International players. A blessing and a curse. For obvious reasons, every team wants to have players that have the ability to play and star on their national teams. There are teams in the world in which every player in their squad plays for their country. But MLS is at a self imposed disadvantage when it comes to the international breaks.
MLS does not halt league play for international play (there are some exceptions, such as the short pause that took place during the last World Cup). This means teams that have the blessing of having international caliber players are forced to play meaningful matches without their best players. Because of the salary structure in MLS, the distance between starter and reserve is expansive. So when Dwayne De Rosario gets called up, you have Stephen King pulling the strings in attack. So, you can see how that’s a problem.
This year, United has 8 players who will expect to be called up by their respective national teams to represent them in World Cup qualifying and the Olympics. Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, and Ethan White are likely to be called up for the U-23 team that will represent the US in London this Summer.* De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic will definitely be called up for Canada, and Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi will also feature for Montenegro and Albania, respectively. Andy Najar’s situation with Honduras is said to be more cloudy than the others, with the team unwillingly to release Najar unless the Honduran fixture falls within the mandated release days.
This leaves the team severely short-handed in some key locations. June should see Boskovic, Salihi, DeRo and Jakovic all miss time, so scoring goals in their absence will likely be difficult. More worrying to me is Hamid and Kitchen’s absence for the Olympics. Those are two key defensive players for a defense which has been decidedly leaky for the past 3 seasons. Their replacements, likely Joe Willis and Marcelo Saragosa, are likely to be adequate, but will not provide the same experience with the team or talent that the departed players provided. Willis filled in admirably last season, with Hamid missing multiple games thru injury, suspension, and international duty, and Saragosa has a history of being a tenacious midfielder, with little to offer going forward.
The team is likely to struggle in the summer, regardless of what Benny would have fans believe. The best outcome for the team would be to accumulate as many points as possible, earlier on in the season, while mixing in the reserves who will be asked to play major roles in the summer. When summer comes around, maybe a change in style is in order, with many of the creative players absent.
What I will say is that the gap between the starters and likely reserves this year is a lot narrower than it has been in past years. This could mean the ability to grind out results in June with players like Danny Cruz and Maicon Santos, instead of having to lean heavily on players like Austin De Luz and Craig Thompson.
- A note about De Rosario. I heard from multiple sources that the deal IS done, but for whatever reason, the team hasn’t made an announcement. Maybe they’re waiting for the captive newscycle that is Friday afternoon?
- The rumor mentioned by Steve Goff about two young Brazilians coming to DC on loan from a Serie A team has also not come to fruition. I imagine Ben wants all the players that he will have at his disposal to get in camp as soon as possible. Same goes for Salihi, who is awaiting his work permit.
- Blake Brettschneider, who was cut abruptly by United last week, said on his twitter page that he has a trial with New England, where he will meet up with ex-teammate, Clyde Simms. Good luck, Blake.
* As reader, Jon Schremp, noted, this of course is contingent on the US team making it to the tournament in the first place.