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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.