Pontius, Johnson US call up likely

BY foxsports • August 16, 2012

When Jurgen Klinsmann called on some new MLS faces for his latest US national team camp, he sent a very clear message that he and his coaching staff were watching Major League Soccer games and doing well in MLS was still very much a pathway to the national team.

Matt Besler, Steven Beitashour and Alan Gordon didn’t get to play in Wednesday’s US - Mexico friendly, but all three still earned the reward of being in an important national team camp after enjoying standout 2012 seasons to date.

What those call-ups, and Klinsmann’s explanations for those call-ups, did was serve as a reminder to every American player in MLS that if they play well enough, they will have their chance to be measured alongside the best of the European-based American players who have dominated the team in recent years.

So which players are on the verge of being the next to earn call-ups, be it for next month’s qualifiers vs. Jamaica, qualifiers later this year, or the January national team training camp? Here are five players to keep an eye on, all of which will have the chance to show their stuff in the thick of the coming MLS playoff race:

1- CHRIS PONTIUS, D.C. United

The 2012 MLS All-Star Game MVP has enjoyed a strong season with D.C., and his goal-scoring exploits have surely not gone unnoticed by Klinsmann. Though not a naturally left-footed player, Pontius has a strong left foot that allows him to play in a variety of positions. He can play as a wide forward and as a winger, and his ability to finish should earn him a call up very soon.

2- EDDIE JOHNSON, Seattle Sounders

It has been more than two years since Johnson was with the US national team, and four years since he saw regular playing time with the US, but there is no denying he has returned to MLS this year with a vengeance and he is playing with real confidence right now. He has eight goals in his past 13 matches and looks like a forward who is worthy of a call come January.

3- DAN KENNEDY, Chivas USA

The goalkeeper position is a bit up in the air after Tim Howard, and you can argue that no goalkeeper has been more impressive in MLS this season than Kennedy. The veteran’s jaw-dropping saves have helped keep Chivas USA in the playoff picture despite a lackluster offense, and as much as youngsters like Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid are the future of the position, Kennedy just might play his way into a role as a viable veteran option.

4- JUSTIN MORROW, San Jose Earthquakes

As we all know, there aren’t a ton of quality American left backs around, but Morrow has emerged as a very impressive left back option for the Earthquakes. After starting out the season impressing at centerback, Morrow has returned to his natural left back role and has been a key figure in San Jose’s stingy defense. He has the speed and defensive attributes to handle the role well, and has emerged as a very real option when it comes time for Klinsmann to put together his January camp.

5- OMAR GONZALEZ, Los Angeles Galaxy

Yes, he is just working his way back from his torn ACL, but there is no denying that when he is healthy he is someone Klinsmann needs to be looking at. It would probably be too much to expect him to play a part in this year’s remaining World Cup qualifying cycle, but with Klinsmann clearly looking for younger centerback options, it will be a safe bet that Gonzalez gets a look in January (assuming a move to Europe isn’t keeping him busy).

Here are the Top Five Matches to Watch in MLS this week:

 

1- SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

This Cascadia showdown isn’t just about Pacific Northwest bragging rights. These teams are also in a tie (along with the LA Galaxy) for third place in the Western Conference. That precious third spot assures a place in the conference semifinals, making Saturday’s match in Seattle a vital one in that race.

The Whitecaps looked lethargic in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas, and having to travel and face a rested Sounders side won’t bode well for a road result. The Sounders will unleash a rested Eddie Johnson as well as Fredy Montero, who has begun to heat up in recent weeks, against a Whitecaps side likely to be without Jay DeMerit (concussion).

2- MONTREAL IMPACT vs. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

The best team in MLS travels to Canada to take on one of the hottest teams in the league in a match-up that probably would have surprised some by being on this list a month ago.

The Impact have won four of five, and three in a row, and have been especially tough to beat at Stade Saputo in recent weeks. The midfield combo of Felipe Martins and Patrice Bernier form a strong presence in midfield, one the Earthquakes will have to contain in order to avoid a road defeat. San Jose may struggle to find chances against an improving Montreal defense led by new signing Alessandro Nesta.

3- REAL SALT LAKE vs. FC DALLAS

Two teams heading in opposite directions face off in this Western Conference clash as suddenly slumping Real Salt Lake face surging FC Dallas. RSL has had issues generating goals in recent weeks, as well as defending at a high level without injured Colombian centerback Jamison Olave. They play host to a Dallas side that is pushing to get back into the West playoff race after a 3-1-1 stretch in their past five matches.

For Dallas, the key to their revival has been the inspired play of 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira, as well as the improved play of fellow Colombian Fabian Castillo. RSL will need Kyle Beckerman to recover from his 90 minutes in the US victory against Mexico to contain Ferreira while the RSL strike force of Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola looks to break down an improving Dallas defense.

4- D.C. UNITED vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION

It may only be mid-August, but this game is extremely crucial for both Eastern Conference rivals, who come into this match slumping and in dire need of a win to boost their playoff position in the East.

For the Union, an offense that just hasn’t been able to find consistency is the issue. That will sound familiar to DC United, a team that was expected to flaunt a high-powered attack, but a side that has managed just two goals in their past four matches. Philadelphia’s defense should Get back to its stingy ways with Carlos Valdes returning from Colombian national team duty, and the potential absence of Dwayne DeRosario to injury will make it that much tougher for DC to find goals. Expect a defensive struggle here, with the Union in full desperation mode knowing their dim playoff hopes will be all but erased with a loss.

5- HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. COLUMBUS CREW

The Dynamo put their unbeaten home record on the line against a Crew side still recovering from the death of midfielder Kirk Urso. The Crew showed great heart and determination in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw vs. the LA Galaxy, but will be facing a much tougher challenge when they visit BBVA Compass Stadium.

The Dynamo are coming off a loss to New York that dropped them out of first place, but back in the narrow confines of BBVA, the Houston midfield should be able to dominate the Crew. Look for Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia to have a field day. That is unless Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum pulls off another outstanding performance, something he has done very regularly this season.
 


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