Quickly following their draw with Colorado, news came in that Graham Zusi had been selected to the camp for the five game stretch in the next month. This includes friendlies with Scotland, Brazil, and Canada before the 2014 World Cup qualifying matches with Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala. The call-up for a Kansas City player is not a new phenomenon, as the list of players with caps is extensive. However, the recent trend of players being called in from overseas mostly leaves MLS players on the fringe and Zusi’s inclusion even perhaps without him getting on the field, indicates an interest in the Sporting Kansas City midfielder.
For Sporting Kansas City, this is a mixed blessing. The positives of having a player of international quality certainly outweigh the downsides, but the MLS calendar does not stop completely for International fixtures. So for the next match, Sporting will be without its best two midfielders as Roger Espinoza has received a call-up to Honduras as well. If Kei Kamara joins Sierra Leone for their African Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers, then well there goes the team this weekend against San Jose, leaving us somewhat lost as to who will be playing.
When it comes to the topic of call-ups to the National team, the main questions to ask are: is this going to continue to affect the Sporting KC squad in years to come and how does MLS fit into the equation as a whole?
For Sporting Kansas City, it’s best to look at its history. In its early years as the Wizards/Wiz (Who didn’t see that lawsuit coming?), there was only one player with significant caps. Unsurprisingly, that was Preki, who was the only Wizard capped in the forgettable 1998 World Cup. He did provide the assist on the only goal scored by the United States. Luckily, Preki did make himself some glory in the always important and relevant Gold Cup earlier that year.
Yes, pre-teens and new fans of the beautiful game, we did beat Brazil once.
As for since then, the most capped Wizards list gives an idea of the state of the USMNT in the past decade. The 2000 team that won the MLS Cup had a wealth of USMNT veterans, but most were done with their international careers. The team’s talisman after Preki was Davy Arnuad, but the captain only got seven caps for the United States evidence of the increasing depth at midfield.
Elsewhere, the lack of striking talent is not a recent development and the Wizards had a couple of the better strikers in that pool during the 2000s. Josh Wolff has the most caps for the National team while playing in Kansas City and Eddie Johnson is fifth on the list. Since the Sporting re-branding, Zusi, Teal Bunbury, and CJ Sapong have all received caps but only in friendlies.
The future both looks bright for Sporting Kansas City’s prospects, but not as a feeder for the national team. The scouting and international attention to MLS has outpaced the internal youth programs of MLS and the college game no longer is relied upon solely to develop American soccer. There are several prospects for national team call-ups including the already capped Zusi, Bunbury. and Sapong; however, the indications are that until MLS finds a way to equalize the monetary and development side of the equation the young players will continue to flock to Europe, no matter the situation. The May US camp roster has seven MLS players, but with the exception of Landon Donovan and perhaps Kyle Beckerman, none are starters for the current iteration of the squad. More importantly, only Juan Agudelo is a young prospect, the others are older established players.
There will be capped Sporting Kansas City players in the future, but expect many of them to come from the January camps. The reality is that hiring a German coach pushed the game even farther away from the MLS players where even players like Teal Bunbury have been passed over in favor of prospects Terrance Boyd, a reserve for the Bundesliga winners Borussia Dortmund. Based on form, I wouldn’t blame Klinsmann, but even considering form, prospects at big European clubs will continue to get calls over steady performers in the MLS. This isn't flawed logic but rather a statement on the status of the MLS in world soccer.
The formation of Major League Soccer had much to do with the ascent of United States soccer’s global fortunes. On the positive side, every man on the roster started their career in MLS, with the exception of the players with dual nationalities and Steve Cherundolo, so MLS can still claim it is developing the US talent. All the same, while the league ascends in popularity, talent, and quality, don’t expect that to lead to continued international squad relevance.
To be honest, it may be some years until we can develop our own talent for their whole careers, especially since we have to pay them. Until then enjoy the small successes like Zusi getting selected, evilly grin when thinking about getting to play San Jose without Chirs Wondolowski, and then remember how dirty it makes you feel to wish our players don’t get selected and miss matches for us or God forbid get noticed by European clubs. It’s all right; an ample excuse for irrationality is one of the best parts of being a fan.