Climbing the Ladder: MLS teams & USMNT representation

With a friendly against Italy next week, the United States national team will be back in action as they prepare for World Cup qualification later this year. So many former and present American internationals have called Major League Soccer home over the years, and last year was no different. Which teams used the most players in 2011 that had been capped by the USA at any point in their careers?

Most Present/Future US internationals (2011)
  Players Caps
LA Galaxy 9 337
Colorado 7 102
D.C. United 6 91
Houston 6 58
FC Dallas 5 22
San Jose 5 62
Seattle 5 126
Columbus 4 51
Kansas City 4 15
New York 4 49
Philadelphia 4 56
Portland 4 19
Real Salt Lake 4 28
Vancouver 4 33
Chicago 3 27
Chivas USA 3 71
New England 2 41
Toronto 0 0

Though they only ranked in the middle of the pack for domestic minutes played (58.95 percent, good for eighth), the LA Galaxy used more players who have been capped at some point by the US than anyone else in Major League Soccer last season.

Nine of their players have suited up for the red, white and blue, including five starters in the MLS Cup victory over Houston: A.J. DeLaGarza (whose debut came after the season in January), Landon Donovan, Todd Dunivant, Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez.

They would’ve also been joined by Chad Barrett if not for his injury. The list doesn’t even include the man who was perhaps the most valuable player of their MLS Cup Playoffs run, the uncapped Mike Magee.

On the bench were Gregg Berhalter, Frankie Hejduk and Jovan Kirovski. Though all three retired in the offseason, Edson Buddle and Pat Noonan were added, giving the team eight current or former US internationals at the moment going into the new season. They’re in prime position to top the league once again, which they’re done in each full season since Bruce Arena became the head coach.

Why have they led in this category? Arena did coach the national team for two cycles, which certainly has a lot to do with making connections and filling the roster with familiar veteran talent like Eddie Lewis, Clint Mathis and Tony Sanneh.

Playing in the talent-rich state of California also helps; guys like Hejduk and Kirovski may not have stuck around for another season if they hadn’t been close to home. Add to that the team’s young defensive core, which has blossomed into international caliber, and the recipe is complete.

Finishing the season at the bottom, understandably, is Canadian club Toronto FC. They used a record number of players last season, including nine Americans. But unless one of them goes on to be called up for international duty in the future, they’ll go down as the first MLS team to not use a US international in a season. Of their nine Americans, only Eric Avila and Ty Harden still remain on their roster going into 2011.

The lowest number used by an American team a year ago was two, by the New England Revolution. Only Benny Feilhaber and Matt Reis have represented the Stars and Stripes, but there is some younger talent which could boost that number as the years go on. Kevin Alston, for example, has been called up in the past but missed out on playing because of injury. A.J. Soares is a defender with a bright future.

It’s the second straight year the Revs had the fewest capped Americans in the league (excluding Canadian teams). Despite this, they’ve ranked in the top half for domestic minutes played – it just seems they’ve been lacking that quality, star talent. With Nate Jaqua and Clyde Simms selected in the Re-Entry Draft, they probably won’t finish bottom in 2012.

Including those Revolution teams, there are only eight sides in league history that have had three or fewer American internationals. Six of those eight have come since 2009, which means that the numbers could increase. However, it’s not going to happen for two older teams who share the record for the fewest: 2000 Colorado and 2005 Chivas USA.

Fewest Present/Future US Internationals (excluding Canadian teams)
Year Club Players
2000 Colorado 2
2005 Chivas USA 2
2009 New York 2
2010 New England 2
2011 New England 2
2010 Philadelphia 3
2011 Chicago 3
2011 Chivas USA 3

The expansion Chivas side was infamous for their failed reliance on foreign talent. Besides Brad Guzan, only defender Ryan Suarez was capped, once, against Wales in 2003. That’s the poorly scheduled match in which the US team was made up mostly of D.C. United and San Jose players because those were the only MLS teams not playing that weekend. Suarez and C.J. Brown were only called up due to fortuitous red cards.

The 2000 Rapids weren’t horrible, making the playoffs. They were just full of solid, veteran types, who had long careers but weren’t internationals – Adin Brown, Ross Paule, David Vaudreuil and Craig Waibel, to name a few.

The 2000 LA Galaxy hold the record for most present/future American internationals with 13. Despite this, they never fielded a starting lineup consisting solely of them, as Mauricio Cienfuegos and Simon Elliott were regulars. In fact, it’s never been done by any MLS team. The 13 are as follows:

Danny Califf, Paul Caligiuri, Joe Franchino, Robin Fraser, Kevin Hartman, Zak Ibsen, Cobi Jones, Clint Mathis, Matt Reis, Jorge Salcedo, Pete Vagenas, Greg Vanney and Sasha Victorine.

They were forced to trade away Franchino and Mathis in order to acquire Mexican superstar Luis Hernández, a much-discussed move that ultimately was unsuccessful.