Picking the Top 10 MLS Player Performances in This Week's World Cup Qualifiers
MLS is not a top competition in world football. But top talent like Tim Cahill and Omar Gonzalez made a significant impact in this week's World Cup qualifiers.
No region was impacted greater by the influx of MLS talent than the CONCACAF. But the CONMEBOL, Asian and UEFA qualifiers were influenced as well.
Soccer fans will have to wait until June for the next round of qualifiers. Until then, here's a look at the 10 best MLS-player performances in this week's World Cup qualifiers.
Photo Credit: MexSport
Fernandez recorded four saves Friday night. His effort helped blank Chile in a World Cup qualifier for the first time since 2011.
Fernandez—A native of Lima, Peru—earned his 21st appearance for the Peruvian national team. His nine saves this season has helped propel the upstart FC Dallas into first place in the Western Conference with nine points.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Estonia has aspirations of playing in Brazil next year, but don’t hold Joel Lindpere accountable when they don’t.
Lindpere entered as a 77th-minute substitute in Estonia’s 3-0 shellacking at the hands of the Netherlands. His real impact came in Estonia’s 2-0 victory over Andorra.
After being subbed on for Henri Anier in the 55th minute, Lindpere drove home an ice-cold header just six minutes later. It was the Estonian’s sixth goal in 86 international appearances.
The victory over a winless Andorra keeps Estonia in fifth place in Group D—five points clear of a potential World Cup playoff.
The Blue Shirts’ World Cup dreams are all but over. But Chicagoans everywhere are hoping Lindpere can continue his productivity when the Fire host the New York Red Bulls next month.
Tim Cahill has scored one goal in 1,350 minutes with the New York Red Bulls. He matched that output with a crucial goal for Australia on Tuesday.
Cahill’s header in the 51st minute helped erase a 2-0 deficit for the Socceroos. Australia would rally back to earn a draw against Oman.
Cahill had multiple opportunities to net a second, but Ali Al-Habsi denied the Australian with a string of world-class saves. That didn’t keep Oman manager Paul Le Guen from giving glowing praise:
"When you are 2-0 up you hope for more, you dream. But Cahill is one of the best players in the world in the air, he has a great jump and moreover he is a great guy. We found it hard to defend against him in the second half."
Australia was unable to leapfrog Jordan for the final automatic qualifying spot in Group B. But with a game in hand, the Socceroos will have another opportunity to do so against Iraq on June 11.
The Honduran Quartet
Bengtson equalizes against Mexico
Honduras rallied back to earn a crucial tie against Mexico last Friday, but failed to do so again in Panama City last night. Still, Los Catrachos find themselves in fourth place in the CONCACAF standings—due in large part to the Honduran quartet of Victor Bernardez, Mario Martinez, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Jerry Bengtson.
Garcia and Bernardez went the full 90 minutes for both of Honduras’ matches this past week. The two have played every minute for Los Catrachos in this round of World Cup qualifying.
Martinez provided a crucial assist Friday afternoon. His beautiful service on a corner kick led to a Carlo Costly close-range header that launched Honduras’ historic comeback against El Tri.
Bengtson was the only one to score of the four, albeit in unorthodox fashion. After being unable to convert on the penalty, Bengtson was fortunate enough to net the rebound and equalize in the 80th minute against Mexico.
Honduras was able to salvage a point at home and remain unbeaten against El Tri in the last five World Cup qualifiers. The Honduran quartet will look to build on its recent success in a pivotal matchup against Costa Rica June 7.
MLS Defenders of the Year
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
It feels as if it was eons ago that the U.S. Men’s National Team found itself amongst turmoil. That sky-is-falling mentality has since subsided after a historic week that saw the Yanks earn four points—none more important than the one earned in Azteca last night.
In total, there were 10 MLS players on the USMNT’s roster. But only Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler made significant contributions for the the Yanks.
Given the farcical conditions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Friday night, there’s no way of measuring player performance. But Gonzalez and Besler were masterful last night—allowing the USMNT to earn only its second point at Azteca in 15 World Cup qualifiers.
Gonzalez went the full 90 in both matches, while Besler earned his first start at the senior level at Azteca. The pair of defenders—each named MLS Defender of the Year (Gonzalez in 2011 and Besler in 2012)—orchestrated a gritty performance that stymied a dynamic Mexican attack.
El Tri attempted 19 shots but only three managed to land on target. The Yanks’ shutout was assisted by timely blocks from Besler and Gonzalez. Besler saved a goal in the 69th minute with a timely block on a Carlos Salcido shot destined for the back of the net.
It may have taken mother nature and a missed call from Walter Lopez on a Maurice Edu tackle in the box, but four points are four points.
You’d be hard pressed to find an American soccer fan who wouldn’t be satisfied with that.
No MLS player had a bigger impact on World Cup qualifying than FC Dallas’ Blas Perez. The USMNT may be celebrating a historic draw against Mexico, but it’s Panama that finds itself atop the Hexagonal.
That is all thanks to Perez.
The Super Raton recorded one goal and an assist on six shots in a week that saw Panama earn a decisive four points. His strike from about 20 yards out in the 75th minute sealed the victory for Panama against Honduras last night.
It was Perez’s 29th international goal for Los Canaleros.
Panama has never qualified for the World Cup. But with Perez’s key contributions, Panama is on pace to do so for the first time.
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