Many More International MLS-Based Players in 2014 World Cup Likely

Posted on August 22, 2013 4:33 am

by Derek Richey

For a league that still gets trampled on and derided by American Euro-league-snobs and presumptuous foreigners who haven’t seen an actual MLS game for 4-6 years, there seems to be real progress in the potential number of players who are based in MLS that will more than likely be on the rosters of World Cup teams.

In 1998, just a handful of years after the birth of Major League Soccer, there were only five international players who were based in MLS that made the roster for their country at the 1998 World Cup. Marcelo Vega of the Metro Stars made it for Chile; Uche Okafor, then with the KC Wizards, made the Nigerian roster; Jorge Campos was still with the Chicago Fire when he was picked by Mexico; Andy Williams of the Columbus Crew made the Jamaican squad; and finally, the one and only Carlos Valderrama (and his hair) of the Miami Fusion was still highly-valued by the Colombian national team.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the MLS-based players in 1998 were on the US Squad with a total of 16.

By 2002, the league had made a little progress, but took a big step back in the number of international players on World Cup rosters. In fact, there were no international players on any squad at the 2002 World Cup. Even the US team had trimmed the number of domestic players back to 11—and they went on to their best showing in the World Cup in the modern era.

I was one of “those guys” in 2002. I was critical of the league, unimpressed by the on field product in MLS and continued to mostly watch European league soccer (primarily the EPL—cos’ that is what was on!).

At the 2006 World Cup, the number of MLS-based Americans stayed at 11, but the internationals finally made a small comeback with four players: Douglas Sequeira of Real Salt Lake making the Costa Rican squad; Avery John (Revs) and Cornell Glen (LA) both making the Trinidad and Tobago roster, and Claudio Suarez of Chivas USA getting the nod for the Mexican team.

2010 showed a dip in both categories. Only four US players came from the domestic league, and only three from the international rosters, and two of those were from lowly New Zealand: Andrew Boyens (NY) and Jeremy Christie (Tampa Bay). Roger Espinoza of Kansas City got the call from Honduras, but that was all. I remember a few discussions at the time revolving around the massive decrease in both American and foreign MLS-based player participation in the World Cup. The critics used the evidence as leverage to argue that Major League Soccer was still inferior and lacked top players–even from CONCACAF. Frankly, they had a point.

But on the other hand, the Beckham Era was finally beginning to pay off for the league by 2010, as internationals from across the globe started to consider coming to MLS. Thierry Henry would make the big move in 2010, bringing further attention to the league; attendance at MLS games was increasing a bit each year. Financially unstable South American and Central American leagues meant that those players needed to find a new home, and MLS was eager to recruit them.

By 2012, the Major League Soccer player landscape had evolved substantially. Columbians, Costa Ricans, and some of the top Honduran and Panamanian players flocked stateside. Even Uruguayan internationals have made the move.

The likely/potential list of MLS-based players for the 2014 World Cup has increased dramatically since 2010. Probable MLS-based US players include Omar Gonzalez, Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Kyle Beckerman, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, and maybe even Carlos Bocanegra. Leaving Carlos out, that could be as many as 10 MLS-based US players in the 2014 World Cup.

Other international teams that still have a shot to qualify that have MLS-Based players are:
Panama: Jaime Penedo (LA), Gabriel Torres (RAP), Blas Perez (DAL).

Honduras: Alex Lopez (HOU), Boniek Garcia (HOU), Walter Martinez (SJ), Victor Bernardez (SJ), Marvin Chavez (SJ), Hendry Thomas (RAP), Jerry Bengtson (REV), Ramon Nunez (DAL), Johnny Leveron (VAN).

Uruguay: Egidio Arevalo (CHI), Vicente Sanchez (RAP).

Cameroon: Charles Eloundou (RAP)

Costa Rica: Alvaro Saborio (RSL), Jairo Arrieta (CREW), Leo Gonzalez (SEA), Rodney Wallace (PORT).

Nigeria: Obafemi Martins (SEA).

Peru: Ravi Fernandez (DAL)

Estonia*: Joel Lindpere (CHI)

Rep of Ireland*: Robbie Keane (LA)

* Not eliminated yet from qualifying, but have an unlikely road ahead to make World Cup 2014.

If all of these teams were to qualify ( a few will not), MLS-based internationals at the World Cup could go from 0 to 23 in just four years. While these aren’t the top soccer countries in the world by any means (though Uruguay has been pretty reliable), it does say that MLS has been ready to bid for some of the best players on our own side of the pond. We also have seen an increase in Argentinian players as well (just not World Cup caliber players currently—though some have past caps).

While MLS will continue to be bashed as a 3rd rate league by those who refuse to acknowledge progress or even watch a game, the evidence shows that more and more league teams are digging deeper, looking abroad for younger potential stars (Seattle’s Fredy Montero just scored at hat-trick on loan to Sporting in Portugal), and tapping into the region’s best international players.

We can all agree that youth development for MLS and US Soccer still has some serious progress to make, but the overall quality of players and play in the domestic league itself is on the rise, despite the never-ending poo-pooing of Major League Soccer.

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