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.
Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love. Unless you’re Santa Claus. Or Freddy Adu. Then, GTFO. But while Adu was cast aside, plenty more talent was brought into the Union squad. Talent that could see the team potentially add its second playoff appearance in its five years of existence. Though hardly expected to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference, stabilizing new pieces like Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira and — most importantly to Jürgen Klinsmann and USMNT fans — Maurice Edu should keep the team competitive throughout the season.
While Edu is the big draw for national team supporters, there is just enough fringe national team talent of the past, present and future to keep it interesting. Conor Casey will bring back memories of 2010 qualifying’s greatest moments. Jack McInerney will conjure images of a free-scoring American side taking over Russia and Qatar. Brian Carroll will make everyone go, “Who? Wait wait? Eight caps? No really, who is that?” There’s something for everybody.
For the right here and now though, it starts and ends with Edu. He’s on the fringes, but his drop means a solid early campaign and career revitalization with Philadelphia could do wonders in Klinsmann’s eyes. I’m on record that if he comes out and shows he is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, he’ll get a legitimate crack at the squad for Brazil. It’s the type of season he needs for his World Cup hopes. It’s also the type of season Philadelphia needs to really stake its claim in MLS. If it happens, it’s a win for both sides.
DREAMS OF BRAZIL: Maurice Edu
It’s kind of been a struggle lately for Edu. Dude just can’t seem to get a game. After a long and successful stint with Rangers in Scotland, his move to England and Stoke City — necessitated by the Glasgow club’s financial woes — did not go as planned. One game. Ten minutes. That’s been his Stoke career. With his lack of games, his appearances for the United States have decreased as well. It’s clear that Klinsmann still values him, but back in MLS on a season-long loan from Stoke, Edu will have to prove himself a valuable cog. He’ll get a chance and, if he can anchor the Philadelphia spine, he just might find himself fighting through a crowded defensive midfield group onto the plane to Brazil.
Other Names to Note: None
FUTURE GOLD CUP HEROES: Zac MacMath
When MacMath was still in college at Maryland, he looked like one of the next great American keepers. He hasn’t come in and taken the world by storm, or even really pushed his way into the Bill Hamid/Sean Johnson discussion, but he still has some developing to do. Top SuperDraft pick Andre Blake will push him, hard, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it can force the 22-year-old to find his stride — whether in Philly or elsewhere — it could very easily lead to a career spent on the fringes of the USMNT. Perfect for this section.
Other Names to Note: Amobi Okugu, Sheanon Williams, Danny Cruz
YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN ME IN FIFA: Sébastien Le Toux, Forward, France
When it comes to international “stars” in MLS, Le Toux is one that breaks the mold. For one, he hasn’t really been much of a star since his first run with the Union in 2010-11. No 30, the Frenchman played 15 games for FC Lorient in the mid 2000’s but spent most of his career stateside, bouncing around between a number of clubs — including the Seattle Sounders in their USL days. He found success with the Union and has turned that into a very nice career. It’s a sparse international presence overall. New winger and designated player Cristian Maidana played with Edu at Rangers and clocked some time at Spartak Moscow as well, while Keon Daniel is another familiar CONCACAF foe from Trinidad & Tobago.
Other Names to Note: Vincent Nogueira (D – France), Cristian Maidana (M – Argentina), Keon Daniel (M – Trinidad & Tobago)
AS SIMPLE MINDS SAID, “DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME“: Conor Casey
Oh, Conor. A remnant of the days when any big ol’ American striker was thrown into the lineup for the national team (See: Cooper, Kenny). That said, for a guy that only scored two goals in his 19 caps, he made an impact. Mostly because those two goals earned the USMNT a crucial three points in San Pedro Sula to qualify for South Africa, but still. In a move that Steve Fogarty is still salty about, Casey, along with a more constant presence like Brian Ching, was left out of the makeshift forward group that eventually made the World Cup roster. Instead, a spot went to Robbie Findley, because speed. At 32, Casey’s national team days are likely over. At least we’ll always have Honduras.
Other Names to Note: Brian Carroll
GET READY FOR DOHA: Jack McInerney
When JackMac’s name appeared on the Gold Cup roster last summer we were ready to announce him the breakout start of the tournament and 2014 USMNT World Cup star. Of course, one little thing got in the way: He didn’t play a single freaking minute. After a hot start in MLS, McInerney faded back to a (still solid) 12-goal campaign for the Union. Perhaps most remarkably, he is STILL JUST 21. Into his fourth season he goes, one of the most dangerous American attackers in the league. Once the World Cup has passed, I get the sense we might be seeing a little more of JackMac in the Stars and Stripes.
Other Names to Note: Zach Pfeffer
HOW MUCH DOES JÜRGEN CARE: 4 out of 10