MLS World Cup hopefuls attempt to keep focus

Major League Soccer will send several players to the World Cup, but many of those players are still trying to perform at the club level.

HOUSTON — Professional soccer players don’t dream of playing early-season midweek league matches in high temperatures.

At least, the don’t if Columbus Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez is the norm, which seems a pretty safe bet.

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“Obviously, I have the dream of going to the World Cup, going to the World Cup is every professional payer’s dream,” the Costa Rican told Goal USA. “But I have to keep in mind that to go to the World Cup I have to work well with my club, the Columbus Crew, do things well, get minutes and experience, get in a good rhythm. I have to have these things in mind to get to the best level.”

Finding that mental balance has been on the mind of many MLS players as they prepare for the World Cup - or put in performances they hope will earn them one of their country’s coveted roster spots.

Most Europe-based players head home after the season and start training with their national sides, but it’s not always so clear-cut in a league like MLS which doesn’t operate on the traditional calendar.

In those respects, the league’s schedule has its drawbacks as players push themselves to perform and go forward with uncertainty about their summers, but it can also be a positive with players able to build a case until the deadline. Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis said he hasn’t changed his approach on the pitch but knows USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff are watching closely.

“There’s definitely some added pressure with what’s going on with the World Cup and the opportunity with it being so close and the camp starting next week,” Davis said. “These last few performances, I think, have been very important if Jurgen had any last minute thoughts or ideas.”

Even if he’s playing with the same intensity as always, the Missouri native has certainly made a case with his recent form, notching a goal or assist in his last six club matches. Davis admitted that occasionally his mind will drift to the U.S. team when he is recovering or sitting around the house, but he’s been staying busy with outdoors activities and spending time with his children.

The left-footed midfielder will find out Monday if he’s on Klinsmann’s list, but teammate Boniek Garcia is already confirmed to be headed to the World Cup. The Honduran doesn’t have anything left to prove with the Dynamo and has to continue motivating himself to perform for his employer while also guarding against injury.

“The truth is it’s pretty difficult,” he said. “Obviously, now that we’re so close to the World Cup, it’s hard not to hear about those things. But I have to complete my duty with my club team and try not to focus on the national team yet.”

But it can be tough to keep a sharp focus, paradoxically, especially so when the World Cup spot isn’t secure.

“For sure throughout the week you’re thinking about it as it’s leading up to it, but I have a responsibility here with the Crew,” said Michael Parkhurst, a Crew center back who is hoping to make the U.S. team as a fullback. “This is my team, this is my employer, and this is who I play for on a weekly basis. I want to go out there and do the best that I can and help this team get victories.

“When you’re out there playing for the Crew, you’re not thinking about the national team at all. You know that going into the game you need to play well for your club team in order to have a chance with the national team.”

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