The United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) was eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup by Belgium last week, but the 2014 Major League Soccer (MLS) season is in full swing, and several U.S. players have returned from Brazil to revive their teams in the race for the MLS Cup. Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are among those who have already returned to the field.
Real Salt Lake was in desperate need of a boost, going 1-3-2 since Rimando and Beckerman left for Brazil. The goalkeeper and midfielder provided exactly that in RSL’s victory over the New England Revolution on Friday, despite having flown in on the red-eye Thursday. Beckerman, who was “surprised and disappointed” to be left out of the lineup against Belgium in Salvador, showed his usual poise in the middle, leading RSL to a 2-1 win, with both goals scored on penalty kicks.
Matt Besler was left out of the lineup Sunday for Sporting Kansas City’s match against the visiting Chicago Fire, but Zusi’s name was listed under the substitutes, and the twenty-seven year old entered the match in the 61st minute to raucous cheering. The two teams already had a goal apiece, and the score remained tied 1-1 for the rest of the game, but Zusi’s presence made an obvious difference in the quality of Sporting KC’s play.
Possession, which had been back and forth for much of the game, suddenly swung Kansas City’s way, and Zusi launched perfect crosses into the box. His teammates—including Dom Dwyer, who had already scored and celebrated by taking a “selfie” with fans—could not find the net, though. Sporting KC settled for a point at home, leaving the team at second place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, two points behind DC United.
About 700 miles south in Houston, Brad Davis donned his orange Dynamo jersey and took the field, converting a penalty kick in the 82nd minute to complete a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls and end Houston’s five-game losing streak. Joining Davis was Dynamo midfielder Boniek Garcia, who played in Brazil as well for the Honduras national side.
Michael Bradley could have sat out for Toronto FC’s loss to DC United on Saturday, and some fans may have suggested it given the midfielder’s exhaustive play, and lack of production, in Brazil. This was out of the question for Bradley, though, and he added another full-90-minute game to the four he played for the national team. Toronto took a 2-1 loss, snapping a six-game undefeated streak, thanks in part to Nick Hagglund being shown a yellow-turned-red card for a questionable foul. Being a man down made it difficult for Toronto to equalize, and the Reds remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto fans are awaiting the eventual return of Brazilian goalkeeper Júlio César, who lost the World Cup Semifinals Tuesday to Germany in a shocking 7-1 elimination.
The San Jose Earthquakes had to play Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Chivas USA without Chris Wondolowski, as the striker was still traveling from Brazil. “Wondo,” as he is known to fans, has returned to practice, though, and is focused on forgetting the point-blank shot he missed in the waning seconds of stoppage time, which would have won the game and a quarterfinals berth for the U.S. Wondo has scored incredible goals both in Major League Soccer and in international play, but the 31 year old may have foregone his last shot to score on the world’s biggest stage.
Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin have returned to Seattle, but will not suit up for the Sounders until July 13, and Los Angeles Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez was not quite ready to take the field for Friday’s match against the Portland Timbers, which ended in a 2-2 tie. Gonzalez was ready to bare all (literally) for ESPN the Magazine, and will appear in the nude in a spread for the “Body Issue” alongside U.S. Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup may be over for the United States, but the MLS season is just heating up and second-through-fifth places are separated by less than two points in the Western Conference. The return of the U.S. Men’s National players, as well as international Major League Soccer players representing their home countries, will only make the competition fiercer.
Commentary by Christina Jones