It’s a week before the Copa America kicks off in Levi’s Stadium and America’s biggest soccer summer since 1994 hits. The rosters are set, the players are in training camps, but before it begins there’s still one lurking question. How will the Centenario affect the MLS season?
Going into the season’s 12th week there are no runaway favorites. Even the improbable Rapids run has experts more anxious than confident. Fans are still adjusting to Pablo Mastroeni’s mustache-less face, to say nothing of his tactics. Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, and Los Angeles Galaxy are right behind Colorado in points-per-game. None of the four are losing too many players to international tournaments.
It’s tough to see RSL pull out wins without Kyle Beckerman, or Dallas keep time without the Ecuadorian Carlos Gruezo. UEFA Euro 2016 may be a bigger deal for the Galaxy, even if they were able to keep it up without Robbie Keane earlier. Gyasi Zardes is a lot of fun, but not yet a complete player.
The West’s second-tier teams have it a whole lot rougher. Vancouver has been maddening enough without having to play without a defensive anchor in Kendall Waston and the reliable Bolaños and Blas Perez. A Kansas City team without Matt Besler and Graham Zusi just looks weird. Dog-mowing-a-lawn weird. And that’s before you bring up Soni Mustivar, who is just coming into his own both in Missouri and for Haiti.
It’s San Jose, who is hosting (sort of) the kick-off event on June 3, who is really getting shafted. They’re a fringe playoff team even before learning they’ll lose Chris Wondolowski to the USMNT bench for at least a couple of matches. The weird Prisoner’s Dilemma of a striker spot between Wondo and Seattle’s Jordan Morris must have been weird for fans to reckon with: do you hope your guy gets the honor — and misses important matches against two conference rivals? Or do you hope the bright shining star of the detested Sounders gets lauded instead? Either way, it’s tough to see San Jose keeping pace without the beating heart of the team.
It somehow gets worse for the shirtless Quakes fans from there. #Panamaniacs Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero are going to work their magic for country. Simon Dawkins will be suiting up for Jamaica. That’s four of their most important starters, all from a team that doesn’t have a ton of depth. Either the young trio of Fatai Alashe, Tommy Thompson and Matheus Silva are going to build something wonderful or the Earthquakes may find themselves looking up at nearly everyone by the time they host the MLS All-Star Game. It’s either incredibly exciting or wrenchingly terrifying, depending on if you’re a glass half-full type or…you know…the other one.
The East is far less damaged, if for nothing else then because the conference is so tightly-packed there’s no place to move. Andre Blake’s going to be the only one missing from Philadelphia, but he’s also the first ‘keeper that Philadelphia’s actually felt good about having since maybe the franchise started. Both Matt Jones and John McCarthy are as anonymous as their names make them seem.
Neither New York team can feel too bad about missing a defender because — not like they have their defense solved anyway! Same goes for Montreal and D.C. United, who are losing important players (Vanegas from the Canadians, Steve Birnbaum and Alvaro Saborio from DCU) from sides that have straight-up identity problems that go further than personnel. Neither Chicago nor Columbus are missing anyone, which, hooray! But they may ask why they don’t have any West Hemisphereans worth poaching to begin with.
Will Toronto miss Michael Bradley? The obvious answer is “duh,” but the big news out of Reds camp is that Sebastian Giovinco won’t join Italy at Euros. Compared to the 2015 MVP, Bradley is a bit less missable. And his stalwart D-Mid play can be made up by the likes of Will Johnson and Jonathan Osorio. At least a little bit. And at least for the team happy to have Seba for June.
It’s all a whole bunch of wild cards for the world’s wildest summer league, even before the injuries start coming in. Copa America may shake things up in the MLS, but it won’t be the last thing to cause problems for the depth-less wonders in San Jose and perhaps Colorado. It could be a lot worse for everyone else. Or, if folks like Salt Lake and Philly can’t replace an invaluable cog, the summer fun tournament could start a downward spiral.
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