Postcard from Europe: MLS repping hard in int'l tourneys
AMSTERDAM — When LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane was named to the Republic of Ireland's roster for the 2012 European Championship, he became just the fourth active MLS player tabbed to play for a squad place at UEFA's quadrennial battle royale.
That stat may seem mere trivia, but it's not. Player participation in major international tournaments is another way for fans of a growing league to measure progress (if not vicariously sample some global glory).
There have been 187 MLS player appearances at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, including a record 31 in 2011, but that stands to reason.
But looking beyond the home barrier of CONCACAF shows not only how much your honor division contributes to the world's glamor events, but also speaks to how much veteran and foreign talent you can contract.
For instance, when Keane suits up for Ireland to open Group C play against Croatia on Sunday, it will be the 28th time a foreign MLS player has done so at a continental championship outside CONCACAF or a World Cup.
When you combine that sum with the number of home-based Americans that earned a roster place at a World Cup or the national team's 2007 Copa América adventure, MLS has now sent a player off to international soccer's biggest global dances 79 times since beginning in 1996.
Which leads us to the old braggin' rights question: Which MLS club has had the most players under the world's brightest lights? Luckily, you were always one stat research nerd away from finding out. Let's go tournament by tournament:
Int'l tournament representation by team (outside Gold Cup)
|Real Salt Lake||3||3||0||0||0||0|
Before Keane, Germany's Lothar Matthäus (New York, née MetroStars) and Denmark's Mikos Molnar (Kansas City) have played for this trophy while registered to a Major League Soccer club.
Both saw the field for teams ousted by Euro 2000 group play and neither scored, so the Galaxy star may soon set some Euro milestones for the league in his tourney debut.
Former MetroStar Roberto Donadoni was the trailblazer, though. He made his move to Giants Stadium in the spring of 1996, and debuted with the MLS side on May 4 of the inaugural season. A month later, he was representing the Azzurri in England as his side failed to get out of the group stage.
Aided heavily by US national team involvement five years ago, MLS has placed 20 players in CONMEBOL's showcase cup. Fourteen league aces traveled south for the 2007 edition, including 12 Americans.
With Jaime Moreno featuring three times for Bolivia and Marco Etcheverry twice, D.C. United are the current kings of Copa experience. Chivas USA stand a close second, having sent three Americans in 2007 and Venezuela's Alejandro Moreno four years later.
African Cup of Nations
Like the Euros, Africa has only hosted only a trio of MLS players at its continental championship.
Senegal netminder Bouna Coundoul was a Colorado Rapid when he got a game at the 2007 Cup of Nations, then-Dallas Burn striker Toni Nhleko took part for South Africa three years prior and Mozambique star forward Chiquinho Conde represented the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1998.
Just two MLS players have hopped the Pacific to appear in this title showdown.
Former Kansas City man Sunil Chhetri scored two goals for India at last year's tournament. Even better, 1996 tourney MVP Khodadad Azizi also played in the 2000 edition for Iran while a member of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Now midway through its fifth World Cup cycle, MLS has celebrated 50 squad places at the FIFA grandaddy of 'em all, all but 10 of them going with the USMNT.
Buoyed by the domestic stars coming home to help kick off MLS, the league sent a record 21 players to the 1998 edition. Four years later, it was down to the 11 Americans that helped take both the US and MLS into the quarterfinals.
In 2006, another 11 domestic-based Americans and Real Salt Lake's Costa Rica defender Douglas Sequeira enjoyed the working trip to Germany. Last time in South Africa, four MLS Americans went, along with Sporting KC's Roger Espinoza (Honduras) and then-New York Red Bull Andy Boyens (New Zealand).