Coaches and selected players around the league planned long ago for the events poised to unfold over the next few weeks. They grasped the ramifications of the approaching World Cup well before the season started. They understood the potential impact of journey ahead on several teams across the league.
This weekend presents the last chance to deploy those US stars before Jürgen Klinsmann names his 30-man preliminary squad on Monday and whisks them away to Palo Alto, Calif. in midweek. Other international standouts – the Costa Ricans, the Hondurans, the Australian record goalscorer, the Brazilian number one and perhaps even one English striker in Toronto – will filter out to fulfill their obligations soon.
No coach will begrudge his player the opportunity to feature at the pinnacle of the sport, but the absences will extract a toll. MLS – or any other league in the world, for that matter – isn’t designed to withstand an exodus of its top domestic players and a smattering of its best imports. The affected clubs will feel the repercussions and wonder whether they might earn a reprieve or two when Klinsmann culls his group from 30 to 23 before naming his final roster on June 2.
It will not impact every team uniformly, though. LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, San Jose, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City must cope without multiple starters. Toronto FC must plan for life without Michael Bradley. Columbus (Michael Parkhurst) and Houston (Brad Davis) must shuffle the pack with key figures likely to miss at least the next fortnight, too.
All of those sides will find it more difficult to procure points while their stars fulfill their international obligations. The impending absences of integral contributors like Victor Bernárdez (San Jose), Tim Cahill (New York), Boniek Garcia (Houston), Giancarlo González (Columbus), Roy Miller (New York) and Álvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake) and the possible departure of Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC) strips away more talented players from their squads.
This weekend offers most teams a chance to snatch one last result and stake one last claim before the exits start on Monday. It is not the sort of opportunity teams can afford to spurn with full strength outfits waiting to pounce on those potential insecurities. This is the time when all of those carefully concocted blueprints must come to life to ensure international success does not come at the expense of domestic setbacks.
Five Points – Week 10
1. One technical point about those World Cup callups: Clubs do not have any say about the departure dates of their American stars. MLS dictates the policy there. But they do possess some latitude with their international players. There is no league-imposed standard in place to force a club to release a player before FIFA mandates it. Keep a careful eye on the affected clubs – New York coach Mike Petke discussed the pros and cons of the situation earlier in the week, for example – to see whether they release their players or cling onto them through next weekend.
2. Montréal must issue a response…: Impact boss Frank Klopas does not have to worry about World Cup defections, but he must concern himself with a 2-1 midweek defeat at FC Edmonton in the first leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal tie. Klopas fielded reserves in that match, but the poor start to the league campaign rather reduces the latitude afforded up in Quebec these days. He must somehow conjure a response to the defeat against MLS Cup holders Sporting Kansas City on Saturday afternoon. It is an awkward test for a team in desperate need of another positive result to spark some life into its season.
3. …and Eddie Johnson does, too: His international place is under threat and his words are under scrutiny. Johnson must figure out a way to produce in front of goal against Philadelphia to quell the chatter on both fronts.
4. FC Dallas might need a Plan C: FCD congested the middle of the park and disrupted the flow of game with persistent fouls in the 2-1 defeat at Seattle on Wednesday night. Those tactics won’t work nearly as well against a San Jose side accustomed to imposing that sort of approach on the game. FCD will likely need to devise another plan to secure a result at Buck Shaw Stadium. Perhaps the best bet for FCD at this point: ask Raúl Fernández to mimic Clint Irwin’s heroics from midweek if necessary.
5. Seattle will test New England’s shape with its attacking preferences: Sounders FC can play the ball wide when necessary, but it often prefers to proceed right through the middle of the park. The emphasis on playing through the middle will place pressure on New England’s defensive setup in their meeting on Sunday night. The onus will fall on the Revs to provide the deep-lying Andy Dorman with the necessary defensive support to prevent those forays and restrict Sounders FC to more circuitous routes to goal.