6713_beslerzusievans_isi_usmntmj020513064 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
The Hexagonal

MLS Assist: How the League Is Helping the U.S. Qualify

Jon Arnold examines the 2010 and 2014 World Cup cycles and tries to determine Major League Soccer's role. He finds that Bob Bradley relied upon the domestic league more but that could be changing.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
June 07, 2013
1:48 PM
Jurgen Klinsmann could deploy more players from Major League Soccer in Friday night's starting XI than in any other qualifier he’s overseen.

Three fourths of Klinsmann’s expected back line play in MLS, with Brad Evans set to join Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Graham Zusi should also start and Eddie Johnson or Brad Davis will likely see the field in Kingston as well.

While the domestic league isn’t, won’t be, and shouldn’t be the main source for the best American team, it is essential for the type of player development that creates a deep national team. Prior to the Hex, the situation looked different for MLS players seeing time under Klinsmann. When qualifying opened in 2012, it was Landon Donovan and friends from abroad, as the LA Galaxy midfielder was the only domestic-based player to start against Antigua and Barbuda at home and Guatemala away last summer. When injury struck and purpose eluded Donovan, the manager sent out a lineup with only one MLS starter and one sub (Kyle Beckerman and Brek Shea) before turning to Zusi and Johnson, who started the final two matches of the third round of qualifying. While Zusi also started the crucial September win against Jamaica in Columbus, the third round saw only a dozen MLS appearances in six matches for a paltry two-man average.

How does that figure compare to the previous cycle? In the 2009 Hexagonal, Bob Bradley used an average of 4.8 MLS players a match. Klinsmann, so far, has used an average of four. The emergence of Gonzalez and Besler as options at center back is the clearest reason for the recent bump in domestic-based players.

While the Stars and Stripes aren’t relying on current MLS talent, it does lean on players with MLS experience. Nearly every regular, including leaders Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard, started his career Stateside. Shea and Geoff Cameron played matches soon after signing contracts to play elsewhere. Having players start their careers early in a domestic league is a luxury that didn’t exist for Americans a few cycles ago. The alumni list currently with the country’s best shows how the presence of a top-flight national league, or any professional league, can boost the profile of the national team. Klinsmann might call the audible or have a trick up his sleeve, but conventional wisdom dictates he’ll be leaning on MLS more heavily than he ever has during this crucial stretch of three matches.

2013 Hex
Mexico: Starters: Besler, Gonzalez, Zusi; Subs: EJ, Davis
Costa Rica: Gonzalez, Zusi; Subs: EJ, Beckerman
Honduras: Gonzalez, EJ; Subs: Zusi

2012 WCQs
Guatemala (Home): EJ, Zusi; Subs: None
Antigua and Barbuda (Away): EJ, Zusi; Subs: Gordon
Jamaica (Home): Zusi; Subs: Shea
Jamaica (Away): Beckerman; Subs: Shea
Guatemala (Away): Donovan; Subs: Beckerman
Antigua and Barbuda (Home): Donovan; Subs: None

2009 Hex
Costa Rica (Home): Bornstein, Holden, Donovan, Casey; Subs: Rogers
Honduras (Away): Bornstein, Holden, Clark Donovan, Casey; Subs: None
Trinidad and Tobago (Home): Bornstein, Clark, Donovan; Subs: Ching, Holden
El Salvador (Home): Marshall, Bornstein, Donovan; Subs: Holden, Beckerman
Mexico (Away): Ching; Subs: Holden
Honduras (Home): Mastroeni, Bornstein, Clark, Donovan, Casey; Subs: None
Costa Rica (Away): Wynne, Mastroeni, Donovan; Subs: Kljestan
Trinidad and Tobago (Home): Hejduk, Mastroeni, Donovan, Ching; Subs: Kljestan
El Salvador (Away): Guzan, Hejduk, Pearce, Kljesan, Donovan, Ching; Subs: None
Mexico (Home): Hejduk, Pearce, Donovan, Ching, Kljestan; Subs: Clark

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a writer based in Arizona and is ASN's CONCACAF correspondent.

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