A USMNT dilemma: Start in MLS, or sit on bench in Europe?

It's one of the age-old conundrums for U.S. men's national team players: Is it better to start games in MLS, or to be with a club in Europe, even with little to no playing time?

The question reflects the constant balancing act a player must contend with throughout his career, one that elicits a steady stream of additional questions too. What stage is the player at in his career: young upstart or grizzled veteran? What's his contract situation? How important is he to the national team? How important is the national team to him? How does he find the right environment, the right playing style, the right coach and the right club?

If an American player is stuck, the decision often ends up being: Does he move to another overseas club or come home to MLS? This question is especially pertinent given the situations facing several U.S. players.

Gio Reyna endured a difficult spell on loan at Nottingham Forest, one that saw him log just 235 minutes. He is set to return to Borussia Dortmund with a giant question mark hanging over his future. Goalkeeper Matt Turner struggled for playing time at the same club. Ricardo Pepi is in a slightly better situation, but he's clearly ready to be more than just a late-game super-sub for PSV Eindhoven, even after helping them win a league title. Similar conundrums face other players in the USMNT pool.

Often there are no easy answers, but among the players and coaches ESPN talked to for this story, there seems to be a consensus: getting on the field anywhere is better than not playing. A player's technical development, mental toughness and confidence can't improve from the bench, they say.

A look at the stats, however, paints a different -- and perhaps surprising -- picture where playing time is better off viewed as an indicator of national team strength, and not a determinant. Depending on the player's position, club playing time might not matter as much as one might think.

So, with Copa América starting soon after two warm-up games against Colombia (Saturday) and Brazil (June 12), let's dig into answering this question: Is it OK for the U.S. team if Americans are not playing regularly in Europe, or should those players go where they can get minutes, even if it's stateside in MLS?