By Andrew Villegas
MLS clubs are well represented on the rosters of the nations participating in this summer’s Gold Cup (37 players total), and with good reason.
National team managers are recognizing and tapping a growing pool of player talent in the United States’ domestic league to fill their Gold Cup teams despite the league’s reputation for being physical and fast-paced, attributes often not suited to the technical tactics most of CONCACAF deploys.
But since when were being physical and fast bad qualities?
Our Neil W. Blackmon wrote this week that Bradley chose Robbie Rogers over Alejandro Bedoya because he values the caliber of MLS play more than Sweden’s top flight league. Internationals are seemingly choosing to play in MLS at a greater and greater rate. The talent in MLS is not quite growing exponentially yet, but it is steadily increasing.
So, in a league of new and growing stars, which MLS player will have the best Gold Cup?
There are a handful of Americans poised to showcase. On home soil, elder statesman Landon Donovan could again be the steadying rock the Americans have relied on since the last Gold Cup. Juan Agudelo could impress and cement his first-team status going into the next World Cup cycle. Tim Ream could prove the heir-apparent many think he is to Oguchi Onyewu. In all, seven MLS players are on the USMNT Gold Cup squad.
But, there are even more MLS players – nine – on one roster: Jamaica. And some of them could continue their good run of play including the Rapids’ Omar Cummings (who could be hampered as he is coming off an ankle injury) and the NYRB’s Dane Richards.
It’s also not out of the question that several Canadian players, including Toronto FC’s Julian de Guzman and the NYRB’s Dwayne De Rosario could also leave a significant mark on the Gold Cup.
Also watch New England Revolution’s Sharlie Joseph, who plays for Grenada. The Rev vet has equaled his goal output (4) from a year ago already in 10 games. And with Grenada (FIFA world ranking #98) playing in Group B against Honduras (43), Guatemala (124) and Jamaica (55), there will be some room for Joseph to excel. The same is likely true for the Chicago Fire’s Marco Pappa and Carlos Ruiz, both from Guatemala.
I wonder too if the Gold Cup is enough to wake up Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio, a Costa Rican, who has no goals in league play so far this season. Last year, he had 12 goals for RSL, but this year is struggling amid a busy, and physically taxing, schedule.
And lest we forget, Rafa Marquez is still Mexico’s captain.
So who would be my pick for “biggest” Gold Cup? Sometimes the safest bet is the best one. The Gold Cup will be a coming out party for Juan Agudelo, who will be asked to provide the foil speed to most CONCACAF back lines. I could see him having a couple or three goals, but I think Landon Donovan is set to continue his frantic run of form. He is not the best player in CONCACAF, that honor is reserved for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but he has the confidence it takes to successfully run at the relatively soft, internationally speaking, fullbacks and CBs the region has to offer, and will likely have a successful Gold Cup – at least individually.
I could see Joseph and Ruiz both having big group stages with multiple goals too, but I think the MLS’s Americans will set the bar.
Will the level of play suffer as the best MLS players spend significant amounts of time away from their teams? Maybe – three of the top five scorers in MLS will feature in the Gold Cup – but this is also how new stars are born. No longer relegated to the bench, some players will likely step up and show they too are ready for international duty in the near future, and that player churn is key to assessing just where MLS stands as a league.