As we inch toward the beginning of the 2016 MLS season a quiet uproar of excitement exudes from the Timbers organization and community. This year we set out to attack the cup in the words of our general, a difficult prospect to be sure, one in which we must wade through USOC and CCL fixture congestion in addition to our regular season duties. With the rise of Darlington Nagbe to the US Men’s National Team, I wanted to look at how international call-ups could affect our season. It’s important to note that MLS teams were given an option to avoid playing on international FIFA dates by the league in some fashion but it remains unclear how flexible the league’s scheduling really is.
Darlington Nagbe (USA) and Alvas Powell (JAM) are the Timbers biggest international players but other Timbers likely to see international call-ups during the season include Jermaine Taylor (JAM), Michael Seaton (JAM), Adam Kwarasey (GFA), and Fanendo Adi (NIG) himself disclosed in December that he has had conversations with the Nigerian Football Federation and could see call-up’s for Nigeria at some point in the 2016 season.
March CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers
Two weeks into our season after hosting Columbus and playing away to San Jose we will see Darlington Nagbe (USA), and possibly Alvas Powell (JAM) and Jermaine Taylor (JAM) called up for CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers on March 25th and March 29th. The USMNT have a home and away series against Guatemala playing in Guatemala City on the 25th and in Columbus, Ohio on the 29th. Similarly, the Reggae Boyz host Costa Rica on the 25th and play away in San Jose on the 29th.
With the inclusion of pre-game camps, we can expect the aforementioned player to miss March 19th’s conference match-up when the Timbers host Real Salt Lake as well as the following weekend’s fixture away at Orlando on April 3rd. We could see all players fly direct to Orlando ahead of the 4/3 matchup with Orlando City SC but how much playtime we could expect just 4 days later remains to be seen and is dependent upon how much playtime they see away with their national teams.
June: Copa America Centaurio
The biggest event in the Americas this year is,of course, the Copa America Centaurio hosted right here in the United States over the course of June. With both the USMNT and Reggae Boyz included, we can expect similar player departures for Darlington, Alvas, Jermaine, and perhaps others. Both national teams will most likely call their players in 1-2 weeks before the tournament group stage opens on June 3rd with the US hosting Columbia.
Jermaine Taylor is no stranger to Copa America having been called up for the competition last summer. Jamaica were unable to progress past the group stage but they performed well, losing to Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina by a score of 1-0 each time. I was travelling in Chile at the time was lucky enough to see them play in a valiant effort against Argentina; a match that saw Jermaine Taylor sub on in the 71st minute with Jamaica down 1-0 and successfully helped prevent any further goals from the likes of Messi, Higuain, Tevez, and Angel Di Maria. Not a bad third CB to have on your roster.
This could see Nagbe and others missing a host of fixtures beginning with May 28th away match at Chicago Fire, and June 1st home fixture against the San Jose Earthquakes. Whilst the last game of the group stage in Copa America is set for June 11th for the US (and June 13th for Jamaica) it is possible, dependent upon group stage performance, that the US could progress to the quarter-finals scheduled to be played on June 16-18th with further possibility for the semi-finals (June 21-22) and the final itself (June 26). This could see Nagbe and others missing a third straight league match on June 18th away fixture at Real Salt Lake.
September CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers
CONCACAF WCQ picks up once more in September on 9/2 and 9/6 for the USMNT and the Reggae Boyz. The Timbers will likely see call ups affect September 3rd away match at FC Dallas with the boys returning to the Timbers in time for full or limited action on September 10th when we host Real Salt Lake. It is possible, depending on when players are expected to report to national team duties, that we could see international absences alter our lineup in a huge matchup against Seattle at home August 28th.
It’s also important to note that in the 2014 season we had 2 of our 4 CONCACAF Champions League fixtures land on September 16th and September 23rd but we won’t know our schedule for that competition until later in the season.
How Caleb Porter manages international call-ups will be something interesting to look out for as the season plays out. Powell call-ups could see Valentin slotting in at RB with competition from Peay, Thoma, and perhaps the Salty Dog though his right back days appear to be over. Nagbe’s absence has a much more profound impact on the team as so much of last years playoff and MLS Cup winning team was built on him as the focal point of our attack, transitioning and shuttling the ball allowing the Timbers to quickly counter-attack or to maintain possession dependent upon gamestate. Ned Grabavoy has been flaunted as the most likely replacement for Nagbe’s role in the team but it remains to be seen how effective he will be in doing so.
One thing is for sure, international call-ups will play a significant role in determining how the Timbers perform across all three competitions in 2016.