The Home Guard: MLS Players in the US Men's National Team Player Pool
Welcome to the first edition of the Home Guard, a weekly review of Major League Soccer players in the US Men’s National Team player pool.
Any current fantasy starting XI for the USMNT in Brazil will include 4-7 MLS players. This means MLS players will have a profound impact on the Nats’ performances in Brazil.
Much like the ubiquitous Americans “abroad” features, we’ll look at the players' club performances for the past week, provide some metrics courtesy of MLSsoccer.com, and assess how that player’s performance affected his chances of making the final World Cup roster and the overall quality of the USMNT.
The MLS/USMNT player pool will consist of any current MLS player who was either capped in 2013 or whose name appeared on any of the last three USMNT rosters.
If you think there is an MLS player who could figure into coach Juergen Klinsmann’s plans for Brazil, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll consider adding their name to the Home Guard.
Clint Dempsey (90’, 88 touches, 4 shots, 2 on target, 80% passing, 15 turnovers, 4 fouls against)
Dempsey’s surprise move to MLS will likely save a lot of wear and tear on his 30-year old body during this important World Cup year.
Klinsmann released him from national team duty last week so Dempsey could concentrate on getting to know his new teammates in Seattle and on settling with his family into their new digs.
Dempsey played his first full 90-minute game for the Sounders in a 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo. In a preview of things to come, Houston coach Dominic Kinnear designed a game plan specifically to limit Dempsey’s touches, movement and ultimately his effect on the game.
According to ASN, Klinsmann is as concerned as everyone else with whether or not Dempsey can maintain, much less raise, his level of play in MLS. With Dempsey the target of every MLS opponent’s game plan, however, Duece will learn how to be effective under tough circumstances and this can only add to his veteran repertoire.
Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson were both with the national team for Wednesday’s friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Evans started at right back while Johnson started on the left wing but shifted to forward when Klinsmann tweaked his base formation.
Johnson did open the scoring for the U.S. though it was a simple finish and otherwise he didn’t look very sharp. Johnson got 52 touches on the ball in 63 minutes and completed 85% of his passes, but he suffered eight turnovers including a howler on the edge of his own 18 that led to the first Bosnia-Herzegovina goal.
Evans had 73 touches in 87 minutes, completing 82% of his passes with seven turnovers and nine total defensive plays. Fullbacks are also supposed to deliver crosses, however, and Evans was 0 for 4 with his crossing attempts.
Evans was called upon late against Houston and successfully delivered three of his seven crosses in 28 minutes of action.
Cory Ashe (90’, 78% passing, 8 turnovers, 14 defensive plays)
Ashe is still in the Home Guard from his stint on the Gold Cup roster.
He doesn’t figure in Klinsmann’s World Cup plans unless something goes horribly wrong at fullback for the U.S. In other words, keep your cell phone on Cory.
Brad Davis (82’, 2 assists, 2 shots, 1 on target, 78% passing, 10 turnovers, 9 defensive plays)
Both of Davis’ assists came from the run of play and occurred in the middle of the field. This is a bit unusual for the set-piece and crossing specialist (0 for 4 crosses).
Davis will suffer the same fate as many other USMNT wing hopefuls, Klinsmann simply has too many wing options. A move to fullback seems to be the way to reverse a winger’s World Cup hope.
Real Salt Lake
Kyle Beckerman (90’, 111 touches, 82% passing, 14 turnovers, 12 defensive plays)
Beckerman is on the short list to make the final roster as a backup defensive midfielder.
Klinsmann keeps calling him back and his competition from Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark is fading. However, with Jeff Cameron’s ability to play this position Beckerman could be the odd man out next May.
Tony Beltran (90’, 102 touches, 82% passing, 11 turnovers, 16 defensive plays)
Beltran is still in the mix because of the Nats’ lack of depth at fullback and Steve Cherundolo’s continuing injury woes.
Nick Rimando (90’, 4 goals against, 5 saves)
Until we see a roster that says otherwise, Rimando is still the U.S. number three backstop.
Landon Donovan (90’, 84 touches, 1 assist, 3 shots, 1 on target, 43% passing, 13 turnovers, 10 defensive plays)
Donovan usually posts low passing percentages because he likes to distribute the ball in dangerous situations. These are riskier passes but come with high rewards as witnessed by his assist and six key passes.
Omar Gonzalez (90’, 97 touches, 1 goal, 4 shots, 75% passing, 10 turnovers, 27 defensive plays)
Gonzalez had one goal on four shots to illustrate his attacking abilities off set pieces and he was very active on the defensive end. Gonzalez’s skills were rewarded with a new Designate Player contract with MLS that will keep him in L.A.
His starting center back position with the national team, however, is not as certain. After starting a string of World Cup qualifiers in the spring, he never made it off the bench for the last three Gold Cup games.
Throw in the impressive international debut of John Brooks and the competition for center back on the final World Cup roster is just starting to heat up.
San Jose Earthquakes
Chris Wondolowski (90’, 75 touches, 1 goal, 3 shots, 66% passing, 13 turnovers)
Despite finding his scoring touch in the Gold Cup, Wondo is still a long shot to make the final World Cup roster. The introduction of forward Aron Johannsson into the player pool doesn’t help his chances.
Alan Gordon (89’, 118 touches, 57% passing, 24 turnovers)
Gordon is in the Home Guard because he was on the Gold Cup roster even though he never saw any game minutes. Unless catastrophe strikes, he won’t be going to Brazil.
Clarence Goodson (90’, 49 touches, 2 shots, 1 on target, 71% passing, 7 turnovers, 11 defensive plays)
Goodson had a decent Gold Cup and paired with Matt Besler during the elimination round. If the emergence of Brooks is a challenge to Omar Gonzalez, it is clear and present threat to Goodson.
Matt Besler (90’, 105 touches, 60% passing, 22 turnovers, 17 defensive plays)
Besler struggled to deliver accurate balls out of the back but is still a good bet to play in Brazil given his performances for the USMNT over the last year.
Graham Zusi has not played since injuring his thigh in the MLS All-Star game. Either Sporting is being cautious bringing him back, or the injury is worse than anyone is letting on.