Major League Soccer
April MLS Report Card: U.S. National Team Hopefuls
May 02, 2017
APRIL IS IN THE BOOKS and the U.S. national team will continue its World Cup Qualifying campaign against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico in a few short weeks. Head coach Bruce Arena is surely thinking about which players he will call on—and yeah, we're thinking about it too.
Arena has plenty to consider, especially with regards to his MLS-based U.S. internationals. Some players dusted off the early-season cobwebs and found their top form in recent weeks, while others are still struggling to get going. There was also the notable incident that left starting goalkeeper Tim Howard suspended (and gathering dust on the sidelines).
Here's a look at how some key MLS-based Americans fared in April, listed according to their current ASN 100 rankings.
The U.S. captain continued to serve as the key cog in Toronto FC’s midfield, playing every minute of every game for the Canadian side last month. He did not deliver any goals or assists, but did do his share of the dirty work in front of Toronto’s three-man back line. His ability to extinguish fires and link the back to the front helped his side post a respectable 2-1-1 record in April, but there is certainly a feeling that the Designated Player can hit another level. While many U.S. fans feel that an underwhelming Bradley should be benched it is extremely unlikely that Arena will make such a bold move with World Cup qualifying on the line. Grade: B
The New York Red Bulls finally switched back to their better-suited 4-2-3-1 formation in April, and Kljestan started to look like the Kljestan of old as a result. He found himself on the ball more often and in more dangerous spots when deployed centrally, and was better able to make an impact. The attacking midfielder recorded three assists in his five starts, but was unable to find the back of the net while also giving up penalty kick responsibilities to Daniel Royer. Grade: B-
If there was one player who made big strides as the month wore on, it was Altidore. The brawny Toronto FC striker got the nod in all four of the team’s matches and he went the distance in all but one of them. Altidore looked like the most dangerous version of himself, creating chances for teammates and finishing a few on his own. He ended the month with a brace in a 2-0 win vs. the Houston Dynamo but his assist to Sebastian Giovinco on April 8 was a thing of beauty and showcased his gradually improving touch. Grade: A-
An impressive goal in a rivalry game against the Vancouver Whitecaps highlighted a nice month for the Portland Timbers attacker. Nagbe proved to be threatening throughout his five starts in April, regularly pulling the trigger on shots and finishing with two goals and one assist. He has been aggressive and confident with the ball, and looks to be near his top form right now. Grade: B+
While he was the second-busiest of the bunch in terms of minutes played in April—450—Jones was a mixed bag in terms of his performance. He netted a nice insurance goal in an April 8 win against the Montreal Impact—a goal that came days after he sounded off on the criticism he often receives—and finished the month with two assists. One of those helpers was a nice, low diagonal ball that Romain Alessandrini finished off against stingy Orlando City. Still, Jones had some bad moments, including getting beaten to the ball on a corner kicker by Cyle Larin in stoppage-time of the Galaxy's 2-1 loss to Orlando. His contributions might be decent but the Galaxy need more from him, and others, in order to turn things around. Grade: C
It has been quite an ugly start to 2017 for Bedoya and the Philadelphia Union. The club remained winless in April by going 0-2-2, and pointed criticism has been directed at seemingly everyone in the organization. Bedoya, for his part, has not done enough to stave off blame. The every-game starter runs tirelessly and does other things that do not show up in the box score, but he needs to do provide more, especially when it comes to the attack, given that he is a Designated Player. Zero goals and zero assists for a well-compensated box-to-box midfielder is not cutting it. Grade: D
An ugly run-in with Sporting Kansas City fans on April 9 left Howard out of action for the remainder of the month. MLS banned him three games, which the Rapids all lost—including 1-0 to lowly Minnesota United—en route to falling to last place in the Western Conference. A seasoned veteran with experience at the top levels of the game, Howard knows he should have comported himself better in the situation. He hurt his image and he hurt his team. Grade: F
Seattle was not exactly overwhelmingly good in April, and neither was Morris. He found the back of the net just once in his four starts, and was subbed off in the 68th minute of each of the last two games. The Sounders’ attack has gotten by just fine without the speedy youngster making a huge impact (it bagged eight goals last month), but the seventh-placed Western Conference club could use more from Morris. Grade: C-
After showing he still had something in the tank to offer the U.S. in last month’s qualifiers, Dempsey returned to the Seattle Sounders and continued to be an every-game starter. A one-goal, one-assist outing from him led the club to a lopsided win over the LA Galaxy on April 23, but that was the only match in which he got on the boxscore. You would like to see Dempsey be more of a consistent difference-maker, but he is likely still working his way back to his top form. Earning four consecutive starts is also nothing to scoff at given the scary nature of his situation last year. Grade: C+
The Homegrown Player continued to be one of the best performers on an FC Dallas that is now the only undefeated team remaining in the league. Acosta recorded a goal and an assist in his four games, proving that his offensive contributions in March were no fluke. His game is rounding out nicely, as his two-way play has been vital to Dallas’ success to this point. Is he ready to push a regular U.S. national team player to the bench? Possibly. Grade: A
I can't say with any authority but I choose to believe that Zusi tries to push Opara in the way of the shot here. pic.twitter.com/Uv0Oz2GwTB— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 16, 2017
What could have been a short-term experiment is looking like a long-time solution. Zusi has been a key member of a strong Sporting Kansas City defense that ranks among the best in the league. He has been reading the game well and gotten forward to good effect, which is part of the reason Kansas City conceded just two times all month. Zusi has not been overly tested just yet, but he has done an admirable and smart job overall. Grade: A-
The speedy LA Galaxy attacker made his return to the field in April but, as could be expected, there was plenty of accumulated rust in his game. Zardes did not find the back of the net in his four appearances (three starts), and even the one assist he was credited with was questionable at best. Zardes missing LA’s last game against Philadelphia because of illness summed up a tough first month back. Grade: D
One player who is making a strong case for inclusion in June’s camp is the New England Revolution’s Juan Agudelo. The technically gifted 24-year-old started in each of New England’s six games in April and scored four goals to bring his season total to six. That figure is one shy of his career high, and surely has caught the eye of Arena. Agudelo’s performances have not resulted in many wins for the Revolution, which went 1-1-4 last month, but he is certainly doing his part by finding the back of the net with regularity. Grade: B+
Franco Panizo is a bilingual New York-based reporter who has covered the U.S. men's national team, MLS, and all levels of American soccer for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter.