The Throw-In: There's still time! Which MLSers make the All-Standby World Cup starting XI?
There’s still time! Yes, the 2014 World Cup has already started and we got a pretty entertaining match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday.
But for nearly all of the 32 participating teams, 23-man rosters still are not set in stone. Per FIFA rules, “A player listed on the ﬁnal list may only be replaced in the event of serious injury up until 24 hours before the kickoff of his team’s ﬁrst match.”
Keep that in mind as the Cristiano Ronaldo watch becomes an hourly epidemic.
Not that we need to keep focusing on the guys who aren’t in Brazil. But it’s good to know there are backups. You know, just in case.
So I had a little fun and scoured the MLS ranks and found 11 guys who have been a sizeable part of their respective national team’s drive to Brazil who, in a pinch, could still get the call. Because it ain’t truly set until the rules say so.
Herewith, my “Standby XI” – in a diamond formation, of course...
GK: Sean Johnson (USA) – Other than the three netminders currently in Brazil, SeanJohn is the only one who’s gotten playing time with the senior team over the past 17 months: 225 minutes worth of clean sheets. He’s most certainly fourth in line for Jurgen Klinsmann right now.
CBs: Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst (USA) – To be honest, Goodson’s omission from the final 23 surprised me more than Landon Donovan’s. His 46 caps are more than any natural defender currently on the roster, he’s appeared in four major tournaments for the US and he’s a monster on set pieces. Parkhurst, meanwhile, is a perfect partner, with supreme tactical awareness, excellent positional skills and the brain of a future coach. I’d take this pairing over those of more than half the teams in Brazil.
LB: Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica) – Were it not for the unfortunate ACL tear he suffered in December, he’d probably be in Jorge Luis Pinto’s 23. Wallace was working his way into the rotation for los Ticos before the injury and showed similar versatility on the left side that he does for Portland. He’s almost healthy now, continuing his rehab in a loan spell with Arizona United of USL PRO. But time simply ran out on the 25-year-old.
RB: Brad Evans (USA) – Right back, right midfield, central midfield, center back … The man can do it all. He knows he was living on borrowed time last year when he was an emergency option at right back for Klinsmann ahead of the qualifier at Jamaica. But the Seattle Sounders man took his opportunity and ran with it. Great locker-room guy to boot.
DM: Maurice Edu (USA) – So the calculated move back to MLS didn’t work out for Mo. I still say he’s option No. 1 should anything happen to the US midfield. He knows the pressure of the World Cup, is an excellent two-way threat and he’s still owed a goal by FIFA. I’m sure that could’ve been arranged somehow…
LM: Landon Donovan (USA) – I know, I know. Let’s get over it already. But I’ll bet Bruce Arena would argue LD can play in a diamond. Landon’s made much of his living wide left (and wide right, too). He still has the athleticism to get up and back as one of the shuttlers in the diamond. Then again, it looks like he’s doing just fine making waves as an ESPN analyst.
RM: Alex López (Honduras) – He hasn’t played much for Houston, but his performance Wednesday night in US Open Cup play reminded us why he was such a promising get last summer as a Young Designated Player. A veteran of the 2012 London Olympics and last year’s Gold Cup, the 22-year-old has improved his two-way game in recent months and is still an up-and-comer for los Catrachos. He’s not all that dissimilar to Andy Najar.
AM: Benny Feilhaber (USA) – Ah, the Benny & Mo show. Do you remember it? I sure do. Whenever those two shared central midfield during the 2010 World Cup, the US attack looked at its best. It’s no coincidence the US scored all three of their goals against Slovenia in the second half, when both Feilhaber and Edu were subbed in. I loved how they worked together, and I especially loved how Feilhaber gave the US attack urgency. He’s a smarter player now than he was then, and I’d love to see him feed these guys…
F: Obafemi Martins (Nigeria) & Jermain Defoe (England) – Explain yourselves, Stephen Keshi and Roy Hodgson! I didn’t see anyone really pressuring the US back line in Jacksonville last weekend, but I certainly have seen Oba tear MLS defenses apart this season. He looks healthy to me. So does Defoe, his former English Premier League rival, who was plagued by a hamstring injury when he first arrived in Toronto and just couldn’t piece together consistent runs of games. These two guys have scored a combined 15 goals in 23 games in MLS play in 2014. Both have unfinished business from unceremonious exits in South Africa, and both would be men on a mission.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.