Breakdown: USA stars chart their courses carefully upon MLS return
Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley captured the dilemma facing a portion of his U.S. teammates this weekend. He played 120 minutes against Belgium on Tuesday and returned to Toronto in time to train with his Toronto FC teammates on Friday. He faced a choice about whether to join his Reds teammates on the field against D.C. United on Saturday night or watch from the stands instead.
Bradley told Ryan Nelsen he wanted to play. He followed his exertions in Brazil -- including some 34 miles covered, according to FIFA statistics -- with an hour for his club in the 2-1 defeat to United at BMO Field.
Eight of Bradley’s international teammates grappled with similar issues during the course of this week. There is no designated break for returning players after the World Cup, no time allotted to process the end of the World Cup journey. They needed to figure out for themselves how to merge back into their clubs after spending the better part of two months away with their national team.
It is the sort of problem best solved on a case-by-case basis. It showed in the way affected coaches and players approached their Fourth of July obligations. Individual circumstances played a large role in determining whether these players featured this weekend or rested their weary legs instead:
RETURNING USA PLAYERS ON FOURTH OF JULY WEEKEND
|Kyle Beckerman||Real Salt Lake||90 minutes in 2-1 win over New England on Saturday||Assumed his usual duties in central midfield and tended to them well as RSL won at Rio Tinto Stadium. "I told [RSL coach Jeff Cassar] that I was ready to go 90 if I had to, and it was fine," Beckerman said.|
|Matt Besler||Sporting KC||DNP in 1-1 draw with Chicago on Sunday||Spent Friday in New York City on league-sponsored media tour. Facing decision about his future with mooted interest from overseas.|
|Michael Bradley||Toronto FC||61 minutes in 2-1 defeat to D.C. United on Saturday||"I felt good," Bradley said. "Physically, I felt good. I was excited to be back."|
|Brad Davis||Houston||90 minutes, one goal in 2-2 draw with New York on Friday.||Stepped back into the fray with the Dynamo nursing 479-minute scoreless streak heading into the match.|
|Clint Dempsey||Seattle||DNP in 1-0 defeat at Vancouver on Saturday||“[The World Cup] is a physically demanding tournament, but it’s also a mentally very demanding situation – you need a break,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid told MLSsoccer.com. “I think when people push [players] back too early it’s not good.”|
|Omar Gonzalez||LA Galaxy||DNP in 2-2 draw with Portland on Friday||Tommy Meyer kept his place in central defense as Gonzalez watched from the stands. "Wisdom would be that he doesn't play on Friday," Galaxy manager Bruce Arena said before the game.|
|Nick Rimando||Real Salt Lake||90 minutes in 2-1 win over New England on Saturday||Returned to his usual post after serving as third goalkeeper in Brazil.|
|Chris Wondolowski||San Jose||n/a||Earthquakes spent Fourth of July reflecting on midweek defeat to Chivas USA.|
|DeAndre Yedlin||Seattle||DNP in 1-0 defeat at Vancouver on Saturday||Spent Friday in New York City on media tour. Subject to transfer speculation upon return to USA, though Sounders FC denied any deal is already in place with Italian side A.S. Roma on Sunday.|
|Graham Zusi||Sporting KC||28 minutes in 1-1 draw with Chicago on Sunday||Rested at the start and then summoned in the second half as Sporting chased all three points.|
Each of those decisions offered a chance to situate these integral figures ahead of the second-half of the season. Some players want to keep playing. Others need a weekend to refresh. And two of them – Besler and Yedlin – must cope with transfer speculation with clubs from overseas interested in their services.
It is incumbent on these players and their managers to continue the discussions in the days and the weeks ahead. The strain of playing at a World Cup extracts a toll. It might arrive now. It might hit later. Everyone involved must take measures to ensure the fallout does not detract from the domestic efforts.
At this stage, the focus will quickly shift from one weekend to the back half of the campaign ahead. Each of these players will feature prominently in the plans moving forward and try to push their club sides to collective success in the wake of their international sojourns.
Their work at the World Cup received its due plaudits, but there is no time to dwell on those achievements. It is full speed ahead with the MLS season in full swing. It is now just a matter of figuring out how best to hop on board and join the proceedings as the campaign continues.
Five Points – Week 17
1. FC Dallas welcomes back its own returning star with open arms: Mauro Diaz climbed off the bench to make his first appearance since April 26 in the final quarter of an hour in FCD’s 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Friday. Diaz -- sidelined since May after undergoing a procedure to address an undisclosed ailment in his right knee -- functions as the creative fulcrum for a team in desperate need of his services after winning just once in the 10 games he missed.
2. Seattle succumbs in Vancouver after muddling through without regulars: Sounders FC trekked up I-5 without five regular starters, but the Supporters’ Shield favorites still managed to give the Whitecaps a game at B.C. Place. Vancouver spurned its chances to create daylight after Sebastian Fernandez’s stunning opener, but Seattle simply couldn’t find a way to convert a bright spell in the second half into the desired equalizer. The eventual 1-0 defeat reflected the lack of sharpness in the side with Dempsey and Obafemi Martins missing, yet the grit shown within the ranks bodes well for a side now capable of relying on its squad depth as the season progresses.
3. Erick Torres gives Chivas USA and its supporters a moment to cherish: Torres left it late to invigorate an otherwise pedestrian affair between the Red-and-White and Montréal. His contribution – a stunning overhead kick to beat Troy Perkins at his near post – decided this 1-0 match in the waning stages and sparked a wonderful celebration with the Union Ultras in its aftermath.
4. D.C. United continues to chug along and procure points: United currently sits two points clear in the Eastern Conference because it churns out results like a veteran team should. There aren’t a lot of frills with Fabian Espindola ruled out for the medium term, but there is a commitment to keeping shape and striking when the opportunity presents itself. United managed to wring three points out at BMO Field with a mixture of opportunism and resolve. It is exactly the sort of formula required to sustain this progress with a busy period ahead over the next few months.
5. Sporting Kansas City confronts stick or twist moment with Matt Besler: If Sporting is going to sell Besler, this is the time to do it. Most clubs would probably sell at peak value and reinvest the funds into the squad. It is the smart economic play. Sporting, however, faces a severe threat to its MLS Cup hopes if Besler departs. Besler serves as the linchpin in defense and stitches everything together with his astute positioning. Peter Vermes’ system masks some of those flaws with its high pressure, but it might not salve this sort of wound. It is now in the hands of Sporting to figure out the best way forward for the short- and the long-term and reach the corresponding decision accordingly.