Balancing commitments to club and country is challenge enough. Doing it with World Cup roster spots on the line, an MLS Cup to defend and a looming date in the CONCACAF Champions League just turns it up a couple of notches for Sporting Kansas City's trio of US hopefuls.
Defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi both started Saturday's 2-0 friendly win over South Korea, another Brazil-bound team, and midfielder Benny Feilhaber came off the bench to work just less than a half-hour in midfield. All three turned in solid performances, but might not get a chance to repeat them the next time Jurgen Klinsmann sends the national team on the pitch.
The United States' next friendly is March 5 in Ukraine, just three days before Sporting open their title defense at Seattle and a week before their home CCL leg against Mexico's Cruz Azul.
“You obviously want to be part of any game with the national team that you can be, but it does have that unfortunate thing of being right before the opening game of the season, which would be tough to get back for,” Zusi told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday, after all three players rejoined Sporting at their preseason camp in Tucson, Ariz.
“There are mixed emotions about it. You're going to be happy about one and not happy about the other, so you just have to take it as it comes.”
Besler also acknowledged the scheduling conflict but said that might not preclude MLS players from being called in.
“I would guess that coach Klinsmann would want to try and have his whole team there, because there's not too many opportunities before the World Cup,” he said. “But also, just the scheduling of it is interesting.”
The question might be more urgent for players in Feilhaber's situation. The veteran midfielder has 41 caps and World Cup experience but has yet to secure a steady role in Klinsmann's plans. But even if he's not called in for the Ukraine friendly, he said, he still has a chance to impress his national coach with strong club play.
“I think in regards to the national team, every game is going to matter, and Jurgen's going to be on the lookout for whoever's playing well at the time,” Feilhaber said. “Obviously, we have an extremely clustered schedule at the beginning with so many games, including the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
"So it'll be a little tough managing all those games, but these are the opportunities that we have to prove ourselves for a World Cup spot. Everything matters, and it starts now with our club team.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.