The Home Guard: MLS and the USMNT Roster
The home guard of the U.S. Men's National Team was in full action this past week. The LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo both started their CONCACAF Champions League campaigns while the MLS season entered the home stretch.
With two World Cup qualifiers coming up Sept. 6 at Costa Rica and Sept. 10 in Columbus hosting archrival Mexico, we can expect a new USMNT roster by early next week.
Since MLS stubbornly refuses to honor the FIFA International Match Calendar, any MLS players called to national team duty will miss key league games. Seattle Sounders players on the USMNT roster will miss two home games, Sept. 4 versus Chivas USA and Sept. 7 versus the Chicago Fire.
The league standings are tight in MLS and every game is crucial in securing a playoff birth.
Because all of the European-based players are free from club duty there is a strong possibility that the MLS playoff race will affect Jurgen Klinsmann's roster choices. Klinsmann will certainly call his MLS starters but clubs may be reluctant to release key players during the playoff chase to sit on the USMNT bench.
If Klinsmann doesn't call in a player for these qualifiers, it does not mean that player is out of the national team picture: "If they are not called in for the games against Costa Rica it doesn’t mean that any of those guys are out of the picture by any means."
That's next week. This week we review the performances of the home guard adding two new players to the guard: Juan Agudelo and Carlos Bocanegra.
All metrics courtesy of MLSsoccer.com.
The Sounders stand to lose the most player games for the upcoming USMNT World Cup qualifiers. They have two league games and supplied three key players for the last round of qualifiers.
Brad Evans has been Klinsmann's preferred right back in the recent qualifiers and Clint Dempsey is the team's captain. With a lot of choices on the wing and Altidore in full form, Eddie Johnson may stay in Seattle for these qualifiers.
Clint Dempsey (90', 75 touches, 86% passing, 13 turnovers, 2 defensive plays)
Eddie Johnson (90', 100 touches, 1 goal, 5 shots, 3 on target, 82% passing, 16 turnovers, 4 defensive plays)
Brad Evans (90', 75 touches, 83% passing, 10 turnovers, 8 defensive plays)
The LA Galaxy home guard will miss only one league game for the World Cup qualifiers. The Galaxy currently hold a playoff spot and they are also used to playing without Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez. Expect to see both of them on Klinsmann's next roster.
Landon Donovan (119', 146 touches, 1 goal, 2 assists, 1 shot, 1 on target, 68% passing, 23 turnovers, 11 defensive plays)
Omar Gonzalez (180', 180 touches, 1 shot, 1 on target, 85% passing, 16 turnovers, 43 defensive plays)
Sporting Kansas City
Center back Matt Besler is at the top of Klinsmann's depth chart and will miss Sporting's game against Columbus on September 7 for national team duty.
Winger Graham Zusi was injured during the MLS All-Star game on July 31 and missed Sporting's next four games. Their game against the Fire was Zusi's first game back.
Klinsmann is fond of Zusi but has many winger options including newcomer Aron Johannsson. Klinsmann may leave Zusi off the qualifying roster to allow him time to fully recover under the auspices of the KC medical staff and assess his new talent under fire.
Matt Besler (90', 120 touches, 72% passing, 17 turnovers, 24 defensive plays)
Graham Zusi (90', 118 touches, 3 shots, 1 on target, 81% passing, 16 turnovers, 8 defensive plays)
San Jose Earthquake
The San Jose Earthquake did without three key players during the Nats' Gold Cup run. If Klinsmann leaves Eddie Johnson in Seattle he may bring in either Chris Wondolowski or Alan Gordon.
Clarence Goodson will most likely be replaced by a European-based player, probably John Brooks, so he doesn't sit on the USMNT bench while his Earthquake fight for a playoff spot.
Chris Wondolowski (90', 58 touches, 1 shot, 1 on target, 85% passing, 5 turnovers, 5 defensive plays)
Alan Gordon (58', 54 touches, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 shots, 1 on target, 70% passing, 8 turnovers, 5 defensive plays)
Clarence Goodson (90 minutes, 76% passing, 5 turnovers, 18 defensive plays)
Real Salt Lake
Kyle Beckerman is in good form, but with holding midfielders Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and utility man Geoff Cameron all released from club duty Beckerman may get to stay home and help his club.
Tony Beltran has been playing well at right back, a sore spot for Klinsmann, but Beltran is behind a couple of players on the USMNT depth chart so he may not get the call.
Nick Rimando is third on the USMNT depth chart and it will be interesting to see who Klinsmann calls to be the No. 3 keeper for the qualifiers. Does he call in a veteran MLS netminder to sit on his bench? Or does he bring in a European-based keeper?
Kyle Beckerman (90', 123 touches, 2 goals, 5 shots, 3 on target, 86% passing, 13 turnovers, 8 defensive plays)
Tony Beltran (180', 247 touches, 1 shot, 78% passing, 35 turnovers, 20 defensive plays)
Nick Rimando (90', 0 goals against, 1 save)
Brad Davis and Corey Ashe are unlikely to be called in for these qualifiers. Houston is currently on the outside looking in for the MLS playoffs and the Dynamo play two games during the USMNT camp. Either player would be a reserve for Klinsmann and he has other options among his European-based players.
Brad Davis (90', 117 touches, 1 shot, 73% passing, 19 turnovers, 15 defensive plays)
Corey Ashe (90' 110 touches, 82% passing, 13 turnovers, 17 defensive plays)
New England Revolution
Juan Agudelo is the youngest player to ever score a goal for the senior national side. He was flying high on the USMNT radar but an injury kept him out of the Gold Cup this summer.
Agudelo is another player who could replace Eddie Johnson for the qualifiers, or he could make the roster on his current form alone. In the video above he scores a sick goal against the Chicago Fire last week, then came back this weekend to nab a brace against the Philadelphia Union.
New England is in the thick of a tough battle for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Agudelo, however, is running out of opportunities to impress Klinsmann. If he is called, he will go.
Carlos Bocanegra came back to MLS specifically to get more playing time and improve his chances of making his third FIFA World Cup team. With 110 caps he is one of the most experienced players in the USMNT player pool. He can also play full-back, a valuable commodity for the USMNT.
With his experience and versatility on the back line there is no doubt that Klinsmann and his staff are carefully following Bocanegra's move to Chivas USA. Chivas is dead last in the Western Conference, though they nearly doubled their win total after signing Bocanegra. Next week, Bocanegra may get his chance to demonstrate his current form to Klinsmann.
Carlos Bocanegra (180', 155 touches, 1 shot, 1 on target, 75% passing, 21 turnovers, 41 defensive plays)
Sean Johnson is probably fourth on the USMNT goalkeeper depth chart but he is in the same boat as Nick Rimando when it comes to availability for the upcoming qualifiers. The Chicago Fire play two league games during the upcoming USMNT camp and the Fire already did without Johnson for a month during this summer's Gold Cup. Don't expect him on next week's roster.
Sean Johnson (90', 0 goals against, 4 saves)
The Home Guard and the MLS Playoff Races
Several of the home guard teams did without their star players during the USMNT June World Cup qualifiers and the July Gold Cup. All but one home guard team is in the thick of the MLS playoff chase. Given these two factors, it would not be surprising if Klinsmann only called in his most crucial MLS players for next week's USMNT camp and qualifiers.
This is pure speculation, however, and with the European-based players just starting their seasons and working into game shape, Klinsmann could go the other way completely.
"The beginning stage of every season is always full of surprises and difficulties of getting into a rhythm, especially for the bigger teams," Klinsmann told USSoccer.com. "It takes about 4-6 weeks to really get going."
The MLS players are in peak form and playing highly competitive games each week. Looked at from that perspective, Klinsmann may actually call up a MLS-heavy roster.
This issue will only intensify for the final two World Cup qualifiers in October. By then every MLS game will have playoff—and financial—implications. Also, some MLS teams may have clinched a playoff spot or been eliminated from playoff contention by then.
If the U.S. punches its ticket to Brazil during the next two qualifiers Klinsmann can leave key players with their clubs for the October qualifiers. Conversely, if the U.S. still needs October results to qualify for the World Cup, expect Klinsmann to pick his preferred team regardless of its effect on the MLS clubs.
For this round we'll all find out for certain in the next week how Klinsmann coordinates with MLS. Expect a heavy dose of rumors to fly around in the meantime.