Tip Sheet: How will returning US players approach their MLS duties this weekend?
United States coach Jürgen Klinsmann culled seven players from his squad for the World Cup on Thursday. Five of them will now return to their MLS clubs and try to process their exclusion from the 23-man roster at the last possible moment.
Landon Donovan isn’t the only MLS player to miss the flight. Clarence Goodson, Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst all returned to the league in the past year to bolster their stock only to see a place snatched away from them at the end of the line. Brad Evans toiled through qualifying at right back and trudged back from a calf complaint to miss out on a spot, too.
All five players will now return to their clubs instead of staying with their national team. Their focus immediately shifts from the World Cup to MLS, from a date on the world stage to another domestic fixture in a 34-game season.
It is now a matter of how quickly those players can make the transition, though the timing of the cuts at least leaves them with the capability to do so. Four of them – Donovan, Edu, Goodson, Parkhurst – play on the West Coast this weekend. Parkhurst must travel back to Columbus ahead of the Crew’s match against Chicago on Saturday night.
The landscape leaves coaches with a difficult decision to make: should they throw their stars right back into the fray or wait until their emotions settle?
Few bright lines exist in these sorts of situations. One player might need to feature from the start and show Klinsmann the error of his ways. Another might think he can play, but he might fall short of his usual standards given the mental strain. Others might prefer to contemplate their fate for a bit longer before hopping back into their domestic duties.
And the involved coaches know the inherently personal nature of the predicament. Galaxy boss Bruce Arena confirmed Donovan is available for Sunday’s visit by Philadelphia. Union coach John Hackworth said he wanted to evaluate Edu mentally and physically before deciding whether he would play against the Galaxy on Sunday. Columbus manager Gregg Berhalter told the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday night he planned to leave the decision up to Parkhurst. Seattle manager Sigi Schmid told reporters on Friday Evans would travel to Vancouver, but his status for the match against Vancouver is uncertain.
Those responses reflect the uncertainty those clubs and their opponents face ahead of the weekend slate. The definite answer provided by Klinsmann on Thursday created the sort of upheaval poised to linger through the weekend and persist for some time to come. It is now up to everyone involved to figure a way forward and pursue the proper course for both the club and the player in short order.
Five Points – Week 12
1. Can the unlucky five muster the same response as their shunned colleagues from last weekend?: Jermain Defoe, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins all scored for their clubs last week after watching their World Cup dreams disappear. Players respond to these sorts of slights differently, but the opposition this weekend must approach these shunned players warily this weekend if they do indeed feature.
2. Who will play central defense for Sporting Kansas City on Friday night?: All five natural center backs are unavailable for Toronto FC’s visit to Sporting Park. Uri Rosell – another potential stopgap measure – is likely sidelined with a quad strain, too. Sporting manager Peter Vermes will have to figure out some way to cobble together a back line capable of limiting Defoe’s success in the channels.
3. D.C. United visits New England in top-of-the-table clash: United moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with a professional 2-0 victory over Houston on Wednesday night. Both teams will look to transition quickly through midfield in a bid to create opportunities to combine (New England) or expose the opposition through the channels (United). The side more capable of halting those sequences will likely come away with the points.
4. Cascadia clash offers a contrast in tempo: Seattle must find a way to limit Vancouver’s ability to increase the cadence of the game when it visits B.C. Place on Saturday night. The home side thrives in its own ground by moving the ball quickly and using its pace to isolate players one-versus-one. That sort of dynamic poses a problem for a Sounders FC with concerns at fullback and with occasional issues coping with opponents capable of dynamic movements in the attacking third.
5. Real Salt Lake is on the verge of history: If RSL can procure a result against FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, then Jeff Cassar’s side will match the 1996 LA Galaxy and the 2000 Kansas City Wizards for the longest unbeaten start to a MLS campaign (12 games). The smart money rests on the home side to accomplish the feat with struggling and tattered FCD (five defeats and a draw in the past six matches) coming off a midweek loss at LA Galaxy.