Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
When Major League Soccer designed the 2013 schedule, they did so knowing that games would be played during the many FIFA international windows that appeared during this calendar year.
On eight different occasions since the start of the season in early March, teams have lost key players for stretches ranging from a week to a month at a time while on international duty with their national team. Now, with three weeks remaining, a number of teams will lose multiple starters as they try and keep pace or leapfrog their opponents to make the playoffs in one of the tightest playoff races in recent memory.
Teams such as the Los Angeles Galaxy and Portland Timbers, and Chicago Fire are looking deep through their squads to replace the multiple starters that each of them are losing to their national teams, while others are losing key players just when they’re desperate for a win.
Here’s a closer look at which teams are affected the most by international call-ups:
BIGGEST IMPACT – LA GALAXY
Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena must be cursing his luck after his plea to have Robbie Keane released from the Republic of Ireland squad was rejected on Wednesday. Along with Keane, Arena likely won’t have the services of Landon Donovan, Jaime Penedo, and Omar Gonzalez, who is injured but was originally called into the U.S. Men’s National Team for the October qualifiers. Unless all four can return from international duty/injury in less than 24 hours, it looks likely that the Galaxy will have to improvise in a key late-season match against the Montreal Impact.
The worst aspect in this situation for the Galaxy is that the match next Wednesday against the Impact was originally scheduled for April 6, but was moved back so that the Galaxy could contend in the CONCACAF Champions League, which they were unsuccessful in.
LARGE IMPACT – SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES, COLORADO RAPIDS, VANCOUVER WHITECAPS, CHICAGO FIRE
Each of these four teams on the edge in the playoff race. One poor result could send them in one direction, while a positive result can lift them and give them a better chance or any chance of securing a place in the playoffs.
That’s why it’s a huge blow for each of these teams to lose starters this late in the season. When the Rapids visit the Earthquakes on Wednesday evening, they’ll be without two starting forwards, Gabriel Torres and Deshorn Brown, both coming off terrific performances against the Seattle Sounders. The Earthquakes will be missing Victor Bernardez and Marvin Chavez to the Honduras National Team plus Cordell Cato and Steven Beitashour will both leave after Wednesday, but it could have been worse if Clarence Goodson and or Alan Gordon had been called up to the USMNT.
The Whitecaps essentially need to win on Wednesday night and playing without Johnny Leveron and Darren Mattocks, who had an inspired performance on Sunday against the Portland Timbers, is a big loss to a team that is close to being eliminated. Meanwhile, the Fire sit two points outside of the final playoff spot in the east but Frank Klopas loses midfield stud Arevalo Rios and wide midfielder Joel Lindpere for a game against a team that is officially out of the playoffs with anything but a win in FC Dallas.
MEDIUM IMPACT – HOUSTON DYNAMO, SPORTING KANSAS CITY, SEATTLE SOUNDERS, PORTLAND TIMBERS
One of the must-watch clashes on Wednesday night is Sporting Kansas City’s trip south to face the Houston Dynamo. Despite two key international absences on either side, both teams will still be able to put on a show for the fans.
Sporting KC will be without American duo Matt Besler and Graham Zusi while the Dynamo lose Oscar Boniek Garcia and Jermaine Taylor, but the two Eastern Conference teams are in pretty comfy positions at the moment, and even if the Dynamo were to lose they would still be in the playoff picture.
FC Dallas could have been in the higher impact group, but not losing Raul Fernandez, who has kept them in many games with his acrobatic saves, to the Peruvian National Team keep the impact of losing a forward like Blas Perez on the team lower. Sure, someone is going to have to step up and fill his shoes, but the team has had plenty of chances to play without Je-Vaugn Watson and Perez as he’s been in and out of the lineup all season to play with the Panama squad.
The Sounders are the only team in MLS to play twice during the international break, and they’ll have to do so without the services of Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans. It could have been worse had Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins been fit for action and called up as well, but those two coming in ensures that there’s still plenty of talent on the field as well as the dearth of attacking options off the bench. The Sounders opponent’s on Sunday night will be the Portland Timbers, who lose Rodney Wallace, Alvas Powell, and Ryan Johnson to international duty but keep Donovan Ricketts, who saved the Timbers multiple times in their wild 2-2 draw with the Whitecaps last Sunday.
LOW IMPACT – NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION, NEW YORK RED BULLS, REAL SALT LAKE
Both the Revolution and the Red Bulls, who met just last Saturday at Red Bull Arena in a 2-2 draw, have little to worry about over the next week.
The Red Bulls are off until Sunday, October 20, so they won’t mind too much that both Tim Cahill and David Carney are with the Australia squad in Europe, though surely the club is hoping they don’t return with any injuries. Also off during this international break is Real Salt Lake, who lose three starters in Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, and Alvaro Saborio but can still clinch a playoff spot on Wednesday with a Rapids win or draw without even playing a game themselves.
At the same time, the Revolution are just losing Jerry Bengtson to Honduras, and Bengtson doesn’t even start for Jay Heaps’ squad, so even though they’re still trying to secure a place in the playoffs, the Revolution won’t miss him that much.
NO IMPACT – PHILADELPHIA UNION, MONTREAL IMPACT, CHIVAS USA, TORONTO FC, D.C. UNITED
The Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact are both currently in line to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and aren’t losing anyone who is a regular member of the first team to an international call up.
Toronto FC, D.C. United, and Chivas USA are all already eliminated from the MLS playoffs, so their international departures only serve to give other players a chance to start a late-season MLS match.
Here’s a full list of players from MLS teams on international duty in October:
Joel Lindpere (Estonia), Arevalo Rios (Uruguay)
Gabriel Torres (Panama), Deshorn Brown (Jamaica)
Kevan George (Trinidad and Tobago)
Dwayne De Rosario, Dejan Jakovic (Both Canada)
Blas Perez (Panama), Je-Vaughan Watson (Jamaica)
Oscar Boniek Garcia (Honduras), Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica)
Robbie Keane (Ireland), Landon Donovan (USA), Jaime Penedo (Panama)
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Jerry Bengtson (Honduras)
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Tim Cahill, David Carney (Both with Australia)
Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica), Ryan Johnson, Alvas Powell (Both with Jamaica)
REAL SALT LAKE
Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica), Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando (Both with USA)
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Graham Zusi, Matt Besler (Both with USA)
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Victor Bernardez, Marvin Chavez (Both with Honduras), Steven Beitashour (Iran), Cordell Cato (Trinidad and Tobago)
Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson (Both with USA)
Kyle Bekker, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio (all with TFC)
Johnny Leveron (Honduras), Darren Mattocks (Jamaica), Carlyle Mitchell (Trinidad and Tobago after Wednesday)
What do you think of these selections? Do you agree with them? Do you see the Galaxy overcoming the loss of four starters (including Omar Gonzalez)? Which team do you see overcoming their losses the best?
Share your thoughts below.