Home Guard: USMNT Stars Sit Out This Week's Key MLS Games
The USMNT Home Guard took to the field for their MLS teams last week as the playoff race and the CONCACAF Champions League group stage come down to the final rounds.
Or some of them did anyway.
The premier matchup between Landon Donovan's LA Galaxy and Clint Dempsey's Seattle Sounders was contested without the two USMNT stars.
Neither injury appears serious and their clubs seem to be taking a cautious approach. USMNT fans will only have to work their worry beads until each appears again. Donovan's Galaxy have an away game at Cartagines on Wednesday. Dempsey's Sounders host the NY Red Bulls this Sunday.
USMNT hopeful Juan Agudelo of the New England Revolution also sat out last week with a tricky hamstring that limited his minutes last week. The Revolution are also taking a cautious approach with their young star.
In this week's edition of the Home Guard we'll look at the performances of the remaining MLS players on USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's short list and look down the road toward the upcoming October World Cup qualifiers.
Player data courtesy of MLSsoccer.com with all metrics computed by the author.
Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez were rested for the Galaxy's midweek CONCACAF Champions League game against Isidro Metapán of El Salvador. The Galaxy ground out a 1-0 victory with a reserve side that included young USMNT hopeful Jose Villarreal.
Donovan was a game-time decision for Sunday's marquee matchup against the Seattle Sounders. The Galaxy erred on the side of caution and gave their talisman a few more days to heal.
He could play midweek in a key CONCACAF Champions League game at Costa Rican side C.S. Cartagines.
The Galaxy lead Group 8, two points better than Cartagines with a game in hand, but a result at Estadio Nacional would qualify the Galaxy for the knockout round with one match to play in the group stage.
With the final game of the group stage away to Isidro Metapán the Galaxy may decide to field a first choice team in Costa Rica. If not, Donovan's next chance comes Sunday at the Portland Timbers.
Omar Gonzalez, on the other hand, had a busy evening hosting the Sounders and averaging a defensive play every 3.1 minutes. The first-choice USMNT centerback posted a 79 percent passing accuracy in the 1-1 draw, but turned the ball over every 7.8 touches.
Don't be surprised to see Gonzalez play on Wednesday to help secure the Galaxy's place in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout round.
Clint Dempsey was not available for the Seattle Sounders trip to Los Angeles but Eddie Johnson went the full 90 and Brad Evans put in a 14 minute shift at the end of the game to secure the draw.
Eddie Johnson scored the opening goal on yet another powerful header. However, his dominant aerial ability continues to mask his lack of ball control. His passing accuracy was a pedestrian 70 percent and he confirmed his reputation as a turnover machine coughing up the ball every 4.6 touches.
Brad Evans only had 11 touches but he didn't turn the ball over and managed just one attempt on goal as Seattle fought late in the game to steal the points from their hosts.
The Sounders don't play again until Sunday when they host the team currently leading MLS for the Community Shield, the New York Red Bulls.
The Sounders are only one point behind the Red Bulls with two games in hand so expect Seattle to have their best matadors in the arena.
Sporting KC's 1-1 home draw against Real Esteli didn't harm their chances of advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage. Sporting still hold a four point lead in Group 2 with two group games remaining.
Matt Besler started and went the full 90 for Sporting against the Nicaraguans but was surprisingly absent from their 2-1 league victory at Toronto FC.
Against Real Esteli, Besler completed 90 percent of his passes and only turned the ball over once every 14.1 touches. The USMNT centerback wasn't terribly busy in defense averaging only one defensive play every 6.4 minutes, but he was still a primary component for Sporting with 113 total touches.
Graham Zusi suited up and played the full 90 for both games. He stayed busy against Real Esteli with a team leading 129 touches and six attempts on goal. The USMNT winger was held to only 89 touches and 1 attempt on goal in Toronto.
Zusi's ball control should remain a concern for USMNT fans. Over the two games he gave the ball away once every 5.2 touches and completed only 64 percent of his passes. Zusi's offensive creativity and powerful shot are nice weapons in the USMNT arsenal, but his lack of control makes him a liability against quality opponents.
Sporting have a bye in this week's CONCACAF Champions League round but they'll be looking to close their three point deficit in MLS's Eastern Conference race when they host playoff hopefuls Philadelphia Union on Friday.
San Jose Earthquake
The victory against Montreal kept them alive in Group 5 of the CONCACAF Champions League but they still trail leaders Heredia by three points. The loss at Rio Tinto stadium against RSL kept them out of an MLS playoff spot, four points behind with four games to play.
As befitting a team with everything to play for, the Earthquake started their two members of the USMNT Home Guard in both games.
Forward Chris Wondolowski's hopes of going to Brazil may be fading with the rise and recent forms of Aaron Johannsson and Terence Boyd. There is no quit in this lad, however, and he continued to make his case with a goal against Montreal.
Wondo only turned the ball over once every 7.6 touches and completed 79 percent of his passes, both decent rates for a forward working under constant defensive attention.
Centerback Clarence Goodson may be in the best form of his career.
Coming off a Gold Cup championship this summer and a key start in the dos a cero victory against Mexico, Goodson continues to make Jurgen Klinsmann's defensive personnel decisions very difficult. Over the two games Goodson hit 84 percent of his passes, only turned the ball over once every 12.2 touches and made a defensive play once every 6.4 minutes.
The Earthquake must rely on Montreal to keep them alive in the CONCACAF Champions League, but they'll have a good chance at three points when they visit MLS basement-dwellers Chivas USA on the weekend.
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake are still in the hunt for the MLS Community Shield sitting only three points behind the New York Red Bulls. They took down the San Jose Earthquakes at home 2-1 over the weekend.
Holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman continues to be Real's key player. Despite the misgivings of USMNT fans his clutch performance against Mexico is evidence of his value to the USMNT.
Against San Jose, Beckerman hit 79 percent of his passes and got an assist to go with his three attempts on goal. He only turned the ball over once every 7.6 touches making a defensive play for every 6.4 minutes played.
Real travel to playoff hopefuls Vancouver Whitecaps FC this weekend.
Carlos Bocanegra came back to MLS to get regular playing time. On the back line of the worse defensive team in MLS the ex-USMNT captain is getting all he cares to eat.
Chivas USA conceded five goals at Houston last weekend. Bocanegra made a defensive play every 2.8 minutes as the lone finger plugging the hole in the dike. The veteran hit 80 percent of his passes turning the ball only once very 9.1 touches.
Bocanegra continue to make his case this weekend when Chivas hosts the San Jose Earthquake.
Home Guard and the USMNT
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann insists that he will bring his best team to the final two World Cup qualifiers in two weeks even though his team is already qualified for Brazil.
It is hard to imagine, however, that Klinsmann will call in most of the Home Guard with key MLS playoff contests taking place at the same time.
Don't be surprised if his roster is heavy on European-based and Liga-MX players, as well as MLS players whose teams are already looking toward the offseason.
Klinsmann knows what his Home Guard means to MLS, and at the very least he has to consider the increased risk of injury that could come from overusing his key Home Guard players.
The final two qualifiers are also a good opportunity to assess talent in competitive matches. But when it comes to reading Klinsmann's intentions, we've all been wrong before.
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