccer.

On the importance of playing at Copa América 2024...

"It's a huge tournament for us to be able to play in and to test ourselves. Since we do not have any World Cup Qualifiers this time around it will be a good test for us to see where we stand on"

On the ceiling of this USMNT team ahead of Copa América 2024...

"You can't put a ceiling on anything. The only thing that you can put a ceiling on is a house. When you are talking about a sports team, how could you put a ceiling like that? It is simple, the ceiling for this team is winning Copa América or winning the World Cup. Are we good enough to win Copa América? I guess we will find out in 30 days how good this team is and where it stands.

On the impact hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup had in the United States...

"The World Cup opened a lot of people's eyes of what the world's game is. I think it is still the most attended World Cup ever! Look at how much soccer has grown here since 1994...we went from a small group of MLS teams to now ex basketball players and billionaires trying to get into the game of soccer. The upcoming World Cup in 2026 will be able to celebrate what U.S. Soccer has been pushing for a very long time," Balboa said.

On his memories from playing at Copa América 1995...

"It was one of the first times we got to play just Central American and South American teams. The atmosphere and everything was different. For us it was something special because no one gave us a chance. We had a good World Cup in 1994 and nobody knew what to expect. The tournament in 1995 showed that we could compete in South America.

Iconic Players: Marcelo Balboa - Via Colorado Rapids on YouTube

A new era in U.S. Soccer

Balboa was part of the first generation of soccer players that took the United States to the international level. He said that, without a doubt, the current team is the most talented in U.S. history and its their turn to take American soccer to yet another level.

On the impact the early generations had on soccer in the United States...

"We laid out a strong foundation for MLS and for U.S. Soccer and the new generations are doing the same. It is time for this group to take it to another level. This current squad is probably the most talented team we have seen and MLS is at a point where you got the best player in the world playing in it. You know where soccer stands when you got former athletes from other sports investing and wanting to be owners in soccer."

On his expectations for the United States during Copa América 2024...

"Nothing less than a quarterfinal. I think they can reach the semifinals. Expectations are high. I think this is a group well capable of making the semifinal."

MLS keeps on growing

Balboa also talked about the growth MLS has had in recent years. He joined the league in 1996 and quickly became a household name for the Colorado Rapids. Almost 20 years later, Balboa said that MLS is living a different reality than when he was playing.

On what he makes of the present state of MLS...

"Enjoy it!. Listen, who would have ever thought that, besides David Beckham, Lionel Messi would come to the United States and play? Apple has done a great job as people all over the world can watch these games. I think it is a great moment for MLS but we have to capitalize on it. Keep pushing on. Messi is helping the league at opening people's eyes of what MLS is and what it could be."

On more Americans moving to Europe...

"It is part of a project that started back in 2018 when we got the worst result in U.S. Soccer history by not qualifying to the World Cup. From that point forward, the new plan was very simple: get rid of the old regime and start looking for as many young, talented players we could and give them as much experience as possible. The move made in 2018 was a step backwards, but sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two steps forward. Look at the team we have now, you have players playing all over Europe.

On the changes he would like to see MLS make moving forward...

"A lot of people would like to see us go to an European calendar instead of playing from February to November or December. I think that is the main one since it would match with the transfer windows, the international windows, etc." Balboa said.

"I would love to say we could have relegation, because when I played in Mexico, relegation fuels you pretty good every weekend when you know you are towards the bottom and you know you might get relegated to the second division, that is always a big bonus. Those are the two things I would love to see being worked on over the next few years. I can't see relegation being introduced any time soon but moving to an European calendar might work."

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