With the international break now over, star names are returning to their MLS clubs. In this edition of Talking Points, Jason Davis, Graham Parker and Austin Lindberg break down which players have returned from time with their national teams carrying the biggest boost in confidence.
Kevin Molino, Orlando City
During Orlando's brief four-year run as the dominant team of the United Soccer League, Kevin Molino was a key attacking cog for a club that won two league championship trophies. The Trinidad and Tobago winger bagged USL MVP awards twice in that span.
Needless to say, the expectations were high for Molino when he made the jump to Major League Soccer with the club. Unlike many USL players, there was no hesitation at Orlando City about bringing Molino to MLS; everyone knew that if given the chance, Molino would shine. He seemed a natural, dynamic partner for Designated Player Kaka when Orlando City SC brought in the Brazilian to spearhead their MLS attack.
But just seven games into the 2015 season, Molino tore his ACL. Orlando suffered for his absence, and the player lost a chance to prove his first-division chops. A year spent recovering dropped expectations for 2016, and it's been a mixed bag through three games. Playing three different midfield slots, Molino has one assist. He has had to make it work without Kaka, a tough task even if he wasn't trying to regain confidence after the knee injury.
Molino has yet to score his first MLS goal, but perhaps the breakthrough is coming. There's nothing like a little confidence to set a talented player on a good run of form, and Molino got a boost via his goal in World Cup qualifying Tuesday night. It came against the lowly St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a 6-0 thrashing, but no player can take confidence for granted, especially one working back from injury.
With Orlando City playing the nightcap Sunday against Portland on national television, Molino will have a chance to show if the confidence that made him a USL star has returned.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Tim Parker, Vancouver Whitecaps
The Vancouver Whitecaps beat Houston Dynamo in the absence of Tim Parker last weekend, having lost two of their first three games of the season. They also kept a clean sheet for the first time this season, and did so against Houston, which may be cooling down from the hot scoring streak it started the season with -- 11 goals in three games -- but still represented a significant danger to a Whitecaps team whose first-choice center-backs Parker and Kendall Waston were away on international duty.
In their absence, former New York City FC player Andrew Jacobson anchored the defense alongside Pa-Modou Kah, and both deputized ably, even if the Dynamo hit the woodwork twice. Vancouver coach Carl Robinson later said that the four players who ended up deputizing on the day had "done themselves a lot of good."
Not as much good as Parker, who embedded himself in the national consciousness with one of the handful of credible performances to come out of the U.S.'s two-legged Olympic qualifying defeat to Colombia. His defensive partner and contemporary Matt Miazga may have had the more stratospheric trajectory from rookie to full national team to Premier League, but just as comparing Matt Besler to Omar Gonzalez might lead one to prefer the former's solidity to the latter's fluctuations, Parker has "done himself a lot of good" with his international performances and will bring a growing confidence and a new wave of scrutiny back to Vancouver. Doubtful it will phase him.
-- Graham Parker (@KidWeil)
Joevin Jones, Seattle Sounders
The Seattle Sounders, idle over the international break, remain winless this season. In each of their three losses, the Sounders have been passive, reactive and looking as though they're just along for the ride.
That's not the sort of atmosphere any player new to the club would hope to walk into, especially a player joining from a sinking ship like the 2015 Chicago Fire, as Joevin Jones has done. Jones himself has had a small part to play in the club's losing streak, committing the phantom foul on Christian Bolanos that led to the Vancouver Whitecaps' first goal in their 2-1 win at CenturyLink Field.
While Seattle's defense hasn't been its problem this season, left-back Jones could return from this international break with enough confidence to steady the ship in the attacking third, where the Sounders have scored just two goals this season. Jones struck twice in Trinidad and Tobago's two CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines -- both victories for the Soca Warriors.
Jones returning to the Emerald City with the sort of poise he demonstrated in World Cup qualifying could go a long way toward the Sounders getting back on track against the Didier Drogba-less Montreal Impact on Saturday.
-- Austin Lindberg (@LindbergESPN)