Sounders FC is a talent-laden squad built to contend for MLS Cup.
Part of constructing a team of that caliber is having players that compete on the international stage. Seattle will feel the effects of that element of their club this week as Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey all depart to join the U.S. National Team in World Cup qualifying matches against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Brad Evans was also called into the team, but a calf injury suffered on Saturday in a match against the Columbus Crew has him staying with Sounders FC to recover and he did not join the U.S. team in Miami ahead of the match in Costa Rica.
“We’re proud of the fact that as a club we’ve been able to play good enough soccer that it allowed them to get exposure and to get seen and has given them the opportunity to go to the National Team,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said.
The American trio all reached their current standing under U.S. boss Jurgen Klinsmann in different ways, but all have figured prominently in its current run of 12 straight wins that has the Stars and Stripes sitting atop the Hexagonal Round standings in CONCACAF’s qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Johnson, 29, was a prominent member of the U.S. squad even into qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but his playing time diminished while he struggled to find the field in Europe. Upon returning to MLS in 2012, he returned to form and found time again on the international level. In his first match back in two years, he scored twice in a 2-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda, then played a pivotal role in a 3-1 win over Guatemala to clinch advancement to the Hex.
Since scoring in a 2-0 win over Panama in a World Cup qualifier at CenturyLink Field in June, Johnson has scored two goals to help the U.S. win the CONCACAF Gold Cup and another in a 4-3 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in a friendly on August 14. Now fully entrenched in the team, he plays on the left wing and as a striker.
“Working with those guys week in and week out, I’m delighted for those guys,” Johnson said of his Seattle and U.S. teammates, Evans and Dempsey. “It says a lot about our organization and the quality that we have in Seattle. We want to go and we want to make a difference.”
Dempsey, 30, has been a mainstay on the National Team since scoring his first goal in a friendly with England in 2005. He came to Sounders FC last month in a transfer from Tottenham, just one year removed from finishing fourth in voting for the Premiership Player of the Season.
Internationally, he is captain for Klinsmann’s team and has 35 goals in 99 appearances.
The next two matches are important for the Yanks as they meet two of the teams nipping at their heels in the Hex standings.
“It’s important for us in these next four games to go get at least one win,” Dempsey said. “If we do that, we’ll be sitting in a good position so hopefully we can get that done.”
Costa Rica is second in Hexagonal Round at 3-1-2 (11 points), just two points behind the U.S. at 4-1-1 (13 points). They will host the U.S. on Friday at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Mexico is third at 1-0-5, with their lone victory coming in a 1-0 win over Jamaica on June 4. The U.S. will host Mexico on September 10 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
Evans, 28, has been on the periphery for the U.S. squad in recent years, but thrust himself into contention for the right back role with his play in friendlies against Belgium in May and Germany in June. He leapt to the front of the line with a solid performance against Jamaica, eventually netting the stoppage-time winner to get the U.S. out to a strong start in the Hexagonal Round and he hasn’t ceded his role since.
“Things are becoming a little bit more routine. I know what to expect now. I’ve played a number of games,” said Evans, who now has 13 caps to his credit. “None of what happens in the past matters if I don’t put in good performances in the next couple of games.”
Originally included in National Team talks because of his versatility, Evans has shown that trait in his separation between his club play, where he plays primarily in the midfield, and his role with his country, which has been almost exclusively as a right back.
“He’s continued to plug away,” Schmid said. “He’s continued to work hard and he’s continued to take advantage of the opportunities when they get presented to him.”