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Which MLS Players Must Make an Instant Impact for the USMNT?

As Camp Cupcake begins, we look at which MLS players have no room for error with the national side.

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qulafying-Mexico at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

During Bruce Arena’s first stint as head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, he came up with the idea of having a January camp so that American internationals that played in Major League Soccer could stay in shape during the long off-season. Over the years since, the MLS season has gotten longer and this “Camp Cupcake” is used more for players, primary in the domestic league, to get introduced to international soccer.

This is typically a much younger squad, with players called in that would not usually get a call-up to the national team. A few players, most notably Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore, used this opportunity to kick off their USMNT careers.

In Arena’s second stint, there is no time to experiment. There cannot be a “B Team” and the squad needs to use this time to understand Arena’s system and gain chemistry with each other. After losses in the first two games of The Hex, the U.S. is in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in over 30 years, and Arena has responded by calling in one of the most experienced January camps ever.

Today, the USMNT will meet in Carson, CA, and the players will need to be on their A-game from the minute they enter the camp. The team called up consists entirely of MLS players, with exceptions to DaMarcus Beasley, who is currently without a team. Of course, if anybody does not impress Arena, it may be the last time they put on the Red, White & Blue before Russia. But for these players below, just one mistake may be too much.

Darlington Nagbe

At one point in time it looked as though Nagbe would be the future of the USMNT. His ability to see the whole field, to seemingly know what would happen before it did, and a tendency for killer passing made many question why Michael Bradley was starting over him. But after injuries and poor performances, he fell out of favor with Jurgen Klinsmann and then lost playing time in Portland.

Now the midfielder has no room for error as it looks like Arena is excited for the Christian Pulisic-Sacha Kljestan combination in the midfield. Nagbe has the potential to be the man that the entire offense revolves around, and adding him on the field with Pulisic and Kljestan could form a deadly trio, but which Nagbe will show up to camp?

Michael Bradley

World class. Elite. Best American ever.

Overrated. Slow. Turnover machine.

Wow, the adjectives describing the Toronto midfielder have changed over the years. Once the only player the country could count on to play well, now an entire nation holds its breath when he has the ball. The U.S. captain may be losing his starting job in the near future as the midfield has the most depth, and there is now no room for error.

Countless times Bradley has given the ball up and the opposition has punished his team — both club and country — for it in lethal fashion. With Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty, Nagbe, and Kljestan competing in the midfield in this camp alone — and they all had better MLS seasons in 2016 than Bradley — it is time for the captain to bring back that world-class talent.

Keegan Rosenberry

Let’s face it, the U.S. defense is awful, and the weak link in a team that has been under-performing. The 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year finalist played every minute for Philadelphia, received no cards, committed just 13 fouls, and added two goals and two assists as a defender in his first year. There were big claims for him to beat Seattle’s Jordan Morris (see below) for Rookie of the Year, as Rosenberry was not only one of the best rookies, but one of the best defenders in 2016.

So he has clearly turned heads in MLS, and is more than deserving of his first USMNT call-up. But with no room for error, Arena is not wanting to take chances on players with no international experience. With Brad Evans, DeAndre Yedlin, Timmy Chandler, and (maybe?) Graham Zusi all capable of playing that right back spot, Rosenberry needs to show the international world what he showed the MLS world.

Jordan Morris

OK, no, Morris is not going anywhere. He will get a call-up for every qualifier from now until Russia and will be on the World Cup team as well. However, what will his role be on the team? Currently, Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore are the two men up top and seem to be the only two players that could find the back of the net. As Wood is still with his club, this will put the most intriguing position battle — Altidore vs. Morris — to the test immediately, but it is Altidore’s to lose.

All Goalkeepers

Historically, the U.S. has always produced top-quality goalkeepers. Tim Howard, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, and Brad Guzan are the last four goalkeepers for the USMNT, and they have all played in the English Premier League.

Now, with Howard aging out and Guzan not getting enough playing time, the job is there for someone else to take. Klinsmann introduced Club Brugge keeper Ethan Horvath to the U.S. side and all signs are pointing towards Horvath being the next big keeper for USA. However, all five MLS keepers called up could take the position for themselves. Bill Hamid and David Bingham are the top of the group, but if any of them are going to be called up for qualifiers, they will have to play lights out for the entire camp.