In the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, 11 of the 16 nations participating called up at least one Major League Soccer player in their initial rosters. The only squads without anybody playing in the United States/Canada soccer pyramid are Martinique and Qatar, although Guatemala, Guadeloupe, and Grenada’s players play in levels below MLS. Last time, Brazilian, Argentine, and English players were recruited to construct a hypothetical best XI of nations that made the Copa America and Euro finals. This time, the challenge is to construct a starting lineup using a maximum of one MLS player from each nationality. Here we go!
GK Andre Blake Jamaica Philadelphia Union
This was an easy choice not only because Andre Blake is still one of the best goalkeepers in the league, but also because this frees up other nations such as the United States for other positions. The Philadelphia Union shot-stopper came close to winning the Gold Cup with Jamaica in 2017, but got injured in the final. The USMNT went on to win 2-1 in Santa Clara.
RB Kelvin Leerdam Suriname Inter Miami
Although Kelvin Leerdam played as a midfielder in Suriname’s opening game, he’s played most of his MLS career as a right back. Therefore, he slots into this team in the fullback slot. Whether with Inter Miami or Suriname, it’s going to be a long summer for Leerdam.
CB Maynor Figueroa Honduras Houston Dynamo
Maynor Figueroa’s 21 year club career spans Honduras, England, and the United States and nearly 500 appearances across every stop. Despite being 38 years old and not being at his peak, there appears to be no intention of retiring and will look to add to his 169 Honduras caps.
CB Francisco Calvo Costa Rica Chicago Fire
If asked to make this XI around the 2014 World Cup, Giancarlo Gonzalez would’ve easily represented Costa Rica at the Center Back spot. Seven years later, Chicago Fire’s Francisco Calvo is higher in the pecking order so he gets the nod.
LB Sam Vines United States Colorado Rapids
Unsurprisingly, the United States has the most options out of every team competing in the Gold Cup. 19 of the 23 squad members play in MLS, so it was about filling a gap left by other options. Sam Vines scored the winning goal against Haiti, so the Colorado Rapids player gets the nod.
RM Derrick Etienne Haiti Columbus Crew
A few other Haitian players ply their trade Stateside, Derrick Etienne is coming off a 2020 MLS Cup victory with the Columbus Crew. If he can help Haiti get out of a tough Group B with Canada and the United States, that can help some other teammates secure a similar move.
CM Anibal Godoy Panama Nashville SC*
There’s been a slight exodus in recent years regarding Panamanian players leaving Major League Soccer, with alumni such as Gabriel Torres, Harold Cummings, and Armando Cooper still with “Los Canaleros”. That leaves Nashville midfielder Anibal Godoy to anchor the midfield.
*=Anibal Godoy was withdrawn due to injuries
CM Darwin Ceren El Salvador Houston Dynamo
A large majority of El Salvador’s squad is based in Central America. In contrast, Darwin Cerén has played in the United States since 2014. The trailblazing midfielder’s current club Houston Dynamo has been a haven for Central American players, which this lineup supports.
LM Kevin Molino Trinidad and Tobago Columbus Crew
Following Cerén, Kevin Molino makes it two former Orlando City players in a row in this lineup. He is the more accomplished of the two Soca Warriors currently based in MLS, with Noah Powder in his first year at that level. Columbus Crew gets their second representative.
ST Alan Pulido Mexico Sporting Kansas City
Alan Pulido and Jonathan dos Santos were the standout options for Mexico, but dos Santos’s position was needed by other nations. This big signing from Sporting Kansas City has been a success so far at Children’s Mercy Park, so it’s nice to see Pulido back in the fold at “El Tri”.
ST Lucas Cavallini Canada Vancouver Whitecaps
Canada has four forwards that could’ve filled this last spot, but unlike Ayo Akinola, Tajon Buchanan, and Tyler Pasher, Lucas Cavallini actually saw the field in the opening game against Martinique. The Argentine-Canadian has played in Uruguay and Mexico before arriving to the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2020.
That’s it for this XI! Do you agree with the selections? Let me know on Twitter @IvanOrnelas2 what you think! Hopefully the MLS players at the Gold Cup do well and maybe that could earn some of them a move elsewhere. In turn, maybe some talents from the USL or other leagues in CONCACAF will get on the radar of MLS clubs too.