MLS Talking Points: Which players are primed for success at Copa America?
With the Copa America Centenario set to begin June 3, ESPN FC asked Jason Davis, Graham Parker and Austin Lindberg which Major League Soccer players could be in line for a breakout tournament for their countries.
Andre Blake, GK, Philadelphia Union
Blake has seen opportunities open up before, only to find himself facing an uncertain path forward. Drafted No. 1 in the 2014 MLS draft -- a rarity for goalkeepers -- the young Jamaican found himself among the logjam of Philadelphia Union keepers during the recruitment chaos of the latter part of the Nick Sakiewicz era.
But Blake impressed when called on, and by the end of the 2015 season he was proving his worth in the first team with a franchise-record 10 saves in a game versus New England.
The goalkeeping depth in front of him was moved on, perhaps in the knowledge of what a rapidly maturing Blake represented. And with national recognition from Jamaica coming, Blake has started this season on a personal high. A newly organized Union tops the East, due in no small part to Blake's solid play in goal.
He'll have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his virtues in a tough group for Jamaica, but don't be surprised if more than a few independent observers are checking their program notes to find out who the young goalkeeper is as the group stages progress. In the meantime, keep an eye on how the Union cope in his absence.
-- Graham Parker (@KidWeil)
Steve Birnbaum, DF, D.C. United
The center-back uncertainty for the United States men's national team might give fans trepidation and cast Jurgen Klinsmann's preparations for the Copa America in a questionable light, but it could work to Birnbaum's advantage.
Birnbaum isn't the first player who comes to mind to start crucial games during the biggest tournament in the U.S. since 1994. Conventional wisdom is that Geoff Cameron, John Brooks and Matt Besler are ahead of the United man in the pecking order. Luckily for Birnbaum, Klinsmann is an unpredictable boss and has shown a penchant in the past for thrusting new faces into the fray without much buildup at all. Just because Birnbaum is the least internationally experienced man in the central defender group doesn't mean Klinsmann won't turn to him to fill a gap, improve a matchup or replace an injured player.
Birnbaum stands at the precipice of an incredible opportunity to raise his stock in this special one-off event, just as his name is beginning to trickle into the transfer waters of Europe. Ahead of Copa America, Birnbaum has been linked to a move to Feyenoord of the Eredivisie. Whether or not there's fire behind that smoke, Birnbaum is a player who has a European future in front of him if he wants it. A showcase against South America's best might push him up an echelon or two before he makes the jump.
Not only will that be good for Birnbaum, it might make it more enticing for Major League Soccer to let him go.
-- Jason Davis (@Davisjsn)
Jermaine Jones, MF, Colorado Rapids
Unlike Blake and Birnbaum, Jones won't have scouts frantically flipping through their notes; his reputation has long been cemented in the U.S. midfield. However, the German-American has been reborn in the Colorado Rapids midfield, and his newfound form has him primed for a strong Copa.
Jones can't escape his share of the blame as the U.S. midfield -- comprised of Jones, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman -- labored in the opening 45 minutes of a 1-0 friendly win over Ecuador, only to grow stronger in the second half as Beckerman and Jones were replaced. However, as a longstanding lieutenant of Klinsmann's and flourishing in a freer role with the Rapids, Jones is certain to be given another chance to mesh with an in-flux U.S. midfield.
The former Revolution hard man has enjoyed a more advanced role in Colorado, scoring three goals and an assist in seven appearances this season. His emergence as a borderline No. 10, coupled with Bradley's strong season in a holding role in Toronto, might see the pair excel in the Yanks' midfield like we've not seen before.
If Jones struggles with more positional freedom at the Copa America, and in the remainder of the U.S.'s tuneups before their opener versus Colombia, it's hard to gauge where, exactly, he'll fit in Klinsmann's road to Russia 2018.
-- Austin Lindberg (@LindbergESPN)