Has The Gold Cup Placed The Portland Timbers At A Disadvantage?

The 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup kicked off at the Rose Bowl July 7 and is being hosted by 13 different cities across America. The final will be held at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 28. With 12 nations involved in the soccer tournament, it means certain Major League Soccer teams must do without some of their best players for up to three weeks.

Some clubs, such as the Portland Timbers, have lost players to several teams.

Captain Will Johnson is participating for Canada, while winger Rodney Wallace has left to compete with Costa Rica, and forward Frederic Piquionne is playing for Martinique. Unfortunately, if you’re a Portland fan, the team has five games scheduled during the Gold Cup, four of them regular season MLS matches and the other an exhibition game against Norwich City of the English Premier League.

There’s no doubt some of the missing members are key players for the club. Johnson, a midfielder, was a starter in all of the Timbers’ games up until the Gold Cup. He’s tied for the Timbers lead with six goals so far this season, while Wallace is tied for third in goals with four – and is second in assists with five. Piquionne is third on the team in assists with four, while Johnson and Wallace are both ranked in the top five for shots on goal.

Before the Gold Cup began, Portland was enjoying a club-record 15-game unbeaten streak. However, it came to a disappointing end on July 7 with a 1-0 away loss to the Columbus Crew. It was the Timbers’ first game without their Gold Cup players. However, Portland managed to win its next match with a dramatic 2-1 home win over the Los Angeles Galaxy.

But isn’t everyone facing this CONCACAF hurdle?

Remember, the Timbers aren’t the only team that lost players once fans started buying CONCACAF Gold Cup tickets in the beginning of July. That’s why MLS clubs need to have depth and have players who can fill in for those who are called up for international duty.

Everybody knows years ahead of time when the Gold Cup takes place – so they have plenty of time to make the necessary roster moves prior to the event. In addition, this gives other players a chance to show off their skills and possibly earn a starting spot with their team.

In fact, the Timbers may be better off than many other MLS clubs, since Johnson and Piquionne returned to the team after the first round of the Gold Cup (both Canada and Martinique were eliminated in the group stage).

In total, 32 MLS players have left their clubs to take part in the tournament. These are obviously some of the league’s most talented performers and that leads to the question of whether or not MLS should shut down during the Gold Cup.

Some teams, such as the Timbers, Real Salt Lake, DC United, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps are arguably at a decided disadvantage during the event since they’ve each lost several players. However, international tournaments are unpredictable. It’s possible that the league loses 32 players to the tournament, but many or possibly even all of them could play for teams that are eliminated after just three group round-robin games. This would see MLS in hiatus with other players (and fans) sitting around with nothing to do.

It’s true that European and South American leagues take weekends off during World Cup qualifying matches, but this is simply because some clubs are made up entirely of international players.

Since the Gold Cup takes place every two years, MLS teams must realize that they may lose players for a few weeks during the season. Since there are 19 franchises in MLS, each team, on average, has lost less than two players to the Gold Cup.

It’s simply not feasible to shut down a 19-team league that loses just 32 players to an international soccer tournament. 

About Arran Gimba