MLS play­ers help out in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Tim Booth

The lat­est round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing saw a ma­jor in­crease in the num­ber of play­ers from MLS called in for their na­tional teams.

A num­ber of those de­ci­sions paid off for their coun­tries, per­haps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in con­sid­er­a­tion for the U.S. af­ter miss­ing the lat­ter half of last sea­son be­cause of a heart is­sue. But the Seat­tle Sounders for­ward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gath­ered four crit­i­cal points in CONCACAF World Cup qual­i­fy­ing.

Dempsey was part of an in­flux of MLS play­ers con­tribut­ing dur­ing the lat­est round of qual­i­fy­ing for next year’s World Cup in Rus­sia.

In all, MLS had 55 play­ers called in for qual­i­fy­ing in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South Amer­ica) and UEFA (Europe) com­pe­ti­tions. Last Septem­ber, the league saw 58 play­ers called in to their na­tional teams, but there were more coun­tries still alive in qual­i­fi­ca­tion at that time. The 55 play­ers se­lected this time was an in­crease of 16 from the last round of qual­i­fy­ing matches in Novem­ber, and 40 of the 55 saw ac­tion dur­ing the two days of com­pe­ti­tion in the past week rep­re­sent­ing 12 coun­tries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Fri­day, 29 of the 84 play­ers to see the field were from MLS. That out­paced Li­gaMX, which had 17 play­ers among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player com­ing up big for his coun­try. Min­nesota mid­fielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Van­cou­ver duo of Chris­tian Bolanos and Ken­dall Was­ton teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Hon­duras.

But not all went well dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing.

At­lanta star Josef Martinez in­jured his left leg dur­ing the sec­ond half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qual­i­fy­ing. Martinez re­turned to At­lanta and an MRI re­vealed a left quadri­ceps in­jury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in At­lanta’s first three games.

U.S. mid­fielder Se­bas­tian Llet­get was forced off early in the match against Hon­duras but not be­fore scor­ing the open­ing goal for the Amer­i­cans. Los An­ge­les an­nounced Tues­day that Llet­get suf­fered a Lis­franc in­jury that will re­quire surgery. He’ll be out for four to six months.

MLS match of the week: The club that set the bar for ex­pan­sion de­buts faces the new­comer look­ing to top­ple that stan­dard.

The Sounders will host At­lanta United on Fri­day night. It’s the only reg­u­lar-sea­son matchup be­tween the two sides, but there’s more than just the com­pe­ti­tion on the field.

Seat­tle’s ex­pan­sion sea­son of 2009 was re­garded through­out the sports in­dus­try as ar­guably the best fran­chise launch ever, not just in MLS. Be­tween ticket sales and fan en­gage­ment, Seat­tle’s start could not have gone bet­ter.

At­lanta might be set­ting a new stan­dard. At­lanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its sec­ond home game, a win over Chicago. At­lanta seems to be fol­low­ing sig­nif­i­cant parts of Seat­tle’s blue­print, down to hav­ing an in­flu­en­tial NFL owner highly in­volved from the start.

As for the on-field prod­uct, the va­lid­ity of At­lanta’s promis­ing start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s def­i­nitely still an ex­pan­sion team,” At­lanta de­fender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, ev­ery­one’s still try­ing to get sorted and sit­u­ated to the new city.”

Last word: “I’ve been very en­cour­aged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s go­ing to take some time to piece that team to­gether.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena af­ter the lat­est round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing.

ARNULFO FRANCO / AP

Panama’s Ar­mando Cooper (left) fights for the ball with the United States’ Jer­maine Jones (cen­ter) dur­ing Tues­day’s 1-1 draw in a World Cup qual­i­fier.

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