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Should MLS managers feel obligated to help players make international rosters?

Feb 10, 2014, 4:02 PM EST

Gregg Berhalter

Let’s be clear about something: Major League Soccer managers have a lot on their plate. Most are just renting the office space, as we know; managers are hired to be fired, as they say.

So an MLS manager’s obligation more or less starts and finishes with winning games. Nowhere in his job description is assisting players with World Cup roster pursuit.

Obviously, if it works out that way, it’s a good thing to do. This is the province of the “players’ coach,” the manager that makes choices and runs day-t0-day operations in a way that enhances his or her relationships with players.

But there is a only small window of opportunity, where those aims may cross over.

In Columbus, manager Gregg Berhalter (pictured) has said Michael Parkhurst is a center back, but that he may deploy the returning MLS man at right back if it helps Parkhurst remove himself from the bubble. It’s a swell gesture, and maybe it’ll work out.

But Berhalter is a first-year MLS manager, for a new owner who has tremendous ambition, no less. That means real pressure to win. The guess here: a loss or two early around Crew Stadium and Berhalter will zero in quickly on the reality of the situation: he needs his best players in the positions where they best help the Columbus Crew. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Brad Evans, the starting U.S. right back at the moment, will play in midfield for Seattle. That’s a little different situation since DeAndre Yedlin is the incumbent (and quite promising) right back around CenturyLink. There’s not much to be decided with that one.

Clint Dempsey is likely to line up with similar responsibilities for club as for country. But if Seattle manager Sigi Schmid has something else in mind, he shouldn’t worry about what’s best for the national team. This year is surely make or break for Schmid, and he knows it. He doesn’t have the luxury of accommodating national team best-case scenarios.

Looks like Michael Bradley will play further back in the midfield alignment for Toronto FC than he does for the national team. Fair enough on that one, too; the team paid handsomely for its new captain, so coach Ryan Nelsen has every right to slot in Bradley where he darn well sees fit.

There’s one more U.S. international whose positioning on the field will be an issue … we’ll get into that one in the next post.

  1. dfstell - Feb 10, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    Probably just depends on what agreement the team made with the player, right? Maybe Parkhurst was considering MLS and somewhere else and he picked MLS because they said he could play fullback and try to make the national team?

    • Steve Davis - Feb 10, 2014 at 4:35 PM

      That’s a fair point, although with this caveat (in my opinion): I’m not sure a wise manager would make such a promise, for the reasons stated above.

      • schmutzdeck - Feb 16, 2014 at 10:58 AM

        Parkhurst claims Berhalter agreed to play him at full back to help his WC bid.

        A manager has no obligation to help his player prep for the World Cup but their willingness and ability to do so probably depends on their level of job security.

        Arena can probably do whatever he likes while Berhalter may have been foolish given he is a rookie MLS manager.

  2. Sgc - Feb 10, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    It’s a business decision. If it allows you to sign a player better than what you could get otherwise. . . then yeah, keep his NT career in sight.

  3. tylerbetts - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:41 PM

    I’ve thought about this quite a bit. I think, with the mandate being “win”, that playing someone in a spot to specifically help them get to the World Cup could help towards that end. After all, what helps win games? Getting the right players on the pitch. And, if you, as a manager have a reputation of helping players get to the World Cup, it has to become easier to recruit players to play for you, right?

  4. mvktr2 - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    Easy question to answer. The goal and obligation of every effective club is to win first and remain loyal to the long-road vision. Part of the long-view is increasing player value and being a club that attracts players with both ambitions in the international game and international qualities. It all fits together as developing players that are national team worthy wether that’s Belize or Spain increases the quality of player on the pitch contributing to the first goal of winning.

  5. talgrath - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:54 PM

    First and foremost, the goal of an MLS team’s (or any club’s) manager or coach is to make sure their team is successful. If an MLS coach can help the USMNT he absolutely should, but that’s not his job, ultimately the USMNT isn’t paying his salary. and making a bad decision for his employer is likely to get him fired (which doesn’t help anyone). If Columbus can use Berhalter at right back, all the better, but if I was a paying the coach’s salary, I’d have some serious questions about such a decision.

  6. mikeevergreen - Feb 11, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Most of the guys who make a national team (other than GK) pretty much can play two or three positions to begin with. Players should play where his coach needs him. DMB plays left-wing mid for Puebla, LB for US. Brad Evans is a mid for Sounders, RB for US. Parkhurst also plays RB when wiht the nats, but to be honest he’s such an overlapper that JK might want to start Evans at wing mid, Parkhurst at RB, and let them overlap and confuse the hell out of the opposition.

    • bear06 - Feb 12, 2014 at 1:05 AM

      Beasley has been playing at LB for Puebla since last year.

  7. sollya - Feb 15, 2014 at 2:59 AM

    Yes. When a club coach is able to use his technical knowledge and direction to create a cohesive team, it shows. Playing on a poorly meshed team is disheartening for all, hurts national players in particular. Experimentation, rotating (some) roles and passing strategies helps determine how the team can best succeed as one. This builds confidence and skills. At same time national team players and those likely to get a spot need a good amount of time in the position they’ll be in in the WC. Practice must include individualized improvements in weak or less used skills. Best skills need frequent repetition as well. Speed, endurance & strike skills from various angles and distance must be improved for WC. JK must train coaches on how WC rules are different, especially legal and illegal defensive moves. These need much practice. Friction within teams must be dealt with if affecting roster members. I believe a certain amount of prioritizing roster players needs is acceptable during last couple of months before a WC.

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