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.
Trivia question: Which team scored the first ever MLS goal? That’s right, San Jose. Sure they were called the Clash, and that version of the franchise moved to Houston in December 2005, but the point is that the city of San Jose has played an important part in MLS’ history.
After winning two championships in 2001 and 2003, the Bay Area was left without a soccer club for two seasons when the Clash moved to Houston. The Earthquakes returned to MLS in 2008 and have made the playoffs just twice in those six seasons. Despite missing the playoffs in 2013, the Earthquakes closed strong, taking 17 of 21 points in the final seven matches of the season. Former Canadian international Mark Watson had the interim tag dropped from before his managerial title, and returns to lead a strong Earthquakes side in 2014. Expectations are high once again, especially with the opening of a brand new stadium in early August.
The Earthquakes boast two of the most polarizing players in the USMNT pool. Clarence Goodson has his fans (Dan Popko) and his skeptics (Me). Chris Wondolowski was a two time MLS Golden Boot winner — in 2010 and 2012 — who did absolutely nothing when called up to the USMNT. In 2013, his club form deteriorated, but he scored six times for his country as the US won the Gold Cup. These two will have every movement on the pitch evaluated by Jürgen Klinsmann, who is just days away from naming his preliminary World Cup roster.
DREAMS OF BRAZIL: Clarence Goodson
Goodson returned to San Jose last summer and played an important role in their second half surge. Goodson might be the most divisive of all the USMNT fringe players. The big center back is dominant in the air, both defensively and off of corner kicks. He’s not overly athletic, but very rarely lets strikers get past him in the box. Where he struggles most is in his distribution from the back. When he is content to pass to the wing, or to his holding midfielders, Goodson is a vital asset in the back. When he starts bombing long passes towards his forwards, he becomes almost unwatchable. Unfortunately, Goodson’s passing varies on a game to game basis. When he focuses on defending and maintaining possession, he’s a viable starter in the back. When he does the worst Andrea Pirlo impression known to man, he becomes a severe liability, especially in games where possession will be a precious commodity, like those awaiting the USA in Brazil.
Other Names to Note: Chris Wondolowski (F)
FUTURE (AND PAST) GOLD CUP HEROES: Chris Wondolowski
Even more divisive than Goodson among fans is this man. Wondo went into last summer’s Gold Cup as a pariah, a striker who delivered for his club but not for his country. After bagging four goals in the Gold Cup and netting a brace in the January friendly against South Korea, Wondolowski went from afterthought to potential USMNT World Cup striker. Personally, I don’t buy the hype. Wondo’s scoring dropped considerably in MLS last season, and his four summer goals came against squads that had no chance of making the World Cup. He cannot create his own shot at all. He’s made a nice career out of being in the right place at the right time, but his ceiling is running amok against over-matched CONCACAF opponents.
Other Names to Note: Alan Gordon (F), Steven Lenhart (F)
YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN ME IN FIFA: Victor Bernárdez, Defender, Honduras; Yannick Djaló, Midfielder, Portugal; Andreas Görlitz, Defender, Germany
Bernádez has been battling the USMNT for years as a center back for Honduras. He’s most likely headed to his second World Cup in June. Djaló was a key member of some strong Sporting CP teams and has several appearances in both the Champions and Europa League’s. Capped once for Portugal, he hopes a loan spell at San Jose can revive a career that has stagnated since moving to Benfica in 2012. Görlitz is a three time Bundesliga winner at Bayern Munich, but never made a huge impact for the German giants. He has two caps for Germany.
Other Names to Note: Atiba Harris (F – St. Kitts and Nevis), Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (M – France), Khari Stephenson (M – Jamaica), Jordan Stewart (D – England)
AS SIMPLE MINDS SAID, “DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME“: Sam Cronin, Alan Gordon
Cronin received two caps under Bob Bradley as part of the ill-fated 2009 U.S. Gold Cup Squad. The midfielder has not appeared under Jürgen Klinsmann, but he is still plugging away in MLS. Gordon occasionally finds his way into Jürgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster, yet has only gotten one cap for the Yanks. His most notable professional moment came when he was suspended three games for calling Portland defender Will Johnson a homophobic slur. Not exactly a fan favorite among USMNT fans.
Other Names to Note: Jason Hernandez (D)
GET READY FOR DOHA: None
San Jose is a club that is made up mostly of veteran players. Adam Jahn had a few nice moments for the USA U-18 squad, but that was five years ago. None of the youth players have proven themselves yet.
HOW MUCH DOES JÜRGEN CARE: 6 out of 10