United States stars return to MLS
The end of the U.S. team's run at the World Cup on Tuesday meant pain for fans of the red, white and blue. It also meant a bit of joy for MLS coaches across the league, as the round-of-16 exit ensured the return of 10 key players to their teams by the weekend.
Some teams wasted no time in reintroducing their American internationals in the past week. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando jumped immediately back into the Real Salt Lake lineup against New England. Brad Davis took his customary midfield spot for Houston against the Red Bulls. Michael Bradley went 61 minutes in TFC's 2-1 loss against D.C. United.
Whether they are back in club colors already or not, a quick overview of the 10 players, their importance to their respective teams, and the prospects of their sides in league play seems to be in order.
Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake
Key stat: Despite being the MLS all-time leader in fouls committed, Beckerman is tied for 30th this season with 1.6 fouls per game.
Did you know? Beckerman is one of three active MLS players who helped the United States to a fourth-place finish at the 1999 U-17 World Championship, the others being Landon Donovan and Bobby Convey.
Prospects: Beckerman returns to a second-place RSL team, and just in time. In his first game back on Friday, Real Salt Lake won their first game in six matches. Expectations remain that the club will make the playoffs, however, and present a legitimate challenge for a second consecutive Western Conference title.
Watch: New York at Salt Lake (July 30, 9 p.m. ET: ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City
Key Stat: On a team known for fouling, Besler is tied for seventh in fouls committed, with 11 in total sharing the spot with the departed Oriol Rossell.
Did you know? Besler was the first player from Kansas to represent the United States at the World Cup.
Prospects: Sporting was always going to suffer during the absence of Besler, but the situation was exacerbated by injuries. Getting their star defender back into the team will help them stabilize their defense, perhaps giving them the strength they needed to finish the season first in the East.
Watch: Los Angeles at Kansas City (July 19, 6 p.m. ET: ESPN 2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Manchester City at Kansas City (July 23, 9 p.m. ET: ESPN 2, Deportes and Watch ESPN)
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC
Key stat: Bradley has just one goal for TFC in seven appearances, but is fifth on the team with nine shots.
Did you know? Drafted by the MetroStars as a 16-year-old in 2004, Bradley did not play a single minute his first season. The next year, he started 30 games and logged more than 2,600 minutes.
Prospects: Bradley returned to play for the Reds on Saturday night against D.C. United despite covering more ground at the World Cup through four matches than any other USMNT player. Toronto FC won three times to go with three draws while Bradley was away, climbing up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The loss to United keeps them in that spot, but there is strong reason to believe this is the year TFC breaks into the playoff party.
Watch: Tottenham at Toronto (July 23, 7 p.m. ET: ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
Brad Davis, Houston Dynamo
Key Stat: The Dynamo scored just one goal in six matches while Davis was away on international duty, a stretch that included a 479-minute goalless streak.
Did you know? Davis is the all-time Dynamo leader in games played, games started, minutes played and assists, and is second only to Brian Ching in goals.
Prospects: Judging by their current form, the Dynamo's prospects for making the MLS playoffs for a fourth consecutive year look dim. Still, with Davis now back (he played on Friday night against New York in a 2-2 draw) and with Dom Kinnear at the helm, it would surprise no one to see them sneak into the postseason.
Watch: Houston at Seattle (Aug. 10, 10:30 p.m. ET: ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
Key stat: Despite playing just nine matches, Dempsey remains the Sounders' leader in shots ahead of Obafemi Martins (43 to 34) and is level with Martins as the team's top goal scorer (eight).
Did you know? Dempsey's $6.7 million salary is more than the payrolls of 15 MLS teams.
Prospects: Dempsey's struggles upon arrival in 2013 are a distant memory -- along with the team's issues from the same period. The Sounders are Western Conference favorites, MLS Cup favorites and Supporters Shield favorites based on their leading position and the amount of weapons available to head coach Sigi Schmid. After a solid World Cup, there's no reason to suspect Dempsey won't be a key part of the Sounders reaching their goals.
Watch: Portland at Seattle (July 13, 10 p.m. ET: ESPN 2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Tottenham at Seattle (July 19, 4 p.m. ET: ESPN2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Houston at Seattle (Aug. 10, 10:30 p.m. ET: ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
Key Stat: Rimando returned from Brazil to immediately start for RSL against the Revs. RSL won 2-1, but Rimando failed to register a save for the first time in five matches. It was his second saveless start of the season.
Did you know? Rimando made his MLS debut for the Miami Fusion in 2000, when the league had just 12 teams. Rimando is the only goalkeeper to play for or against every entry in the league.
Prospects: RSL struggled in the absence of Rimando, winning just once. The club sits in second place in the Western Conference, however, and with the reintroduction of their internationals, should be headed for another playoff berth. The loss of Alvaro Saborio to injury puts more pressure on the defense and Rimando, but there's no reason to think they aren't up to the task.
Watch: New York at Salt Lake (July 30, 9 p.m. ET: ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
Omar Gonzalez, L.A. Galaxy
Key Stat: Before Gonzalez left for international duty, the Galaxy allowed 0.83 goals per game. During his absence, that number rose slightly to 1.0 goals per game.
Did you know? Until the signing of Liam Ridgewell by the Portland Timbers, Gonzalez was the league's only defensive Designated Player.
Prospects: The Galaxy continue to trundle along below expectations, but should be a playoff team in the end. With rumors swirling that Gonzalez is coveted in Mexico, perhaps this is the center back's last hurrah with L.A. At the moment, Gonzalez's team doesn't look like a real MLS Cup contender, though all it takes is making the playoffs and getting hot at the right time.
Watch: Los Angeles at Kansas City, (July 19, 6 p.m. ET: ESPN 2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Los Angeles at Seattle (July 28, 10 p.m. ET: ESPN 2, Deportes and Watch ESPN)
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
Key Stat: San Jose has scored a league-low 15 goals this season, with Wondolowski responsible for 33 percent of their total.
Did you know? Wondolowski is one of four players (Omar Gonzalez, Shalrie Joseph and Dwayne DeRosario are the others) to secure a Designated Player contract having played his entire career in MLS.
Prospects: Unfortunately for Wondolowski and the Quakes, the paltry goal-scoring record tells the tale. San Jose sits at the bottom of the Western Conference with 16 points from 15 games. Barring a massive turnaround in the second half of the season -- likely requiring a raft of goals from Wondolowski himself -- the Earthquakes are on their way to a second consecutive season without playoff soccer.
DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders
Key stat: Yedlin has completed 80 percent of his passes from right back for the Sounders through 11 appearances.
Did you know? Yedlin is the first MLS academy player to represent the United States at the World Cup and, based on his performance, will not be the last.
Prospects: The Sounders are sitting pretty, having actually consolidated their Western Conference and Supporters Shield leading positions since Yedlin left. If Yedlin (and Dempsey) can reacclimate quickly, the Sounders are favorites to win both crowns. Yedlin's ability to fly up the flanks gives the Sounders a dimension that makes them even more dangerous.
Watch: Portland at Seattle (July 13, 10 p.m. ET: ESPN2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Tottenham at Seattle (July 19, 4 p.m. ET: ESPN2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Houston at Seattle (Aug. 10, 10:30 p.m. ET: ESPN2 and WatchESPN)
Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City
Key Stat: Zusi has three assists in nine games for Sporting Kansas City; last year he finished with eight in 27 appearances.
Did you know? Zusi won a national title at Maryland alongside USA teammate Gonzalez.
Prospects: Peter Vermes will be glad to have Zusi's energy and invention back in a lineup that hasn't had a chance to settle over the course of the season. Rossell's departure means even more of the burden shifts to longtime contributors like Zusi. Sporting is almost guaranteed to be a playoff team; the question is where they finish and whether they are legitimate contenders to lift the MLS Cup trophy again.
Watch: Los Angeles at Kansas City, (July 19, 6 p.m. ET: ESPN2, Deportes and Watch ESPN); Manchester City at Kansas City (July 23, 9 p.m. ET: ESPN2, Deportes and Watch ESPN)
Jason Davis is a writer from Virginia covering American soccer. He also hosts a daily soccer podcast that covers the beautiful game. Follow him @davisjsn.