Tip Sheet: MLS teams adjust as stars depart for the World Cup
Coaches and players around MLS spent the past few months preparing for this decisive week in the buildup to the World Cup. The unveiling of preliminary rosters provided a guidepost for the next few weeks. Some players will leave. Others will stay. And everyone must find a way to digest the events and move forward.
The process exerts a disproportionate impact across the board. Thirteen teams contributed players to those preliminary rosters. The impact of those players encompassed the entire spectrum from integral figures to usual substitutes, as mentioned in this space last week. It is incumbent on each team to discern how to adjust accordingly after spending the past few months contemplating the potential fallout and trying to push their players toward their personal goals.
“I think the most important thing was to get these guys into their camps and give them a chance to make their World Cup teams,” Columbus head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter said on a conference call earlier this week. “We were very focused on that because we value that highly. What it is going to do is it is going to give other guys a chance to step up and play some meaningful minutes. This is all part of a World Cup year. There are a lot of other teams in this league who are missing players.”
All of those departures – and a few players from Costa Rica and Honduras will wait until after this weekend to link up with their countries – leave voids to fill. This isn’t the sort of situation where coaches can make like-for-like swaps with comparable reserves. This is triage at its finest to cover over the cracks while stars take their Brazilian bows.
Sometimes, the potential replacements aren’t even on the roster. Toronto FC cited the potentially crippling absence of Michael Bradley as one of the motivating factors behind the acquisition of Collen Warner on Friday. TFC shipped Issey Nakajima-Farran and an undisclosed amount of allocation money to Montréal in exchange for a player capable of providing yet another option in the center of the park during Bradley’s World Cup sojourn.
“We felt the need to acquire an experienced MLS central midfielder like Collen Warner was necessary as we approach the break, coupled with the loss of Michael to the U.S. National team,” Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a club-issued statement. “Collen provides a different look in the midfield for us and to be successful in this League you need to be multidimensional.”
As these circumstances suggests, clubs also need to adapt deftly in order to cope with various situations, too. It isn’t easy for any side to replace an important component or two for the next several weeks, but the plans laid over the past few months at least provide an opportunity to mitigate the consequences and muddle through as efficiently as possible.
Five Points – Week 11
1. Beware the players left behind: Jermain Defoe and Eddie Johnson headline a list of players omitted from World Cup rosters for one reason or another. The sting of those setbacks can exact an emotional toll and impact performances negatively, but it can also spur improvement on and off the field. The exact nature of the immediate response warrants inspection over the weekend.
2. No game will feel the influence of those departures more than Seattle - San Jose: The meeting between the Earthquakes and Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field supplies a look at the pervasive impact of those callups. Seattle must meander through the match without Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin, while San Jose must survive without Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski. In that particular battle, the edge falls to the deeper and more diverse home side, particularly with Alan Gordon (groin) now ruled out for the Earthquakes.
3. Can Real Salt Lake hold serve in the Rocky Mountain Cup?: The home team has not lost a match in this rivalry since 2007. RSL will face a few complications in this renewal of hostilities with Kyle Beckerman (United States), Nick Rimando (United States) and Álvaro Saborío (Costa Rica) all off to World Cup, while the Rapids will expect to improve substantially after a 3-1 home defeat to Chivas USA last weekend.
4. Is there a double-trap game ahead at PPL Park?: New England thrashed league-leading Seattle 5-0 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday to extend its unbeaten run to five matches. Philadelphia expended ample emotional and physical energy to end a nine-game winless streak with a 2-1 victory at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. The two teams will meet in Chester on Saturday in a bid to sidestep the potential letdown and sustain the positive vibes.
5. Is it time for Erik Palmer-Brown to shine?: Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes needs central defenders desperately with Matt Besler (US national team duty), Aurélien Collin (hamstring), Lawrence Olum (Kenya national team duty ahead of an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Comoros) and Ike Opara (right ankle surgery) all ruled out for the trip to Chicago on Sunday. Palmer-Brown just recovered from a foot complaint, but the US youth international may receive a chance to impress if he can prove his fitness. Uri Rosell – the usual midfield metronome – may drop into central defense to provide another option in that department, too.
BONUS: U.S. Soccer released the draw for the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Friday afternoon.