With Honduras game looming, MLS stars stepping up for U.S.
Soccer • Top names from local clubs are gaining more spotlight.
Published: June 15, 2013 11:36PM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:33PM
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USA's national soccer team poses for the traditional team photo prior to a World Cup qualifier soccer match against Panama, Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in Seattle. Pictured are (front row, left to right) Fabian Johnson, Brad Evans, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, and Jozy Altidore. Back row, left to right, are Clint Dempsey, Omar Gonzalez, goalkeeper Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and Michael Bradley. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are becoming familiar faces internationally.

The central defenders have become regulars for the United States lately, helping to secure some impressive and critical victories.

The sellout crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium next week should already be plenty familiar with the duo. Both have been regular visitors with their MLS clubs.

“A few years ago, the talk was always about the European [league] players,” said the 24-year-old Gonzalez, who also anchors the Los Angeles Galaxy’s back line. “Now that we have MLS guys making an impact, it definitely speaks volumes for this league and how it’s growing.”

The team’s biggest names still play abroad. Goalie Tim Howard minds the net for Everton in England. Striker Jozy Altidore is coming off a massive season in the Netherlands. And midfielder Michael Bradley’s Roma will be the big draw when they play the MLS All-Stars later this summer.

But Major League Soccer has certainly been well-represented as the U.S. works toward qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Gonzalez and Besler have rocketed from fringe players to starters, where they have been joined in the first 11 by other MLS stars.

“No matter what league you play in, [U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann] believes in the players he brings in,” Besler said. “The club team doesn’t matter when you’re here.”

Against Jamaica, Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi was instrumental in the 2-1 road victory. The midfielder assisted on Altidore’s first goal, and started the play that led to the extra-time game-winner.

That final goal, by the way, was scored by the Seattle Sounders’ Brad Evans.

Evans and his club teammate, Eddie Johnson, both started for the U.S. last week against Panama, in front of more than 40,000 fans in Seattle.

Klinsmann, for one, was wowed by the crowd and the growth of soccer in America.

“It shows how strong the MLS has become, how strong soccer has become in this country,” he said.

The players did not disappoint either, with Johnson slotting home a goal to help lock up three points and put the U.S. atop its six-country group.

“The coaching staff isn’t shutting doors on anybody,” said Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who, along with club teammate Kyle Beckerman, is part of the roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier at Rio Tinto Stadium. “Whoever can play and contribute, they’re going to put on the field and call in. For those guys to come and contribute the way they’ve been contributing … it’s huge for MLS.”

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk

Honduras vs. USA

P At Rio Tinto Stadium

Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN

MLS players on the U.S. roster

• Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City

• Omar Gonzalez, L.A. Galaxy

• Brad Davis, HoustonDynamo

• Brad Evans, Seattle Sounders FC

• Eddie Johnson, Seattle Sounders FC

• Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City

• Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake

• Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake