On Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, there is the potential for six World Cup players representing three different countries on three different continents to be on the field when Sounders FC hosts Toronto FC. That type of star power on the same field during a World Cup year shows the progress made by Major League Soccer in recent years.
It certainly isn’t the same MLS that Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, both stars for the U.S. National Team, played in before leaving for Europe in 2007 and 2006, respectively.
“The league has grown considerably,” Dempsey said. “It makes it more exciting for the fans and also for the players because that’s what you want. You want this to be the best league possible because this is where you’re from.”
Dempsey and Bradley have a combined 184 U.S. National Team caps between them and both honed their skills abroad. In the years between MLS stints, Dempsey played with Fulham and Tottenham in England while Bradley spent time with Heerenveen in Holland, Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, Aston Villa in England and Italian clubs Chievo and Roma.
Both players got their MLS starts in 2004 and now both have returned to America to help prepare for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It also shows as a beacon to other players around the world that MLS will continue to grow as a competitive league that is striving for lofty goals, but taking the steps to reel those goals in closer year by year.
“I think it’s good. It shows that with the signing of Dempsey and the signing of Michael Bradley the league has made a commitment and gone forward to move in a direction that the league hadn’t moved in before in terms of bringing guys back when they are at the top of their career,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “As the league continues to grow and as the league continues to make those steps it’s what’s going to take us into the next level.”
In addition to Bradley, Toronto FC will also bring Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar and England forward Jermain Defoe.
While those two superstars have World Cup experience and time with top clubs - Inter Milan for Julio Cesar and Tottenham for Defoe – Sounders FC’s other potential World Cup players in 2014 are rising MLS talents. Brad Evans emerged within the last year as the starting right back for the U.S. while DeAndre Yedlin has the potential to man that position for years to come.
To Evans and Yedlin, the spotlight that will come when players of the caliber of Dempsey, Bradley, Defoe and Cesar come to the league is a bonus as they prepare, themselves, for the possibility of going to Brazil in June.
“It gives the league some exposure,” Yedlin said. “Those are all guys that have had a lot of success in Europe and want to bring this league up to that level.”
Added Evans, “Players are coming back at the right time and heading into a World Cup year, it’s an added bonus. We’ve always felt that it’s a top quality league and after this World Cup I think you’ll see even more top quality players coming over. It’s only going to grow and it’s fun to be a part of.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s match is scheduled for 1:30 pm PT. The match will be broadcast locally on Q13 FOX and nationally on NBC Sports.