Glamor lies on the pitches of Europe for many of our finest stars. But, as pioneers like Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley have proven, those who do most of their work stateside are just — if not more important — to USMNT hopes. This is the story of the players and teams of the MLS, American soccer’s National Guard.
Welcome to your picture of rampant MLS mediocrity. Despite being one of the league perennial competent teams since Year One, the Rapids have never really been great. Sure, they took home the league title in 2010, but that trophy masked a pattern of almost machine-like mid-table consistency.
In the eighteen seasons the Rapids have been around, they have finished between No. 3 and No. 5 in the Western Conference an astounding 16 times. Even during that magical title season Colorado only scraped into the playoffs with a fifth-placed finish. Only 2009 (6th) and 2012 (7th) broke the magical streak. Granted it was a lot easier to fall into 4th place when there were fewer teams in the league overall, but still. Consistency.
Even if you know nothing of MLS and just look at it from a national team perspective, it would be easy to pin the Rapids somewhere near the meat of the bell curve. All throughout the roster are CONCACAF semi-stars, former and current USMNT marginal “prospects” and the type of players who will tell the story of their one or two caps to their grandkids for decades.
All that is to say is that there is plenty of interesting things for Jürgen Klinsmann to look at with this team. He just doesn’t have to look too closely.
DREAMS OF BRAZIL: Chris Klute
This team is littered with players who have had cups of coffee with the national team or been stalwarts at the youth level, but very little top end talent. To be honest, it’s highly unlikely Klinsmann will be taking any Rapids with him to Brazil — Conor Casey is not walking through that door — but Klute may have the best chance, even if it’s only a fraction of a percentage point. He’s a talented left back, which is not something you can say for many players in this USMNT pool, but he didn’t even survive the one round of cuts in the camp of cupcakes this January. He’ll have to light MLS on fire this year to fight his way back into the discussion.
Other Names to Note: None
FUTURE GOLD CUP HEROES: Shane O’Neill
This team is positively littered with players that scream CONCACAF champions. At least in one of those off-year Gold Cups. Dillon Powers is an intriguing midfielder and Clint Irwin is another one of the “other” keepers in the pool, but O’Neill is probably going to be in his element when the next tournament rolls around. While he very well could break into the first team, the age of first choice center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler does not work in his favor and he is one of many young players competing to join the discussion next cycle — and probably well behind players like John Anthony Brooks and Will Packwood. But in the Gold Cup? He’ll thrive.
Other Names to Note: Dillon Powers, Nathan Sturgis, Clint Irwin, Drew Moor
YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN ME IN FIFA: Gabriel Torres, Forward, Panama
Give the Rapids credit, they play the international game in a way that does a lot of service to CONCACAF as a region. Panamanian forward Torres is probably the best of the bunch and wears the “designated player” distinction, but Honduras’ Marvin Chávez is no slouch and youngster Deshorn Brown is just breaking into an increasingly talented Jamaica side.
Other Names to Note: Marvin Chávez (M – Honduras), Deshorn Brown (F – Jamaica), Vincente Sánchez (F – Uruguay)
AS SIMPLE MINDS SAID, “DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME“: Edson Buddle
Edson Buddle! I bet you thought he retired, huh? One of the big surprise names on the 2010 World Cup roster fell out of the USMNT picture after turning his World Cup campaign into a lackluster, lower German league adventure, but is now back in MLS and (maybe) trying to force his way back into contention. I wouldn’t count on it.
Other Names to Note: Marvell Wynne
GET READY FOR DOHA: Danny Mwanga
While eligible for his native Democratic Republic of the Congo as well — if you read his story, it makes sense why he probably won’t want to play for them — Mwanga became as US citizen in 2013. He hasn’t made good on his talent as of yet, but he has it in droves and is still only 22. Colorado is deep at forward, but if Mwanga can force his way through, he could be an intriguing player in the future.
Other Names to Note: Chris Klute, Shane O’Neill, Dillon Serna
How MUCH DOES JÜRGEN CARE: 3 out of 10