Robbie Keane’s days as a 90-minute man for Ireland look numbered while Ciaran Clark’s excellent display last week raises questions over Darren O’Dea’s future involvement. Their footballing fortunes now look likely to be focused on the American domestic season. US soccer observer and Chicago Fire columnist Stephen Piggot takes a look at the performances of MLS’ Irish contingent of Keane, O’Dea, and Andy O’Brien, reviewing last season’s exploits and looking ahead to the new campaign.
Neither Keane nor O’Dea were involved in Ireland’s friendly win over Poland last week as they are currently deep in pre-season training Stateside.
Last year saw the addition of two new Irish players in MLS, defenders O’Dea and Andy O’Brien. Unlike their compatriot Robbie Keane, both O’Dea and O’Brien play for Canadian sides, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps. It was a mixed year overall for the trio of Irishmen with Keane winning his second MLS crown in a row while O’Dea and O’Brien joined the league well into the 2012 season and took time to adjust to it. Below is a recap of each players exploits in 2012 and a preview for the season ahead.
O’Dea joined Toronto FC in August of 2012, a full six months into the season. His new club sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with little chance of making the Playoffs. O’Dea played in 9 of the final 11 regular season matches for TFC but failed to help the team win any of them. This is not a big surprise considering how the club has been run since its inaugural season in 2006. TFC has never made the Playoffs and is routinely the whipping boy of the league, going through a plethora of managers and hardly retaining any players from season to season. The 2013 campaign brings not only a new manager (former QPR defender Ryan Nelson) but also a new president/director of football (former DC United president Kevin Payne). Nelson has no coaching experience but he will be given more than a season to build and shape the team, something the club badly needs. This stability should help in the long run and I expect O’Dea to play a massive part in the club’s 2013 development. He captained the side on a few occasions last year and it wouldn’t shock me if Nelson handed O’Dea the skipper’s armband this season. TFC will still finish up well outside the Playoff places but a second-to-last finish and an injury-free season would suit O’Dea down to the ground.
Robbie Keane’s 16 goals in the regular season was good enough to earn him 4th place in the top goalscorer standings, but Keane was constantly overshadowed by another California-based player, Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes, who scored a whopping 27 in regular season play. Keane though shone when it really mattered, the Playoffs. In LA’s Playoff games, Keane scored six goals, helping them win back-to-back trophies. For 2013, there isn’t much Keane can do to top last season. He can improve on his 16 regular season goals and try to win the 2013 golden boot, but he might find goals harder to come by without the now-departed David Beckham. Keane and LA are still in the CONCACAF Champions League and they start back up again in March against Costa Rican club Herediano in the quarter-finals. Winning the trophy would send Keane and LA to Morocco to participate in the World Club Cup, a competition an MLS club has never participated in.
Like Darren O’Dea, O’Brien joined his team more than halfway through the season, signing for the Vancouver Whitecaps in August of 2012. The Whitecaps only joined MLS in 2011 and surprisingly made the Playoffs in 2012. O’Brien started in 7 games and helped the team sneak in the play-in game between the 4th and 5th placed teams in each conference. O’Brien and Vancouver faced Keane and LA and took the lead in the match only to lose 2-1. Andy is currently in pre-season training with Vancouver and started their first warm-up match against New England earlier this week. The Western Conference will be a very tough league again in 2013 and Vancouver will do well to make the Playoffs for a second season running. Finishing in the top three would guarantee that they wouldn’t have to play in the play-in game but that might be a step too far. Like Darren O’Dea, O’Brien should become a stalwart in the Vancouver defence in 2013.
Stephen Piggot is a contributor for the Chicago Fire website. Originally from Cobh, Stephen moved to Chicago in 1997 and is now based in New York where he produces tactical previews for www.chicago-fire.com