Pre-World Cup window: Who were key performers from MLS clubs?

0928 International Roundup

The final international window before the 2022 World Cup is in the books, a period where MLS players further laid the foundation for what awaits in Qatar and competed in friendlies/Nations League games alike.

Here are some notable performers from September’s games, the majority of whom are vying to make World Cup-bound squads.

National team: Argentina

Almada made his senior international debut for Argentina in a 3-0 win over Honduras, playing the last 36 minutes and earning postgame praise from none other than Lionel Messi. Then in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over Jamaica, he stayed on the bench.

He’s far from guaranteed to make La Albiceleste’s final 26-man roster for the World Cup, but the 21-year-old Atlanta United star has a bright future ahead of him. In Qatar, Argentina are in Group C with Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

National team: Wales

Purely from a results point of view, it wasn’t a great window for Wales – two UEFA Nations League losses, 2-1 to Belgium and a relegation-prompting 1-0 result against Poland, only reinforces that.

But the encouraging sign for Bale is he went the full 90 minutes in that latter match, the first time he’s gone the distance for club or country in several months. That development should help Bale’s push for the Supporters’ Shield with LAFC, where he’s scored twice in his first 11 appearances (two starts). 

Bale signed with LAFC in late June upon departing Real Madrid. That came with an eye towards Wales’ first World Cup trip in 64 years, regaining fitness and sharpness for Group B contests vs. England, Iran and the United States.

National team: Uruguay

Caceres signed with the Galaxy in late August as a free agent, hoping to stay sharp ahead of a potential fourth World Cup trip and LA’s playoff push. Both of those tasks are heading in the right direction.

The 35-year-old defender went the full 90 minutes in Uruguay’s 2-0 win over Canada, and he didn’t feature in a surprise 1-0 loss to Iran. Building toward 120 career caps with La Celeste, Caceres’ inclusion for Group H – and games against Ghana, Portugal and South Korea – seems all but assured, especially given key injuries to their backline.

National team: Ecuador

Cifuentes was one of three LAFC players called in by Ecuador for the September window, as he was joined by midfielder Jhegson Mendez and left back Diego Palacios. The 23-year-old logged 140 minutes combined over two starts, 0-0 draws with Japan and Saudi Arabia, two World Cup-bound nations from Asia.

Cifuentes, who’s enjoyed a breakout year for LAFC, is a good bet to start for La Tri when they enter Group A play against the Netherlands, Senegal and hosts Qatar. That should only boost his transfer stock, with English Premier League side Brighton reportedly among his suitors.

National team: Australia

The Columbus Crew’s Australian center back played in one of two September window victories over New Zealand, going the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 result at home.

Degenek played in the majority of Australia’s World Cup qualifiers as they won an intercontinental playoff over Peru. That resulted in a Group D spot alongside Denmark, France and Tunisia.

National team: Colombia

Duran didn’t get on the scoresheet for Colombia, though the 18-year-old made his international debut in a 4-1 rout of El Salvador, subbing on at halftime for all-time leading scorer Radamel Falcao. 

Duran also subbed on for the final moments of a 3-2 comeback win over Mexico, suggesting he may be part of a new La Tricolor era after they failed to qualify for the World Cup, placing sixth in Conmebol and missing out on the inter-continental playoff.

National team: Hungary

Gazdag’s MLS Best XI-caliber form carried into another huge UEFA Nations League victory for Hungary, as they knocked off Germany 1-0. The Philadelphia Union’s playmaker went 67 minutes there, then played 33 minutes off the bench in a 2-0 setback vs. Italy in the same competition.

Hungary aren’t heading to the World Cup, but it’s notable to see Gazdag forging ahead for a program that also includes Sporting Kansas City forward Daniel Salloi.

National team: Canada

Kone has gone from a bubble player to being poised for a key role during Canada’s first World Cup appearance in 36 years. That evolution comes after two second-half substitute appearances in a 2-0 win over Qatar and 2-0 loss to Uruguay, drawing rave reviews from national media and those on Les Rouges.

The CF Montréal midfielder didn’t make an appearance upon signing late in the 2021 season, but now he’s reportedly drawing mid-seven-figure transfer bids from English Championship sides. Group F games against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco should only boost Kone’s rise for Concacaf’s first-place qualifier.

Kone was one of five CF Montréal players in Canada's September camp, with midfielder Samuel Piette and defenders Alistair Johnston and Kamal Miller all proving bright for this ascending program.

National team: Switzerland

Shaqiri went nearly 70 minutes in both of Switzerland’s UEFA Nations League games this month, 2-1 wins over Spain and the Czech Republic. He notched an assist in the latter match.

Chicago’s club-record signing is well on track to play in his fourth World Cup and should soon reach 110 career appearances for his country. In Qatar, they’ll face Brazil, Cameroon and Serbia in Group G.

National team: Poland

Swiderski scored a vital game-winner in Poland’s 1-0 UEFA Nations League victory over Wales, relegating LAFC star Gareth Bale’s side in a meeting of World Cup-bound nations. The Charlotte FC forward latched onto a brilliant pass from Barcelona star Robert Lewandowski, then quickly deposited his shot.

Though Swiderski didn’t feature in Poland’s first UEFA Nations League test vs. Holland, a 2-0 defeat, he’s trending towards inclusion for Qatar. Charlotte FC's first-ever DP is now on eight goals across 17 caps.

National team: Cameroon

Nouhou was a huge part of Cameroon’s semifinal run at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, and it seems he’ll play an important role at the 2022 World Cup as well. In Qatar, Cameroon are drawn into Group G alongside Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland.

Seattle's left-sided defender started both of The Indomitable Lions’ friendlies this month, playing all but a few minutes in a 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan and a 1-0 loss to South Korea. Philadelphia Union right back Olivier Mbaizo was also called in, but didn’t play.

National team: USA

Did Zimmerman boost his international stock during the September window? That’s a hard argument to make, as perhaps no US player shined across a 2-0 loss to Japan and 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia aside from former New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner.

But the Nashville SC standout seems locked in as the USMNT’s top center back, going 90 minutes in both matches. It’s more a question of who will partner Zimmerman for Group B games against England, Iran and Wales, with Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards possibly the likeliest option (though he missed this September camp to injury).

Venezuela crew

Let's cap with a shoutout to MLS's Venezuela contingent, which included goals from Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez in a 4-0 win over the United Arab Emirates.

They opened with a 1-0 loss to Iceland and D.C. United midfielder Victor Palsson, and won't be heading to the World Cup after finishing bottom of South American qualifying.