National Writer: Charles Boehm

MLS standouts from September 2023 international window


Nearly 80 MLS players stepped away from the 2023 season’s final sprint for Audi MLS Cup Playoffs places to represent their countries over the past week.

Here are a few highlights from across the September FIFA window. 

Shaqiri nears Euros

Chicago Fire FC star Xherdan Shaqiri made a profoundly emotional return to the land of his birth as the Swiss national team visited Kosovo for a Euro 2024 qualifier on Saturday. Raised in Switzerland from infancy after his family fled the Balkans’ brutal wars of the early 1990s, Shaqiri held his hand to his heart during both national anthems and was warmly greeted by fans at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium in Prishtina on an occasion he called “a dream come true.”

“Shaq” played a decisive pass in the buildup to Switzerland’s second goal, and even though Vedat Muriqi conjured up a 94th-minute equalizer to salvage a draw for Kosovo, the Swiss continue to march toward next summer’s tournament in Germany, undefeated and two points clear atop Group I. Shaqiri also scored a late penalty kick in their 3-0 win over Andorra.

More Messi magic

You might have heard that Lionel Messi was at it again down in Argentina, curling a trademark free-kick golazo over the wall and past goalkeeper Hernán Galindez to deliver his homeland a dramatic 1-0 Conmebol World Cup qualifying win over Ecuador before more than 83,000 spectators at Estadio Monumental.

San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Carlos Gruezo went the distance for Ecuador in that one, as he did in their 2-1 home win vs. Uruguay on Tuesday, a game which also featured second-half cameos from LAFC newcomer Cristian Olivera and Orlando City starlet Facundo Torres for the visitors.

Meanwhile, both Alan Velasco (FC Dallas) and Thiago Almada (Atlanta United) started for Argentina's Under-23 side in a friendly win over Bolivia, with Velasco scoring the winner in the 32nd minute as the Albiceleste youngsters lay the foundation for what they hope will be a third Olympic gold medal at the Paris Summer Games next year.

Peruvian dreams

Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was the hero for Peru in World Cup qualifying on Thursday, making six saves to dig out a hard-earned road point in Paraguay despite an early red card to Luis Advíncula which forced Los Incas to suffer with a man down for the entire second half. Portland Timbers defender Miguel Araujo also earned a start in the 0-0 draw, and Orlando's Wilder Cartagena played the second half before stepping into the XI vs. Brazil on Tuesday.

Atlanta defender Luis Abram and Earthquakes fullback Miguel Trauco started both of Peru's matches, the second a painful 1-0 home loss to Brazil decided by a 90th-minute corner-kick header from Marquinhos. Seattle Sounders star striker Raúl Ruidíaz came off the bench for a late cameo against Neymar Jr. & Co., but was limited to five touches in 12-plus minutes as the Andean nation labored unsuccessfully to claim a point off the five-time world champions.

Paraguay & Venezuela

Gallese's opposite number in Paraguay was New York Red Bulls 'keeper Carlos Coronel, who posted a clean sheet in his senior international debut for La Albirroja. Coronel, Vancouver’s Andrés Cubas – who went the distance in both of Paraguay's matches – and Inter Miami's Diego Gómez then suffered some heartbreak in their second match, where they conceded an injury-time penalty kick to fall 1-0 to Venezuela in the eastern Venezuelan city of Maturín. Gómez reportedly picked up a thigh injury as well.

Miami’s Josef Martínez, Philadelphia Union midfield terrier José "Brujo" Martínez, Chicago Fire FC fullback Miguel Navarro and Real Salt Lake attacker Jefferson Savarino took part for La Vinotinto.

USMNT crew

In addition to the long list of former MLSers and MLS academy products who starred in both of the US men's national team's home friendly wins, Atlanta's Miles Robinson went the distance at center back in a 4-0 rout of Oman in Minnesota on Tuesday.

New England Revolution fullback DeJuan Jones was a second-half substitute in that one, and found Ricardo Pepi with an excellent low cross for the Yanks' third goal. Inter Miami homegrown teenager Benjamin Cremaschi also made his senior debut off the bench, playing a key role in the fourth tally of the night, an own goal off a dangerous center from D.C. United product Kevin Paredes:

El Tri return

Houston Dynamo FC midfielder Héctor Herrera made a well-deserved return to the Mexican national team amid a strong second season in MLS, and earned a start in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Australia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. He did not appear in Tuesday's 3-3 draw with Uzbekistan as El Tri were stunned by an injury-time leveler from Otabek Shukurov in Atlanta.

Chicago winger Jairo Torres notched an assist on the opening goal of the Mexican U-23 team's 2-0 friendly win over Colombia in Tlaxcala over the weekend, the first of two meetings between the sides, with El Tri also victors by the same scoreline in a closed-door clash on Tuesday in Mexico City; Portland Timbers fullback Juan David Mosquera turned out for the visitors as well.

Concacaf Nations League revs up

A large contingent of MLSers took part in Jamaica's 1-0 Concacaf Nations League win over Honduras at Independence Park in Kingston, a result decided by Demarai Gray's second-half strike.

Vancouver's Javain Brown and Philadelphia's Damion Lowe started for the Reggae Boyz, who also gave New York City FC fullback Tayvon Gray his debut off the bench. Conversely, Los Catrachos started D.C. United's Andy Najar, LAFC's Denil Maldonado, Portland's Bryan Acosta and Joseph Rosales of Minnesota United.

Panama reaped a similar points haul thanks to a 3-0 home win over Martinique last Thursday, D.C. United's José Fajardo opening the scoring with a run in behind and calm finish after Houston's Adalberto Carrasquilla played him in. Fajardo's club-and-country teammate Éric Davis also scored in this window, striking from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw with Guatemala, and Nashville SC's Aníbal Godoy continued his rugged central-midfield partnership with Carrasquilla.

It was a tumultuous week with El Salvador for Seattle's Alex Roldan, the LA Galaxy's Eriq Zavaleta and LAFC goalkeeper Tomás Romero. All three played every minute of Los Cuscatlecos' two losses, a 2-0 setback at Guatemala and a 3-2 home loss to Trinidad & Tobago which brought on the dismissal of USMNT legend Hugo Pérez and his coaching staff. Zavaleta scored the latter game's opening goal, though it wasn't enough as the Soca Warriors took a massive step forward in the hunt for the 2024 Copa América slots that this edition of the CNL will award.

Costa Rica standouts

With Costa Rica having already booked a place in the CNL quarterfinals as a seeded team, Los Ticos ventured far afield to play Saudi Arabia at Newcastle's St. James' Park on Friday, winning 3-1 with Nashville's Randall Leal scoring their third goal with a fine angled finish.

From there they jetted on to Zagreb, Croatia, where they lost 4-1 to the United Arab Emirates. It was a solid window for Austin FC center back Julio Cascante, who played the full 90 in both games and scored the consolation goal against the UAE.

Buck joins England U-19s

Noel Buck made a strong first impression with the England Under-19 team, debuting off the bench in a friendly vs. Germany before starting and scoring a goal in their 4-2 defeat of Switzerland on Saturday, games serving as preparation for UEFA U-19 European Championship qualification matches next month. That steers the New England Revolution’s prized homegrown right into the heart of the USMNT’s latest “dual national panic” scenario, especially after he cheekily sported a retro England kit ahead of a Revs match last week.

“I didn’t mean to throw off the US, it’s just that I was proud to be called into England,” Buck later told The Athletic. “England is a football nation, it’s a big honor to play for the national team. This is a great experience for me, it’s different. Change of pace, change of culture, change of people. I can use all of these experiences to grow as a player. Obviously I didn’t get called into the [US] senior team. Maybe I should have, maybe I shouldn’t have. I don’t know. I’m just here trying to get better.”

Head coach Gregg Berhalter confirmed that Buck remains very much on the United States’ radar, even if he hasn’t yet gotten a full USMNT call-up. Stay tuned...

Cameroon near AFCON

Further south, Sounders cult hero Nouhou Tolo manned Cameroon's left back spot with his usual mix of gung-ho defending and composed distribution in a 3-0 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying win over Burundi that keeps the Indomitable Lions top of their group.