Who steps up? 10 MLS players who can capitalize on international call-ups

Stipe Biuk

With over 90 MLS players called up for the March international window, opportunities will arise during the 14-game Saturday slate that is Matchday 5.

We've spotlighted 10 players, both of the big-name and deep-cut variety, who will need to step up and power results as depth charts around the league are tested.

MATCH: Atlanta United at Columbus Crew (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Thiago Almada (Argentina) is away on international duty, as are winger Derrick Etienne Jr. (Haiti) and striker Giorgos Giakoumakis (Greece). Who gets the keys to the attack?

SOLUTION: The keys likely fall to Araújo and fellow winger Caleb Wiley, who have both benefitted from Almada's early-season dominance. Almada's absence will be felt especially hard – he's won two of four Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire awards so far – and there's no like-for-like replacement on the squad. But Araújo is Atlanta's remaining Designated Player this weekend, and he's been decently productive with 2g/1a amid their Eastern Conference-leading 3W-0L-1D start.

ALSO: I'm keeping an eye out for 17-year-old homegrown center back Noah Cobb possibly starting his first MLS match. Miles Robinson (USA) and Luis Abram (Peru) are both away on international duty, and Cobb's the only natural center back remaining alongside JuanJo Purata. Maybe the kid gets his shot.

MATCH: LAFC vs. FC Dallas (Sat., 10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Dénis Bouanga (Gabon) is away on international duty, creating an open spot in LAFC's front three.

SOLUTION: This one doesn't have to be overly complicated. The defending MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield champions have the luxury of four starting-caliber, versatile forwards. Biuk, signed in the offseason on a U22 Initiative deal reportedly in the region of $5.5 million, should slot right alongside Carlos Vela and Mahala Opoku. The Croatian winger is a big talent and already has his first MLS goal.

MATCH: Colorado Rapids at Austin FC (Sat., 8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Darren Yapi (US U-20s) and Diego Rubio (Chile) are away on international duty. Those are the top two strikers on Colorado's depth chart.

SOLUTION: Rapids head coach Robin Fraser may get creative with their No. 9 depth chart since Yapi and Rubio are both unavailable, though there's no guarantee that Cabral starts. He's only played 117 minutes across Colorado's first four games of the year – via three substitute appearances and one start. We're spotlighting the Frenchman, though, because he's got that shiny DP roster tag after an offseason trade from the LA Galaxy and could be due for a breakout game with his new club. Colorado have other options with Michael Barrios and Jonathan Lewis, too.

MATCH: Minnesota United FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC (Sat., 8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Robin Lod (Finland), Kervin Arriaga (Honduras) and Joseph Rosales (Honduras) are away on international duty. Minnesota's midfield depth will be tested big-time. And yes, Emanuel Reynoso remains away from the club (suspended without pay).

SOLUTION: Across call-ups and other absences, almost no team's depth chart will be more tested this weekend than Minnesota's. The Loons will especially feel that in midfield, where Dotson seems poised for his second start of the year after recovering from a torn ACL that cut short his 2022 campaign. The former US youth international doesn't necessarily have the playmaking background like Lod or Reynoso, but his industrious approach and no-nonsense skill set will be invaluable as Minnesota look to stay undefeated (2W-0L-1D so far).

MATCH: FC Cincinnati at Nashville SC (Sat., 8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Junior Moreno (Venezuela) and Marco Angulo (Ecuador) are away on international duty, while Yuya Kubo (leg) is out injured, creating a midfield need.

SOLUTION: Cincy's depth at the No. 6/8 spot is gutted, so maybe the 15-year-old homegrown gets a run-out at some point? We're not saying he starts, but head coach Pat Noonan doesn't have a ton of options alongside DPs Obinna Nwobodo and Luciano Acosta. Jimenez played a bunch in preseason, though jumping up to the first-team level is a big ask.

MATCH: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers (Sat., 4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX)

PROBLEM: The Galaxy are down their headline-leading strikers – Dejan Joveljic (Serbia) is away on international duty, plus Chicharito (hamstring) remains out injured.

SOLUTION: Here's your chance, Preston Judd. Could we see an Ethan Zubak-like breakout performance from the 23-year-old with Joveljic and Chicharito both not available? MLS hardcores know that reference. The Galaxy striker was especially productive for Los Dos in the USL Championship the last two seasons, but has just 40 MLS minutes to his name. A potential first start at Providence Park, on national TV no less, would be one heck of an introduction.

MATCH: Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Star striker Cucho Hernández is injured (knee), playmaker Lucas Zelarayán (Armenia) is on international duty and striker Christian Ramírez is only just recovered from a foot injury.

SOLUTION: Quite fondly, Crew fans will remember the club's 2-1 win at Toronto FC last June where Russell-Rowe got a surprise start and recorded two assists. While there's no guarantee last year's MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot winner and MVP will start – head coach Wilfried Nancy has said he's deliberating whether Ramírez can start or not – there's a strong likelihood he features in some capacity. Perhaps the 20-year-old Canadian youth international snags his first MLS goal this weekend?

MATCH: Toronto FC at San Jose Earthquakes (Sat., 10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Staring midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye are both on international duty with Canada for the Concacaf Nations League.

SOLUTION: Servania has already carved out a starting role in three of four appearances since his late-offseason trade arrival from FC Dallas. He'll be leaned upon even more this weekend, though, since Osorio and Kaye are away and Toronto's depth is precariously thin in central midfield. The Reds will need a monster performance from the 24-year-old if they're to get a cross-continent result when traveling to San Jose.

MATCH: Orlando City SC at Philadelphia Union (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Pedro Gallese, Orlando's star goalkeeper, is on international duty with Peru.

SOLUTION: Much of Orlando's early 2023 season is a Gallese highlight reel; he's undoubtedly among the elite shot-stoppers in MLS. Now, with Gallese briefly overseas, head coach Oscar Pareja could hand Stajduhar his eighth career start in the league. It'd offer Stajduhar a chance at redemption, too, after Philly scored five goals against him in a mid-September 2022 defeat at Subaru Park. Last year, the 25-year-old homegrown was crucial in Orlando's run to their historic US Open Cup title.

MATCH: Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City SC (Sat., 7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

PROBLEM: Star playmaker Dániel Gazdag is on international duty with Hungary.

SOLUTION: The Union's offseason was all about acquiring MLS-proven pieces via trade to compete for trophies in multiple competitions and weather absences. That's where Torres comes in, arriving from CF Montréal up to $800,000 in General Allocation Money in late January. The Argentine attacker already has a memorable spin-cycle assist and a late game-winning goal for Philadelphia, calming concerns about who pulls the strings when Gazdag isn't available.

A few more to watch…

• Who starts in midfield for Houston with Coco Carrasquilla (Panama) on international duty? His partnership with Héctor Herrera and Artur will be so important for the Dynamo. An option, seemingly, is Amine Bassi taking more of a No. 10-like spot.

• How about NYCFC's center back depth? Maxime Chanot (Luxembourg) is away on international duty, creating a need alongside Thiago Martins.

Seattle's fullback situation could look very interesting with Alex Roldan (El Salvador) and Nouhou (Cameroon) both on international duty. The Sounders don't have a ton of depth at the position aside from Kelyn Rowe.

Austin FC's thin center back situation gets a new test with Leo Väisänen (Finland) away for EURO qualifiers.