Brazil 2014: Who will be missing from MLS and for how long?
OTF’s Austin Fido takes a look at who MLS will be missing, and for how long, in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup…
First, credit to MLS for getting the 2014 schedule out before the end of last year. The league takes a well-deserved battering when it gets things wrong (please, please, figure out the schedule for next season’s playoffs before they actually begin), so it’s only fair to say thank you and well done when it gets something right.
Thanks to the
early sensibly-timed release of the schedule, we have known for several months the league will take a two-week break during the World Cup group stage. On June 11th, the day before the tournament kicks off in Brazil, Portland will host Dallas in the last regular season fixture until June 25th, when Montreal is scheduled to visit Vancouver.
In the interim, we will enjoy the opening skirmishes of football’s premier international tournament before MLS returns to compete for our attention during the knockout rounds. Since we’ve known this for a while, we are reconciled to the fact that some of the league’s bigger stars (Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, et al.) will be away from their respective clubs for as long as they can keep their World Cup fortunes alive. Good luck to ‘em.
But, perhaps you’re unaware that MLS national team pool players (regardless of which country they represent) will also be away for a little while before the league’s official break: half of May and almost the whole of June, regardless of whether their respective teams make it out of the group stage. Have a gander at article 10 of section 29 of FIFA’s behemoth document of regulations governing the competition in Brazil:
The regulations are silent on the subject of what happens to the seven players who don’t make the cut for their team’s final 23-man squad, because they assume there won’t be any club matches ongoing. One or two teams in MLS will have to cope with the irritation of losing a key player to the FIFA-mandated rest period, despite clear knowledge they’ll be cut by the June 2nd deadline for the naming of final squads.
However, since replacements for injured players can be called up any time up to 24 hours before a team’s opening World Cup match, and need not be on the 30-man “release list”, it will be particularly interesting for MLS and USMNT fans to see how Klinsi treats his preliminary squad announcement.
The primary purpose of the 30-man list is to keep potential squad members from jetting off on vacation, but Jurgie will have no such worries about MLS players. A preliminary list padded with guys based in Europe or LigaMX would be considerate to MLS, and Klinsi has generally played nice with his domestic top flight.
Still, that’s a second-guess too far for this analysis, which is already burdened by the fact that MLS is currently in preseason mode, squads are in flux, and the USMNT January camp may have catapulted one or two hitherto unfancied names into this summer’s mix. As such, the discussion below is based on current assumptions about MLS rosters, and who is in the frame for a World Cup call-up — be it the initial 30-man list or the final squad.
NOTE: What follows gives no thought to the prospect of one or more of the nations utilizing MLS players making it to the knockout rounds. This post looks at the MLS games a player might miss if he makes a World Cup squad that exits the tournament at the group stage.
To anticipate the impact of Brazil 2014’s latter stages on MLS teams, tack on the last league game in June (which most World Cup absentees will miss anyway) for a player who makes the second round in Brazil; the first game in July for the quarter-finals; and the second, and probably third, games of July for a player whose national team gets to the semis (the third-place playoff will keep guys from coming home just as long as the final).
For now, here’s a look at the likelihood of MLS-rostered players being lost to the World Cup group stage, and the games they might miss as a consequence…
Carlos Bocanegra deserves some credit for getting an early jump on the back-to-MLS bandwagon that is currently careering across Europe, scooping up present, past, and future USMNT players.
Unfortunately, Boca landed on the embers of the dumpster fire Chivas USA endearingly called its 2013 season. Missing out on Klinsi’s January camp would appear to confirm the centerback’s status as a former national team player.
Oswaldo Minda seems unlikely to get the call from Ecuador, barring an outbreak of plague in the player pool. And should any one of the team’s Mexican-qualified players threaten the El Tri squad, it would probably be regarded as failure within Chivas USA, as the team continues to be treated as a reserve outfit for the big brother club in Guadalajara.
All of which suggests the Goats won’t be much impeded by the World Cup. Whether they can get out of their own way is another question entirely.
Sean Johnson is in the enviable position of being Klinsi’s fourth-choice ‘keeper. If his form holds up, he makes the plane should one of Guzan, Howard, or Rimando falter. Mike Magee, despite an ill-timed bout with food poisoning before the South Korea friendly, got his fair shot in the January camp. After Chris Wondolowski’s brace against the Taegeuk Warriors, will el Magico be able to replace Wondo as Klinsi’s reserve striker of choice?
Juan Luis Anangonó needs goals and injuries to two or three senior players in the Ecuador squad to rep his country in the World Cup. Gonzalo Segares hasn’t featured in a Costa Rican team for a couple of years, but he is an unflinchingly consistent defender Los Ticos could call upon should the need arise.
All these are guys on the fringes of their respective World Cup squads. It’s unlikely they’ll miss any MLS games. At best (or worst, depending on your perspective), one or two might make the 30-man roster(s) and miss the May 24th visit to Columbus. It would be a hard-hearted national team coach who made an unused squad player miss LA’s trip to Chicago (June 1st) as well.
Only one player on the Rapids’ roster looks certain to head to Brazil this summer: Marvin Chavez. The Honduran international made just 15 appearances for San Jose last season, and he’ll miss a few games for Colorado in 2014.
On the bright side, four of the five matches Chavez will miss (if he’s called up) are scheduled to be played in Colorado, where the Rapids are generally formidable, regardless of their personnel.
Less encouragingly, Los Catrachos’ last group stage match is on June 25th, in the hothouse of Manaus. Chavez was one of the league’s more fragile players last year, and it requires considerable optimism to imagine he’ll recover from 90 minutes in Manaus to take the field three days later for Colorado’s home match against Vancouver.
5/24 – vs. Montreal Impact
6/1 – vs. Houston Dynamo
6/4 – vs. Chicago Fire
6/7 – @ FC Dallas
6/28 – vs. Vancouver (Honduras’s last group stage match is June 25th…in Manaus)
Guys on the bubble:
Shane O’Neill and Chris Klute did enough in 2013 to play their way into USMNT’s January camp, but not sufficient to get any playing time against South Korea. This would suggest their national team ambitions are more Russia 2018 than Brazil 2014.
Hendry Thomas is no longer a regular feature of Honduran squads, and no longer considered likely to be suiting up for the Rapids in 2014. Two good reasons not to worry about his World Cup future.
Assuming they stay fit, it’s difficult to imagine Costa Rica looking much beyond the attacking trio of Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, and Alvaro Saborio to run the attack in Brazil. But there will probably be at least one more striker in the squad, and Columbus’s Jairo Arrieta has as good a chance as any of the current crop of also-rans to be that fourth forward.
The bad news for Crew fans is Arrieta will only get on the plane if he shows compelling form in the early months of the MLS season — so if he goes, he’ll be missed. The good news is he’ll be lucky to play at all, so he’s likely to be fresh when he gets back, and therefore unlikely to be in need of rest for Columbus’s June 28th home fixture against Dallas, just four days after Los Ticos’ final group stage match (against England).
5/24 – vs. Chicago Fire
5/31 – @ Toronto FC
6/4 – vs. Real Salt Lake
6/7 – @ DC United
Guys on the bubble:
New signing Michael Parkhurst played in September’s Dos-a-Cero win over El Tri. And, after rejoining MLS on January 13th, he was parachuted into Klinsi’s squad to play 90 minutes at left back against South Korea. The starting role came at the expense of no fewer than three specialist left backs Jurgie called up for the January camp. His versatility — he can do a job anywhere on the back line — and a good start in MLS for the Crew may yet get Parkhurst on the plane to Brazil.
Costa Rica’s Waylon Francis is a long-shot to make Los Ticos‘ squad, but Bryan Oviedo’s injury has created a vacancy for a left-sided defender in Costa Rica’s World Cup plans.
The ability to play either wide position or lead the line in Klinsi’s preferred 4-2-3-1 makes Eddie Johnson a near certainty to go to Brazil. He doesn’t look like a starter right now; he’s an option to punish tiring defenses in the last 30 minutes.
Johnson looks set to miss at least six games for DC: five scheduled for the FIFA-mandated “rest period” from club play, along with the June 28th fixture against Johnson’s former employers, Seattle Sounders (USMNT’s final group stage match is June 26th).
5/21 – vs. Houston Dynamo
5/24 – @ New England Revolution
5/31 – vs. Sporting Kansas City
6/7 – vs. Columbus Crew
6/11 – @ Montreal Impact
6/28 – vs. Seattle Sounders
Guys on the bubble:
Bill Hamid appears destined to spend the prime of his career duking it out with Sean Johnson for the USMNT starting ‘keeper spot, but that will have to wait until the 2022 qualification cycle. For now, he’s fifth or sixth choice at his position, which means many terrible things must happen to the cream of American goalkeeping for Bill to make Klinsi’s 23 for Brazil.
Move along. Nothing to see here.
Honduras’s Oscar Boniek Garcia will be in Brazil barring cataclysmic injury. The Dynamo will lose him for four games, and probably five, considering four days may not be sufficient for Boniek to shake off the effects of Manaus on June 25th in time for a trip to Montreal on the 29th.
5/21 – @ DC United
5/25 – @ San Jose Earthquakes
6/1 – @ Colorado Rapids
6/6 – vs. Sporting Kansas City
6/29 – @ Montreal Impact
Guys on the bubble:
Brad Davis may lack the pace to be an impact sub, or the dynamism to be a starter for Klinsi, but he knows how to deliver a set piece and has made a living out of torching opponents in Houston’s stifling summer heat. Tally Hall could do a job as third-string ‘keeper if disaster strikes Rimando, Johnson, and Hamid. Young Honduran Alexander Lopez is probably still a year or two away from nailing down a place in the starting line up for both club and country (Honduras).
Los Angeles Galaxy
Bruce Arena has known for some time he’ll be missing Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez for a minimum of five games in May and June — but it won’t stop him complaining about it. Expect the gripe machine to crank into gear sometime in late March or April – basically, whenever LA’s CONCACAF Champions League adventure ends. Until then, MLS’s favorite grouch will be too busy sniping at CCL to snark about the World Cup.
5/21 – vs. FC Dallas
5/25 – vs. Philadelphia Union
6/1 – @ Chicago Fire
6/8 – vs. Chivas USA
6/28 – @ San Jose Earthquakes (USMNT’s last group match is 6/26)
No World Cup impact in Montreal.
New England Revolution
Jerry Bengtson averages almost a goal every other game for Honduras (18 in 38 appearances), and Los Catrachos have never lost a match in which he has scored — at least, that’s what Wikipedia suggests, and why would it lie? Bengtson is going to Brazil. But will anyone at the Revs — where he managed to fall below Chad Barrett on the depth chart last year — notice?
5/24 – vs. DC United
5/31 @ Montreal Impact
6/7 – vs. New York Red Bulls
6/28 – vs. Philadelphia Union (Honduras’s last group stage match is 6/25 vs. Switzerland in Manaus)
New York Red Bulls
Tim Cahill is going to Brazil. So is Roy Miller. Both will be missed: Cahill for his leadership and knack for clutch goals; Miller because he is currently the only specialist left back on the roster. However, perhaps the worst news for New York is one of the games affected by World Cup absences will be a trip to New England. Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave won’t risk ending their careers on Gillette Stadium’s reprehensible carpet, so New York will be absent at least four starters on June 7th. RBNY’s proud tradition of not beating the Revs in Boston looks set to continue.
5/24 – vs. Portland Timbers
5/27 – @ Sporting Kansas City
6/7 – @ New England Revolution
6/27 – vs. Toronto FC (Four days rest and his ceaseless desire to play might see Cahill line up for this one; Miller will probably have played Costa Rica’s last group match on 6/24, and therefore will likely rest)
Guys on the bubble:
Klinsi doesn’t lack midfield options, and neither Dax McCarty nor Eric Alexander cracked the starting lineup for USMNT against South Korea. Their chances of propelling themselves to Brazil are slender.
It took a while, but Maurice Edu is a Union player for 2014 — a move entirely motivated by his desire to get playing time and an outside chance at forcing his way back into Klinsi’s World Cup thoughts.
Edu was once among Jurgie’s favorites, but those days passed as Mo sank ever lower on the Stoke City depth chart. As such, he is merely foremost among the Union’s growing crowd of USMNT hopefuls. Not one of whom — Edu, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams — appears probable to make the trip to Brazil this summer.
Carlos Valdes still lurks on the Union’s official roster, but he’ll be playing for Argentina’s San Lorenzo this season, as he strives to make Colombia’s World Cup 23.
Rodney Wallace was the only man on the Timbers’ roster in any serious danger of going to Brazil, and his ACL injury effectively ended his hopes of making Costa Rica’s World Cup squad. His recovery is estimated at 5-7 months (from December 2013), which will put him in the hunt for match fitness and first team minutes in Portland right around the time Jorge Luis Pinto is giving his 23 some final thought.
That’s good news for the Timbers, who can expect a boost to the first team ranks at the same time as other teams in the league are depleted.
Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando appears certain to make Klinsi’s final 23, as the third-choice ‘keeper. Kyle Beckerman will be disappointed if he doesn’t at least make the 30-man roster. Alvaro Saborio will certainly travel with Costa Rica to Brazil. Right now, consider RSL the MLS club likely to take the biggest hit to its first team.
The good news is Rimando is unlikely to see the field at all, Beckerman will only play if Jermaine Jones is injured (or, more likely, suspended), and Saborio increasingly functions as an impact sub in Jorge Luis Pinto’s favored 5-4-1 formation. All three are therefore likely to be able to play RSL’s just-after-the-group-stage match against Chivas USA on June 28th.
5/24 – vs. FC Dallas
5/31 – @ Seattle Sounders
6/4 – @ Columbus Crew
6/7 – vs. Portland Timbers
Guys on the bubble:
Many expect this season to be the one in which Luis Gil breaks into the top tier of MLS players. He received a vote of confidence from Jurgen Klinsmann in the form of 15 minutes against South Korea, but he’s only 20 and looks to be one of the players being considered to fill the Donovan-shaped void in the post-2014 USMNT lineup.
San Jose Earthquakes
The problem for the ‘Quakes isn’t simply losing a couple of players, it’s that Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson are the team’s presumptive starting center back pairing. San Jose will have to live without its defensive core for three games.
On a more positive note, Goodson should return fit and ready to play the California Clasico against LA on June 28th, since he’s probably in the role of fourth-choice center back in Klinsi’s squad. Bernardez, however, likely goes 90 minutes for Honduras in Manaus on June 25th, so don’t expect him to be back in a ‘Quakes jersey until July.
5/25 – vs. Houston Dynamo
5/31 – @ FC Dallas
6/7 – @ Toronto FC
6/28 – vs. LA Galaxy (probably only Bernardez)
Guy on the bubble:
Chris Wondolowski is prowling around the fringes of Klinsi’s thinking, ready to pounce should one of the more fancied strikers in the squad mess up. Wondo seems too far down the depth chart at the moment (fifth? maybe sixth?) to crack the final 23, but two goals against South Korea will have earned him a place in the conversation right up to the day USMNT kicks off World Cup 2014.
Clint Dempsey is a certainty to make USMNT’s Brazil squad, and Brad Evans’s value as a utility man probably gets him on the plane, regardless of where he stands on the right back depth chart.
5/24 – @ Vancouver Whitecaps
5/31 – vs. Real Salt Lake
6/7 – @ Chicago Fire
6/28 – @ DC United (USMNT’s last group stage match is 6/26)
Guys on the bubble:
Of the original players called up, DeAndre Yedlin was the only one of five specialist full backs to make it out of USMNT’s January camp and onto the field against South Korea — so he has that going for him. However, he got just 15 minutes; the starting job for that match went to Brad Evans.
Yedlin may be Sigi Schmid’s preferred right back for the Sounders, but Klinsi is picking the team for Brazil. And right now, Klinsi’s picking Evans over Yedlin every time.
Sporting Kansas City
Graham Zusi and Matt Besler are near certain USMNT World Cup call-ups from Sporting KC. Both will be missed, but the MLS Cup winners coped with their absences last season, and will no doubt cope again in 2014.
5/23 – vs. Toronto FC
5/27 – vs. RBNY
5/31 – @ DC United
6/6 – @ Houston Dynamo
6/27 – @ Portland Timbers (USMNT’s last group stage game is 6/26)
Guys on the bubble:
Benny Feilhaber has been capped twice in the Klinsmann era, first in early 2012, and last against South Korea this February. While Feilhaber’s chances of making even the 30-man roster appear to be remote, he plays for the reigning MLS champs, played 30 minutes of USMNT’s last match, and offers an all-too-rare creative spark to Klinsi’s midfield bench options.
Only injury will prevent Michael Bradley from heading to Brazil, which means he’ll be missing games for Toronto, one way or the other.
Brazilian ‘keeper Julio Cesar’s arrival in Canada is all but confirmed, which would immediately make TFC the MLS club most likely to lose a player to the World Cup knockout rounds.
5/23 – @ Sporting Kansas City
5/31 – vs. Columbus Crew
6/7 – @ San Jose Earthquakes
6/27 – @ RBNY
(Go ahead and pencil in Julio Cesar to miss five games for TFC in July – from the 7/2 trip to Chicago to the 7/19 journey to Houston. Either because he’s celebrating a World Cup win on home soil, or it’s not safe for Brazilian national team players to be seen in public.)
Guys on the bubble:
Yes, Jermain Defoe could make England’s World Cup team if he lights up the scoring charts in MLS. After all, David Beckham kept his international career alive while playing for LA Galaxy. Defoe, however, is not Beckham. Nor is Roy Hodgson as enamored of Defoe as Fabio Capello was of Beckham.
There is a powerful chauvinism in English football with regard to the merits of players plying their trade in leagues of lesser repute than the Premiership.
Nonetheless, there aren’t many strikers as accomplished as Defoe in England’s player pool. His chances of making Hodgson’s final 23 are reduced by his move to MLS, but they are not eliminated.
Steven Beitashour’s recent transition from USMNT wannabe to Iranian national team starter was, allegedly, the culmination of a long-term effort on the part of Iran’s soccer honchos to woo the right back to Team Melli.
They got their man for the Fall 2013 round of Asian Cup qualifiers, and Beitashour notched two starts in three appearances. He may not be a World Cup starter for Carlos Queiroz in Brazil, but his current trajectory appears to the fast track to a place in Iran’s final 23.
With the ‘Caps scheduled to play on the same day as Iran’s final group stage match (6/25) and travel to Colorado three days later, if Beitashour goes to Brazil, he may be gone for some time.
5/24 – vs. Seattle Sounders
6/1 – @ Portland Timbers
6/7 – @ Philadelphia Union
6/25 – vs. Montreal Impact
6/28 – @ Colorado Rapids
Guys on the bubble:
Johnny Leveron is in the conversation when it comes to the Honduran World Cup 23, but he’s in the in the part of the discussion about who steps up if one of Los Catrachos’ senior defenders is injured prior to the tournament.
Austin Fido is OTF’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor. Follow him @canetop for, mostly, soccer chat, or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org