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 MLS, American soccer’s National Guard.
Will 2014 be the year the Red Bulls finally get their wings? Sorry, I had to.
Despite being one of MLS’ founding clubs New York has never hoisted the league’s top prize. The former MetroStars — RIP — have made the playoffs 14 times in 18 years of MLS competition. Since energy drink giant Red Bull purchased the franchise in 2006 they have missed the playoffs just once. The club’s greatest moment came in 2008, when they reached the MLS Cup final despite having a losing record in the regular season. After being soundly defeated by the Columbus Crew, the Red Bulls bottomed out in 2009, finishing with just five wins. Since then, a great deal of spending has led to four straight playoff runs. With increased spending comes increased expectations and four consecutive quarterfinal exits cannot make the fine folks at Red Bull happy. Led by second year coach and former USMNT defender Mike Petke, the Red Bulls will look to finally claim the MLS Cup in 2014, although their window as contenders is closing fast — at least until they buy a whole new window.
The MetroStars/Red Bulls have been blessed with a shocking amount of USMNT talent since their inception in 1996. Marcelo Balboa,Tim Howard, Tony Meola, Tab Ramos, Alexi Lalas, Jeff Agoos, Eddie Pope, Claudio Reyna, Clint Mathis Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo have all suited up for New York, forming a pretty impressive national side. Unfortunately, the current Red Bulls squad is dominated by international players. There are a few Americans of note in the squad, although none are likely headed to Brazil.
DREAMS OF BRAZIL: Dax McCarty
Dax is probably my favorite player on my favorite MLS squad, and yes it’s due to the “gnarly” name. McCarty is a good holding midfielder who lacks that one elite skill. He’s been a rock in the center of the park for New York the past three seasons but has not made an impact for the United States, earning just five caps, most of them in the Bob Bradley era. He was called in by Jürgen Klinsmann for the recent friendly versus South Korea, but was the lone healthy American to not see the field.
Other names to note: Eric Alexander (M)
FUTURE GOLD CUP HEROES: Eric Alexander
Also called into Klinsmann’s January camp was this man. Despite seeing the field for a handful of truly unmemorable minutes he has a zero percent chance of going to Brazil. He also plays the same position as McCarty, making the two the homeless person’s version of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. He and McCarty are so close that Alexander wound up in this section because he has fewer caps (2) than McCarty (5).
Other names to note: Connor Lade (D), Dax McCarty (M), Luis Robles (GK)
YOU HAVE DEFINITELY SEEN ME IN FIFA: Thierry Henry, Forward, France
This man deserves his own special section. With the exception of some guy named Beckham, Henry is the most prized international signing in MLS history. In fact, those two run circles around the rest of the candidates. I haven’t seen any other players in America’s top league star in a Gillette commercial with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. On the pitch, Henry has won everything there is to win in soccer. World Cup? Check. European Championship? Check. Confederations Cup? Check. Champions League? Check. League titles in France, England and Spain? Check. Check. Check. Henry has appeared for a who’s who of European clubs: Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and you’d be hard pressed to find a better and more consistent striker during the first decade of the 21st century. Now plying his trade west of the Hudson River, the only thing that eludes Arsenal’s all time leading scorer is an MLS title. Henry has scored double-digit goals in all three of his full MLS seasons, although his scoring dipped to just ten tallies in 2013. Henry will need to have a huge 2014 in order to finally bring that elusive trophy to the metropolitan area.
YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN ME IN FIFA: Tim Cahill, Midfielder/Forward, Australia; Péguy Luyindula, Forward, France; Roy Miller, Defender, Costa Rica; Lloyd Sam, Midfielder, England; Ibrahim Sekagya, Defender, Uganda; Bradley Wright-Phillips, Forward, England
Cahill is probably the best known of this bunch. Tim Howard’s former teammate at Everton is famous for his attacking flair and his awesome goal celebration in which he repeatedly punches the corner flag. The 34-year-old Aussie is most likely headed to his third World Cup in June.
Luyindula spent several years as one of the better strikers in France. Before coming to New Jersey he starred for Lyon, Marseille and PSG in Ligue 1. He has one goal in six appearances for France. Miller is a solid CONCACAF defender and should start for Costa Rica at the World Cup. Sam spent time at a rebuilding Leeds United and is one of the more dynamic wingers in MLS. Sekagya spent several years at sister club Red Bull Salzburg and has 35 international caps for Uganda. Wright-Phillips has played and scored in the top three divisions of England. Many fans know him best as England international Shaun Wright-Phillips’ half-brother.
Other names to note: Armando (D – Spain), Richard Eckersley (D – England), Kosuke Kimura (D – Japan), Jámison Olave (D – Colombia), Ambroise Oyongo (D – Cameroon)
AS SIMPLE MINDS SAID, “DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME“: Bobby Convey
I feel as if this section was created especially for Convey. He was one of the rare bright spots for the Yanks during their awful 2006 World Cup effort. His free kick against Italy eventually ended up in the back of the net, the result of a Cristian Zaccardo own goal. Convey played 46 times for the Stars and Stripes from 2000-2008. Additionally he enjoyed six years in England, making 112 appearances for Reading in the Premier League and Championship. Still only 30 (!) — his first cap came at the age of 17 — Convey has been quietly applying his trade in MLS for the past five seasons and should be a threat at left wing for the Red Bulls.
Other names to note: Luis Robles (GK)
GET READY FOR DOHA: Ryan Meara
Meara received steady playing time as rookie keeper in 2012 before an injury ended his season. He played in zero league games for the Red Bulls in 2013, so he’s a potential bounce-back candidate. He’s also chosen for this section because Connor Lade is already 24 years old. Not a lot of young American talent for New York at the moment.
Other names to note: Matt Miazga (D)
HOW MUCH DOES JÜRGEN CARE: 2 out of 10