7 MLS legends who fell short of USMNT stardom

The chasm between club and country was too wide for these Major League Soccer legends.

Matt Strasen-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Strasen-USA TODAY Sports

No, it’s on the United States men’s national team scene where he’s wedged into a tough place. McCarty is a holding midfielder, manning the position now held steadfastly by Michael Bradley. Next to being a third or fourth goalkeeper, there probably isn’t a worse place to be in the U.S. player pool.

If you’re young – let’s say Kellyn Acosta’s age, 21 – there’s still time to carve out a hardy national team resume. But McCarty, 30, is a year older than Bradley. They are both likely to age out of international soccer at about the same time. So there’s the McCarty’s impasse. He a terrific league man, but one who has never gained a solid foothold in the national team.

While that’s unfortunate, it’s not exactly rare. Time and circumstance sometimes conspire thus; there are some significantly accomplished players who made hay in MLS but just couldn’t quite crack the code when it came to the U.S. men’s national team.

Let’s have a look at a few others:

Jeff Cunningham

134 MLS goals in 365 appearances; 14 U.S. caps

How to explain the yawning cap in production between club and country on this one? Until Landon Donovan eventually caught up, Cunningham was Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer for about three years. A striker of uncommon speed, Cunningham hit 134 goals in league play, which was 133 more than he scored in a scant 14 national team appearances.

His reputation as a locker room problem, prone to lashing out at teammates and coaches, certainly didn’t help his cause as national team managers assembled rosters – although it does help explain Cunningham playing for five different teams over his final seven MLS seasons.

Brian Carroll

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

370 MLS appearances; 3 U.S. caps

The guy was an absolute workhorse in MLS, dependable as the day was long, a trusty starter for 10-plus seasons. You could even say “13 seasons as a starter” depending on how you count his last three years at Philadelphia. But as a holding midfielder, there was always someone outstanding in front of him internationally, guys like Pablo Mastroeni in the early years, then Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman on the back side of Carroll’s rock-solid league career.

Joe Cannon

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

342 MLS appearances; 2 U.S. caps

How is this for a disparity between club and country careers: Cannon’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year awards matched his number of U.S. caps. He was the standard bearer of MLS shot stoppers for a few of his 16 years in the league, including an MLS Cup winning year with San Jose in 2001. His best seasons were at San Jose and Colorado. Even then, he just wasn’t going to displace any members of legendary U.S. ‘keepers club: Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.

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