This Major League Soccer offseason, three U.S. internationals have made moves into or within MLS. Eddie Johnson, after a long, public spat with the Seattle Sounders over his pay, left for D.C. United. Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst, both healthy, but receiving zero playing time with their clubs abroad, came home.
Now the question is, how will these moves affect those players' chances of making the United States men’s national team roster for the 2014 World Cup?
Eddie Johnson was the highest-profile USMNT World Cup hopeful to make an MLS transfer this offseason (Michael Bradley is a lock for the U.S. squad and, therefore, cannot be considered a “hopeful”).
After months of grumbling on Twitter about his relatively low pay (his 2013 compensation was $156,000 compared to Clint Dempsey’s $5 million), Eddie Johnson celebrated a goal in early September against the Columbus Crew with a “pay me” gesture to the crowd.
With the Sounders’ stable of forwards already more than adequate with Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle and Seattle unwilling to pay Johnson designated-player money, he was traded to D.C. United in December for allocation money.
With several strong performances in World Cup qualifying and this summer’s Gold Cup, many pundits would project Johnson as a near-lock for the World Cup roster. However, the competition at forward is intense with Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Terrence Boyd clearly in the mix and Herculez Gomez, Mike Magee, Chris Wondolowski and possibly even Juan Agudelo waiting for their chance.
While D.C. has made a number of strong off-season moves (bringing in Davy Arnaud, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Fabian Espindola and Jeff Parke, just to name a few) that should help them re-establish themselves as one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, a disastrous start for either the Black and Red, or Johnson himself, could seriously undermine his World Cup hopes.
There will be 12 weeks of MLS competition before the USMNT will convene for the World Cup training camp. Johnson needs to put in at least a mediocre performance with D.C. in those three months to make the squad.
After starring with Nordsjaelland in Denmark for several years, Michael Parkhurst had put himself firmly in contention for a World Cup roster spot. He won multiple trophies with Nordsjaelland and even played in the Europa League and the Champions League.
Then he made his ill-fated move to the Bundesliga and managed to play only two league matches in an entire year.
Still, Parkhurst has remained in contention for a World Cup roster spot. His versatility (he can play every position along the back line) as well as the mess the U.S. faces at right-back (where nearly a dozen candidates are vying for the starting role) have been key factors.
Over the past year, Parkhurst has continued to receive semi-regular call-ups from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, was a starter in the Gold Cup and started at left-back in the team’s friendly against South Korea on Saturday.
At Augsburg, Parkhurst’s lack of playing time put him at a serious disadvantage in the battle for a World Cup roster spot. But now that he’s moved back to MLS, as well as a promise by the Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter to play him at right-back until the World Cup, Parkhurst will have a chance to play regularly and right in front of the American coaching staff.
Still, it won’t be easy for Parkhurst to make the squad. So much competition at his position, as well as the distinct possibility that the Crew won’t be much better than their eighth-place Eastern Conference finish in 2013, still make him a long shot.
Finally, there is Maurice Edu. After winning the 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year award with Toronto FC, Edu made a move abroad to the Glasgow Rangers. He became a regular for the Scottish legends, but was forced to move in the fall of 2012 due to the squad’s financial issues and relegation to the fourth tier of Scottish football.
Edu went to the English Premier League’s Stoke City, but in a year and a half, managed only one, ten-minute league appearance. For awhile, Edu stayed in the USMNT picture, but his lack of club playing time, injuries and a less-than-impressive performance against Mexico in March during World Cup qualifying saw him fall quickly off Klinsmann’s radar.
The competition at center midfield on the USMNT is tight, with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley locks to make the squad and Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan all strongly in the mix.
Now back in MLS with the Philadelphia Union, Edu would have to edge out a resurgent Danny Williams, a recovering Stuart Holden and likely Kljestan or Beckerman to make the squad.
The Union have the potential to be a contender in the Eastern Conference with a mix of talented youngsters and MLS veterans and they barely missed the playoffs in 2013. However, the Eastern Conference is likely to be vastly improved in 2014 and both the Union and Edu will need a very strong start for Edu to get back in the mix for the USMNT.
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