USMNT Daily Update: MLS playoffs boost stock for several young Americans

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By IVES GALARCEP

The MLS playoffs are traditionally a time when careers are defined, stars are made and players catch the eye of national team coaches looking for players who step up when the games are the most important.

The 2012 edition of the MLS playoffs gave us a new crop of American players to add to the list of promising national team prospects. LA Galaxy centerback Omar Gonzalez came away the big winner, turning in an MVP performance in the MLS Cup Final.

Gonzalez wasn’t the only potential U.S. national team prospect to shine in the playoffs. Here is a list of the Americans who helped themselves the most with their playoff performances (a list Gonzalez is the oldest player on):

OMAR GONZALEZ

It isn’t as if Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t already have plans for Gonzalez to be a part of the national team, but Gonzalez’s outstanding final only boosted the big centerback’s stock that much more, and suddenly he’s being included in the conversation for who should be starting at centerback when World Cup qualifying roles around. And while he’s the oldest player on this list, he just turned 24 last October so he isn’t exactly old.

WILL BRUIN

Okay, so he had a bad MLS Cup Final, but he still came away scoring four playoff goals and looking like a useful forward prospect. He isn’t super fast or dominant in the air, but Bruin does move well and is a clinical finisher when the chances come his way. Might still be some ways away from a call-up, but certainly put his name on the radar.

NICK DELEON

DeLeon’s clutch efforts in the early rounds of the playoffs had to catch the eye of Klinsmann’s staff. Not only because of his big-play ability, but also his ability to play in a variety of midfield roles. Only 22, DeLeon has shown all the signs of being a big-time midfielder.

KOFI SARKODIE

You only had to go back a few months to a time when Sarkodie wasn’t even seeing minutes for the Houston Dynamo, but he came on strong to finish the season and enjoyed a quality run through the playoffs. He showed the elements that made him such a highly-regarded prospect coming out of Akron. At 21, Sarkodie has plenty of time to develop, but for a coach in Klinsmann who loves attacking fullbacks, Sarkodie surely caught his eye during the playoffs.

PERRY KITCHEN

He didn’t score goals or register assists, but Kitchen’s play in central midfield during D.C. United’s run to the Eastern Conference finals was eye-catching. He plays well beyond his 20 years of age and blossomed in his first full season as a starting defensive midfielder. He isn’t ready to be a full national team factor, but from a long-term standpoint Kitchen is the best young defensive midfielder in the pipeline and just might earn a surprise look from Klinsmann sooner than later.

What do you think of this group? Who should have made the list that didn’t? What young American prospect impressed you the most during the MLS playoffs?

Share your thoughts below.

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87 Responses to USMNT Daily Update: MLS playoffs boost stock for several young Americans

  1. Old School says:

    Will Bruin, aka Conor Casey 2.0? No thank you.

    • Old School says:

      Sarkodie, on the other hand, has loads of potential but he MUST improve defensively. We know he’s gifted in the attack but at the next level, if you can’t defend, you’re hurting the entire team (see Jonathan Bornstein)

      • downintexas says:

        agreed on both assessments. But Sarkodie is young, hopefully he developes.

        Both have bright MLS careers.

      • GW says:

        Many great fullbacks were converted attackers.

        Assuming Sarkodie gets good coaching he has every chance to develop into a competent fullback.

    • cfig says:

      Bruin is WAY more mobile than Casey and surprisingly good on the ball when gets 1v1. He has some developing to do but definitely has potential.

    • patrick says:

      Conor Casey put the US into the World Cup, lest you forget

      • Old School says:

        I knew that would be people’s response and I respect it.

        If you want a Conor Casey type lining up for your Nats, more power to you. We have more talent than that now up top and we’re not long-ball-bombers anymore.

        • Lorenzo says:

          The USA is not to the point yet where we have 13 players consistently playing in all of our games all the time. We don’t have that many good and consistent players.

          Casey’s goals in Honduras, Bornstein vs Costa Rica, Feilhaber v Mexico 2007 GC Final, Ricardo Clark v T&T, etc.

          The goal is obviously get there, but if Will Briun contributes to 2 important USA wins in the future, I’ll take it. And he should be proud of it. I remember coaching soccer in NYC and a Jamacian was telling me he got to make the bench for Jamaica and he was super proud when he got to stand for the national anthem. It’s a big thing.

        • GW says:

          “We have more talent than that now up top and we’re not long-ball-bombers anymore.”

          Of course. So that was not Alan Gordon I saw doing a nice job in the qualifiers.

      • atd says:

        +1. Very useful player.

        • Bobb says:

          He was useful in one game. ONE GAME.

          Pretty much anyone can have a great game once…

          • GW says:

            One game is all you need.

            Benny Feilhaber practically made an entire career out of his Golazo in the 2007 Gold cup final.

    • Rory says:

      Yeah, it would be just awful for him to go the Conor Casey route and score the goals that put us into the World Cup, wouldn’t it?

      • Nate Dollars says:

        wasn’t it bornstein who put us top of the hex? not a whole lot of people praising him on here.

        the fact that casy even got called up was more an indictment of our pool rather than recognition of his great talent. even those who had come to accept casey call-ups as just the nature of a subpar attacking corps were still kind of shocked that he knocked those in.

        which is to say, yeah, that’d be a cool story if bruin was able to do that, but i don’t think many would expect it.

        • Nate Dollars says:

          and i really don’t want this to be a bruin hate-fest, because i think he’s alright, and he’ll improve; i just can’t picture him being more than an mls-caliber striker. hope i’m wrong.

        • Wendell Gee says:

          No. Bornstein’s one goal was completely meaingless. Casey’s two in the previous game got us into the World Cup.

    • Jermaine says:

      I agree, the kid has a limited skill set, but he is young.

    • rees says:

      Casey 2.0? gimme a break. Bruin understands movement/space creation far better than Casey – he’s got a ways to go, but he’ll finish up a pretty well rounded striker. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruin lights up MLS next season, and when/if he does, I’ll have no qualms about him earning a cap or two.

    • TomG says:

      Conor Casey pre injury wrecked body or post?

  2. Colin Reese says:

    I’d like to see Gonzalez, Sarkodie, and Kitchen on the national team

  3. Bobb says:

    Gonzalez, DeLeon, Kitchen, sure.

    Bruin isn’t technically gifted enough for the international level, another Conor Casey.
    Sarkodie is awful as a fullback defensively, he showed that during Olympic qualifying and again on Sunday when he wouldn’t even get back on defense.

    • Eric says:

      Like Bruin, Sarkodie isn’t being thrown out there as an immediate call up. All Ives is suggesting is that these are players who deserve looks in the future, with only Omar really looking like he needs to be thrown into the team right away.

      Sarkodie has good athleticism, good attacking play out of the back and is still young. He has time to develop. There’s no telling whether or not he’ll develop into an international caliber back but he’s at least an intriguing prospect for the future. No need to write him off as a never just yet.

    • FutbolFan says:

      Sarkodie is a solid back with great potential. Re: Olympic Qualifying — he wasn’t in the lineup in the loss to Canada.

      • ed - houston says:

        no but he was in the line up for the last game and was suspect on that last goal that did them in.

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        I’ve seen Sarkodie give up a ton of goals, until he fixes that he’s Spector with more speed but without as precise a crossing touch. Particularly with Dolo, Chandler, and Johnson, as well as some steady options like Parkhurst, I don’t see them calling in someone this defensively fragile.

    • Lorenzo says:

      Bruin isn’t real fast, or real strong, or real tall. Dude will just end up another Robbie Keane or something

      • Darwin says:

        Just end up another Robbie Keane…LOL

      • Brian I says:

        I know your trying to say it isn’t all about physical tools but lets not get carried away comparing him to Keane in that way. Robbie Keane has elite technical ability as a forward, did you see the goals he used to pull off in his prime with Spurs? World Class

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        The problem with Bruin is he disappears for long stretches with the Dynamo. He does have some holdup play and will finish if given chances, but the questions are, is he involved enough in buildup to keep the offense moving, and is he so dependent on service of a Davis/Garcia level that if he’s not getting sublime setup play, he disappears as a factor?

        In that sense, I see him as like his mentor, Ching.

  4. Pepe says:

    Bruin is actually pretty fast… he just looks like a brute so there’s a common misconception that he’s slow

  5. bottlcaps says:

    You also gotta give props to the LA Galaxy’s Rookie Center Back Tommy Meyer. Yeah, he made some mistakes, but all rookies do. But as a replacement center back for de la Garza (who was injured) alongside Gonzales, he was excellent. During the early season time when Gonzales was out, Arena tried all sorts of replacements, Boyens, Lopes were too prone to errors.Meyers was OK but just lacked experience. Meyers is not the presence that Gonzales is but at 6’2″ and good athleticism he did a good job. You only need to look at who he was up against in the playoffs with De la Garza out , with just him and Gonzales to h contend with Lenhart,Wondo,Alan Gordon, Montero and Eddie Johnson.And in the Final Will Bruin, Ching, Boniak and Carr. Enuff said.

    • Bobb says:

      Anyone who is just “pretty good” at MLS level when paired with Omar freaking Gonzalez is nowhere near good enough for the national team. De LaGarza is “really good” with Omar and he’s not good enough.

  6. Sabella says:

    I would like to see Omar given a crack at center back paired with Cameron. That could be pretty awesome. Saying all that, I am rooting for Gooch to have one last go.

    • Marco says:

      I completely agree…except those last 6 words.

      • ed - houston says:

        lol same here, we have way too many good young centerbacks… i mean, only if he is tearing it up in spain, possibly, but otherwise he is done.

    • AMPhibian says:

      rooting for gooch? yes, always. that said, i would rather see guys like gonzo and besler get their time to develop in that spot. gooch’s form at this point doesn’t warrant a call up, but i feel like you, if that were to improve i would welcome it with open arms.

  7. 2tone says:

    I rate Kitchen higher then Danny Williams. I would not be surprised to see Kitchen called into this January camp , and then start at DM for the Gold Cup team this summer. Don’t be surprised to see Kitchen more and more in Klinsmann’s plans for the #6 for the USMNT.

    Gonzo, DeLeon, Kitchen, and Bruin will more than likely be called into the Janaury Camp. I would say that Sarkodie will be in the USMNT plans after 2014 when Dolo calls it quits.

    • Nate Dollars says:

      i also think kitchen will be really good, but i don’t see how you can rate him higher than williams when they haven’t played regularly against the same caliber of opponents.
      unless you consider mls on par with bundesliga? :)

      • 2tone says:

        Nope I rate talent, and Kitchen is more talented.

        • GW says:

          Maybe.

          But talent is only one factor and it may not even be the most important factor in why a player succeeds or fails.

          Freddy Adu is very talented. He is a success in that he gets paid well to do what he loves most.

          However but has been a massive disappointment relative to that level of talent.

          Kitchen has a ways to go yet before he gets to the relative level of success of an Adu.

    • fischy says:

      I see Kitchen every week. He’s not there yet and not that close, either. I’m not saying he won’t develop, but he’s gotta get a lot better with the ball. He’s got a good understanding of the game, so he has that foundation. However, he couldn’t hit the proverbial broad side of a barn with his shot, and his passing isn’t so great, either. If he can make some big leaps technically — and that’s not out of the question — he will be the DM of the future.

    • AMPhibian says:

      +1
      - My only disagreement is that I’m not sure if Bruin is worth the call up at this point, we have a lot of forwards that can do what he does, plus something extra. He should definitely be on the radar moving forward, but I think, like Sarkodie, it would take a miracle for him to get a legitimate place on the bench before 2014.

    • Josh D says:

      How could possibly compare the two? Williams is starting in the Bundesliga, while Kitchen is slowly making an impression in MLS. Kitchen isn’t even the best DM in MLS yet. Maybe he has more upside than Williams, but currently he’s a few levels below.

      As a DC fan, I hope to see Kitchen learns how to really dig in next season and improves his forward passing. If I do the FIFA/fan talk, take a little of Roy Keane’s aggression and a little of Carrick’s wide range passing. Which to me would put him in about the young Essien range!

      • 2tone says:

        I watch Williams quite a bit. And let me tell you the guy has a long ways to go. I have high hopes for both Williams and Kitchen, but I think Kitchen has much more upside.

        Kitchen is in the top 5 of Dm’s in MLS. Williams is in the bottom of the table of DM’s in the Bundesliga. So really in my opinion they are about even. Oh and Kitchen is three years younger.

        • GW says:

          Your comparison of Kitchen and Williams is pretty flimsy.

          The Bundesliga is, in general, at a higher level than MLS. Other than that I see few if any grounds for a credible comparison of D Williams and Kitchen. I see no need to add any more ridculous hype onto Kitchen’s plate.

          We will see soon enough where each of them ranks in the USMNT picture.

        • Edwin in LA says:

          Juninho, Osvaldo Alonso, as much as I don’t like him but in MLS Beckerman, Roger Espinoza those are all better than Kitchen even with him being younger than most….

          Danny Williams can shoot as he proved in Columbus vs Jamaica and plays for a team in Germany where every team from top to bottom is better and MUCH deeper than MLS teams 1-19….. Kitchen is not even close to him

        • atd says:

          I agree that Bundesliga vs. MLS is a red herring. But just look at the head-to-head comparison: Both players tackle pretty well; the quality of their positioning is about equal; Williams is an excellent athlete, Kitchen is a middling one; Williams is a better passer; Williams is quite dangerous shooting from distance whereas Kitchen may not even know what shooting from distance is; Kitchen is probably more consistent than Williams, who is prone to off-days.

          Right now, Kitchen is a poor man’s Dax McCarty. I’d take Williams without thinking twice.

  8. ed - houston says:

    i was impressed by kichen in leg one vs DC but he and bruin have have a ways to go before getting to the nats.

  9. wilyboy says:

    I don’t know if he stood out as much in the playoffs, but Chris Pontius deserves to make this list as well. Not only is he best XI material on the left flank with his pace and scoring ability, he’s also improved his defensive game two fold. Would be very surprised not to see him in the January camp.

    • ed - houston says:

      i have to agree too, after hearing about pontious all year i really was not sold on him until the end of the season and playoffs.

    • Good Jeremy says:

      Party Boy definitely needs to be looked at while Landon is waffling.

  10. Joemybro says:

    Ives, isn’t De Leon also elligible for Trinidad through is father? Any word on which way he is leaning?

    • fischy says:

      He is Trinidad eligible. There’s no question that he would leap at a USA call-up, but he’ll keep Trinidad in play until he does get that call. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him play in a friendly for T&T, but Klinsi should take a look quickly. Of the guys on the list, I rate DeLeon with the highest upside.

      • Josh D says:

        I agree in terms of attacking potential. DeLeon grabs the ball and looks to take on an opponent every time. You can’t teach that after a certain age. It’s confidence and technical ability, matched with good athleticism.

      • JoeW says:

        Yeah, DeLeon is a fine attacker. But he’s a superb all-around player. He defends well, he is a fine ball-winner, works well in a situation where he’s supposed to provide high pressure. And then of course he comes up big at big moments.

  11. AMPhibian says:

    I think our defense needs Gonzalez now, and will need Kitchen and Sarkodie at some point in the future. I think Deleon and Pontius could add something to our wings immediately, but I’m not sure how JK sees those guys fitting into the mid/fwd picture.

  12. Original Aaron says:

    Everybody always forgets about Gil. He was outstanding in the playoffs, and should be at the top of this list.

    • fischy says:

      He will be our first great CAM, but he’s gotta get some gamesa nd years on his body before he’s ready for the nats.

  13. Heft says:

    If Sarkodie stays healthy, I think he’ll develop fairly quickly into one of the best fullbacks in MLS.

    I hate to sound snarky, but many USMNT fans easily forget that he is a young player. So he had a bad game–it doesn’t mean a thing. Don’t be so quick to bandwagon or throw under the bus our young players.

  14. baropbop says:

    I am admitedly biased, but I really don’t see how anyone doesn’t see Omar as one of the top 2 options at CB for USMNT….I’m also assuming there’s zero chance of Boca in Brazil

    • ed - houston says:

      i am not biased but a fan of his and i see him now as option 3-5 . once he gets a few games -friendly and qualifying- he could easily move up to top 2 come brazil.
      i honestly believe whe would already be there had he not turned down camp cupcake back in january. also, the injury set him back about a year for the nats. good luck to him.

  15. Jacknut says:

    Out of the DC players, DeLeon has the most Nats potential. I could see him as a late game wide midfield option even in the Hex and definitely in the 2013 Gold Cup. He’s got a little Dempsey in his game in that he’s willing to “try s**t” as Arena once said about Deuce.

    Kitchen is a solid MLS D-Mid and will be one of the better ones, but as fischy said above, his shot and passing need to improve. He has to be able to trigger the attack and not just look for DeRo or Pontius.

    Speaking of Party Boy, he’s not exactly a young player anymore. He’s 25 and it’s really now or never for him when it comes to National Team play. I think his only role is similar to his MLS ASG appearance vs Chelsea, as a late game option up top.

    I know he wasn’t mentioned here, but Hamid has to be back in the conversation as a third keeper behind Howard and Guzan. He needs to head overseas and fight his way up the ranks to really cement his place. I’m still confident that he and Johnson will be the next generation of Keller and Freidel.

    Gonzalez will be Cameron’s batterymate and I can’t see Bruin having a meaningful career at the international level.

    • Good Jeremy says:

      Eh. I hesitantly agree about Party Boy, but I don’t see anyone in our current crop nearing the Keller/Friedel duo. I rate Guzan and Howard above the potential of Johnson and Hamid and Guz+Howard aren’t nearly as good as Keller or Friedel. Howard had a couple big years but has been horribly inconsistent throughout his career.

      • bgood says:

        Not to be blunt but to characterize Howard as ‘horribly inconsistent’ is a huge reach. He was a Best XI player for Man U and after his fallout has become one of the top 5 keepers in the EPL. I hope that Hamid and Johnson become as horribly inconsistent as Howard.

        • GW says:

          Howard was pretty inconsistent in the 2010 World Cup. He wasn’t horrible but he wasn’t the superstar god that fans like you portrayed him to be going into the World Cup.

          Had he lived up to that hype and put in the kind of performance Friedel did in 2002 the US might have gone much further.

          And for me, the World Cup is where all this stuff matters, which is why, unless he makes amends in 2014,he will always be ranked below Friedel. And Keller was a better keeper.

    • fischy says:

      Pontius might be a little old for the 2018 Cup, but he could still be a big part of the team in the years between Cups. He might have a shot at making the team as a reserve this time around, possibly a better chance than those mentioned above.

  16. Dennis says:

    This is a great crop of players with serious potential. Sure some of them will not pan out, but I know this much, no one knows which if any will be the next US star.

    I just don’t like all the snarky comments people have to make. TheConor Casey, JB and Ricardo Clark, etc. haters had to twist this around to they could prop up their own lowly self-esteem by trashing players who have contributed a lot more to US soccer than the commenters themselves ever will.

  17. Joe says:

    Currently, we have US players on 5 of the teams in the EPL

    Aston Villa – Eric Lichaj, Brad Guzan, Derrick Williams
    Everton – Tim Howard
    West Ham – Sebastian Lleget
    Spurs – Brad Friedel, Clint Dempsey
    Stoke – Geoff Cameron, Maurice Edu

    What year do you think we get to 10 teams with US players on them?

    • Gary Page says:

      Plus there are 2 players in the Championship who played in the EPL but their teams were relegated (Spector and Ream), plus Whitbread who played for Norwich who didn’t pick him up again due to injuries. Additionally, Holden who, if he returns to form, could be picked up by an EPL team or Bolton could be promoted. So, depending on promotion, we could have up to 3 more in the future.

      • kmac014 says:

        And depending on relegation we could lose 3 more, although i don’t think aston villa will get relegated but there’s two sides to this that I think should be pointed out

        • GW says:

          Joe,

          Is it enough for you if these guys are on the game day roster (or not) and may not see the field or just get garbage time?

          Howard, Cameron, Dempsey and Guzan are the only real regulars on your list.

  18. Good Jeremy says:

    We need some of the backs to step up immediately. Bocanegra aged about a decade since 2010 and Cherundolo doesn’t have the same spring in his step, even if he is still dependable. Cameron plays mostly at RB for his club, and DeMerit + Gooch are both old and not completely recovered from injuries, so we don’t currently have a single dependable player in the center and only one on the entire backline.

  19. RSLstg says:

    Perry Kitchen has a very bright future. He is the type of defensive midfielder that is needed on the national team. He is a smart player, doesn’t misplace many passes, keeps it simple, and is decently athletic. I believe if he continues to show those traits he will make the 2014 world cup squad and maybe break the first XI.

  20. Gary Page says:

    Well, I’ve been pushing Gonzalez for over a year. After his injury I was afraid there was no way he could get match fitness and a return to form in time to play in the qualifiers enough to make it to Brazil. However, he has exceeded all expectations and looks even better than before the injury, so he has to be given very strong consideration. And, once again, I want6 to continue my one man crusade for giving Dax McCarty a shot. Although the Red Bulls used him defensively this year, he has shown in the past that he can be a play maker in the middle.

  21. Bobb says:

    What about other CBs besides Gonzalez / Besler / John (maybe):
    Matt Hedges
    Austin Berry
    AJ Soares
    Schuler if he does well at RSL next year
    Anibaba, or is he a fullback now?

    Thoughts on whether or not any of these guys may have a national team future?

    • atd says:

      Okugo — has a unique skill set among MLS center backs, and he’s built for the modern game. He’d also make an ideal partner for Gonzalez. I just hope he stays a center back and really learns the position.

  22. Ryan says:

    Between Williams, Edu, Jones, Bradley, Cameron, etc., I think we have CDM covered through 2014, but I still love having Kitchen in the pipeline. Can’t wait to see Omar G. in Boca’s spot, but we’re going to have to be patient waiting for someone on that back line to step up as a leader/organizer. Everytime Boca is out of the lineup we get all sorts of sloppy.

  23. The Imperative Voice says:

    Gonzo and DeLeon, yes, they looked like elite players, and that’s what a USMNT needs. Bruin appears and disappears, not so much, marginal, Ching/ Cooper/ Casey type. Sarkodie I’ve seen burned several times as a Dynamo and US U23 (including by Freddy Adu and Steve Zakuani), not sold, ditto Kitchen.

    I’d also throw in Berry, although his stock is already high. Wenger, though he wasn’t a “playoff player.” I’m personally a big Creavalle fan down in Houston and I think he’s a better pure defender than Sarkodie or Ashe….but Kinnear lost interest in favor of Sarkodie late in the season.