Major League Soccer’s 2015 regular season campaign came to an end on Sunday and after the dust settled on Decision Day – the moniker given to the American top flight’s final matchday – the 12 teams set to compete in the MLS Cup play-offs were made known. And while those 12 sides have their sights firmly set on the league’s top prize, MLS Cup, which will be awarded on 6 December, some of Major League Soccer’s top stars are going to be doing double duty in the coming weeks with the return of FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers taking place around the planet.
The upcoming international break in November falls in between the conference semi-finals and finals, so by the time the MLS sides take a brief break for the qualifiers only four teams will remain. But with talent widely dispersed across the league, any club could be without their key assets in the ever-important build up before their penultimate matches ahead of MLS Cup, adding a heightened feeling of suspense when national team rosters are revealed in the days leading up to the next World Cup qualifiers.
There are certainly plenty of Americans who will likely suit up for USA in their opening World Cup qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on 13 November in St. Louis, that are also pushing to make a deep run into the play-offs. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are hoping to take Toronto far into the post-season, the first time the Canadian club has reached the play-offs. However, the Reds will be wary of a tricky play-in game on Thursday against Montreal Impact and talismanic forward Didier Drogba.
Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans have to negotiate another difficult play-in match for Seattle Sounders, who host LA Galaxy and the likes of fellow American internationals Omar Gonzalez and Gyasi Zardes. Meanwhile, Matt Besler and Sporting KC head out west to take on Portland Timbers who could be without Canadian Will Johnson and Costa Rica defender Rodney Wallace, should Caleb Porter’s side progress to the western conference finals.
The overlap between the MLS Cup play-offs and World Cup qualifiers is not just a problem for American players, as evidenced by the Timbers. LA Galaxy’s Giovani dos Santos may see action for Mexico against El Salvador and Honduras, while Fabian Castillo, who has had an outstanding season for Supporters’ Shield runners-up Dallas, has recently broken into Colombia’s squad and featured in Los Cafeteros’ first two South American qualifiers and could likely see action against Chile and Argentina.
Additionally, regional threats Jamaica, Honduras and Panama also have several of their top players plying their trade in MLS and have talents like Blas Perez, Roger Espinoza and Darren Mattocks to name a few in the play-off hunt. Those three, along with Guatemala’s Marco Pappa and St. Kitts and Nevis captain Atiba Harris, who recently fell to El Salvador in second round qualifying, ensure CONCACAF are well represented on all fronts.
Navigating the road to Russia 2018 and a trophy-run for a domestic title is undoubtedly tricky, and that is exactly what is in store for some of Major League Soccer’s marquee players in the coming weeks. The old adage: no rest for the weary, likely only scratches the surface to describe how those who have trudged through the ten-month MLS season feel at this point, but with the prospect of lifting MLS Cup, and inching ever-closer to a spot at the next World Cup in their sights, expect those on double duty to happily rise to the challenge.