MLS Countdown: Internationals return from duty

The days immediately following the FIFA fixture dates are anxious ones for club coaches unsure of how fit their players will be when they rejoin their teams.

Counting the U.S. U-23 s picked by head coach Andi Herzog for the Olympic playoff series against Colombia, more than 70 MLS players were summoned by their national teams. Most players joined their squads for Concacaf World Cup qualifying, though not all: three players left to represent Ghana -- David Accam (Chicago), Harrison Afful (Columbus) Adam Kwarasey (Portland) -- against Mozambique in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, and Ireland summoned Kevin Doyle (Colordo) and Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy) for friendlies.

Doyle suffered an injury in Ireland’s first friendly against Switzerland and left the game in the 27th minute. He didn’t play Tuesday (Slovakia), and will be out three to five weeks. Keane sat out both matches because of nagging injuries.

Friday, April 1
7:00 pm ET:
New England vs. NY Red Bulls, UniMas
Saturday, April 2
5:00 pm ET:
Chicago vs. Philadelphia
8:00 pm ET:
Colorado vs. Toronto FC
8:30 pm ET:

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
9:00 pm ET:
FC Dallas vs. Columbus
10:00 pm ET:
Seattle vs. Montreal
Vancouver vs. LA Galaxy
10:30 pm ET:
San Jose vs. D.C. United
Sunday, April 3
8:00 pm ET:
Orlando City vs. Portland, FS1, Fox Deportes

The influence of MLS on the region’s national teams is significant. A dozen MLS players appeared in a 3-0 Costa Rican victory against Jamaica Tuesday night in Kingston. Montreal Impact midfielder Johan Venegas, one of five MLS players to represent Los Ticos, came off the bench to score their final goal. Five other players started for Jamaica and two entered the match as substitutes.

In the nations’ first meeting on Friday, Revs defender Je-Vaughn Watson scored Jamaica’s goal in a 1-1 tie. He was one of 10 MLS players to appear in that match.

Eighteen of the 20 MLS teams are in action this weekend (Houston and New York City FC are idle.)

WHICH TEAMS CAN BREAK THROUGH? Of the five teams without a win, four are in the Eastern Conference: At home are the Revs (against the Red Bulls) and Fire (Philadelphia). Columbus (at FC Dallas) and D.C. United (San Jose) are on the road. The only winless Western team is Seattle, which hosts Montreal.

New England has tied three of its four games this season and beat the Red Bulls, 2-1, at Gillette Stadium last September. Just two Revs were called up for international duty and only Watson played. Lee Nguyen sat out both U.S. games against Guatemala. The Red Bulls are banged up: defenders Gideon Baah and Ronald Zubar will sit out this game, as will attacker Gonzalo Veron. This is a weakened foe the Revs should exploit.

Chicago has shown some signs of life under new head coach Veljko Paunovic but in its two home games to date has lost to New York City FC, 4-3, and tied Columbus, 0-0. The game matches two ex-players coaching against their former teams. Paunovic played for the Union in his only MLS season (2011) and Jim Curtin’s stint in the Fire back line (2001-7) includes its last MLS Cup final appearance in 2003.

All five Crew SC players -- including Rodrigo Savaria, who played for Guatemala against the USA.-- summoned for international duty competed for their countries, so head coach Gregg Berhalter might not know who’s fit and healthy until he seems them in training Thursday or Friday. On Saturday, FC Dallas overcame the absence of seven international players – the most called from any MLS team – to spank D.C. United, 3-0.

A strong game by D.C. defender Steve Birnbaum helped the U.S. down Guatemala, 4-0, on Tuesday, but his healthy return to face the Quakes won’t alleviate some of United’s concerns. To shore up the goalkeeping positioned weakened by injuries to Bill Hamid (ACL tear) and Andrew Dykstra (back surgery), United signed former U.S. U-23 keeper Charlie Horton to back up Travis Worra, who got the start against FCD. The attack is also an issue; Fabian Espindola failed to convert a penalty kick on Saturday, and Alvaro Saborio, who represented Costa Rica against Jamaica, has yet to hit his stride.

As for the Sounders, Clint Dempsey played two strong games for the U.S. but Jordan Morris struggled with the U-23s. Left back Joevin Jones scored a goal for Trinidad & Tobago as it swept two games against St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Venegas was the only Impact player called away. 

No team is under more pressure to get off the schneid than Seattle, so head coach Sigi Schmid has some tough decisions to make if his international players show signs of fatigue or injury.  Captain Brad Evans, who has been sidelined since suffering a dislocated shoulder in the season opener against Sporting Kansas City, has resumed full training and might be available.

Montreal has already visited the Northwest and came away with a 3-2 defeat of Vancouver on opening weekend, so it has recent success dealing with long travel and playing on turf to draw upon.

MLS Standings:
6 Montreal 2-1-0 6/4
6 Philadelphia 2-1-0 5/3
5 Orlando City 1-0-2 4/3
4 Toronto FC 1-1-1 4/3
5 New York City 1-1-2 7/7
3 New England 0-1-3 4/7
3 NY Red Bulls 1-2-0 4/8
2 Chicago 0-1-2 4/5
2 D.C. United 0-1-2 2/5
1 Columbus 0-2-1 2/4

9 Sporting KC 3-0-0 4/1
9 FC Dallas 3-1-0 7/5
6 LA Galaxy 2-1-0 7/3
6 Vancouver 2-2-0 6/6
6 San Jose 2-1-0 4/4
5 Real Salt Lake 1-0-2 7/6
4 Houston 1-2-1 11/8
4 Portland 1-1-1 5/5
4 Colorado 1-1-1 2/2
0 Seattle 0-3-0 2/5

Leading Scorers:
3 Will Bruin (Houston)
3 Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake)
3 Ignacio Piatti (Montreal)
3 Pedro Morales (Vancouver)
3 Cyle Larin (Orlando City)
3 Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
3 Fanendo Adi (Portland)
3 Maximiliano Urruti (FC Dallas)

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