We are now less than a month away from the World Cup. As many as 23 MLS players could make the trip to Russia. It’s an honor, to say the least, to play in a World Cup. But there’s another side of the World Cup beyond the prestige…
The professional opportunities.
Major tournaments like Russia 2018 are enormous milestones for anyone who takes part. It's a chance like no other to step onto the global stage. Nobody is more aware of that than the players. It’s a childhood dream to represent your country, but it’s also full of professional pressure. A good tournament can make a player’s career — and his or her life.
For some, three well-played games can put you on the map, from no-name to highly touted. For others, it’s the final test before elevating their reputation to another echelon in the sport. The World Cup can make dreams come true; it can also ruin them.
Here are five MLS players with more on the line than just personal and national pride:
Michael Murillo, New York Red Bulls, Panama
Michael Murillo has been stellar as the Red Bulls starting right back | Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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Since arriving from Panamanian side San Francisco last summer, Murillo has gotten better and better. He’s proven that he could meet the demands of a tougher level. At 22, he’s at the right age and the right phase of his progression to take a big step forward, perhaps to All-Star status. Another angle: He has already been linked with moves abroad; a strong World Cup from the young, athletic, coachable fullback could well draw interest from big European clubs.
Francisco Calvo, Minnesota United FC, Costa Rica
Francisco Calvo hasn’t had a great 2018. His individual mistakes have led to no less than four goals. At the same time, Calvo has undeniable ability. He’s comfortable passing out of the back and has unique athletic qualities — low center of gravity and quick, but also strong and powerful in the air.
Calvo is still just 25, and has his best years ahead of him. He's a proud professional with both club and country depending on him. The talented Tico needs to salvage some trust within the Minnesota faithful by putting in quality performances to remind the Loons why they believed in him so much in 2017, and to restore his own individual reputation both at home and abroad.
Gio and Jonathan dos Santos, LA Galaxy, Mexico
The dos Santos brothers face the same questions as Calvo. Gio and Jonathan were among the most highly-touted signings in league history. Needless to say, their time in LA hasn’t exactly gone to plan. Both have underperformed and with it, their team has struggled. It’s not too much of a stretch to say the dos Santos era has been the worst in Galaxy history.
If nothing else, they need to salvage their standing among Galaxy supporters. Whether it’s been their fault or not, their arrivals have coincided with a dark time in Galaxy history. Fans in Carson need some hope right now, and some sparkling performances from Gio and Jonathan could provide it.
Ronald Matarrita, New York City FC, Costa Rica
When healthy, Ronald Matarrita has been a threat bombing forward for NYCFC | Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Ronald Matarrita falls into the same category as Murillo, except that he carries the additional onus of locking down NYCFC's starting left back job, as he has split time with Ben Sweat this season. A good World Cup could do wonders in that regard, and perhaps even eventually lead to a big-money move to Europe, which he has been linked to in the past. He’s at a good age (23), has shown an upward projection save for some injury setbacks, and possesses exciting raw skills that turned heads when he first landed in MLS, but have been flashed too infrequently of late.