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'Hey, I Recognize That Guy' — The LA Soccer Fan’s Guide To The World Cup

Two soccer players are on a field competing. Number 11 is a light-skinned man in a red uniform, and he has short brown facial hair with a small bun slicked back. He is running toward the ball. A dark-skinned man wearing a white shirt is behind him with his hands slightly reaching for Number 11's neck. He has a medium-length beard and short dark hair. The stadium behind them is blurred.
USA's Kellyn Acosta fouls his teammate, Gareth Bale of Wales, during their countries' group stage matchup.
(Clive Mason
/
Getty Images Europe)
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Who’s ready to clock some guys?

There are 32 countries competing in the World Cup. Each national squad can have up to 26 players on their roster. I’m no Will Hunting, here, but my napkin math tells me that there are roughly 832 soccer fellas competing in Qatar (note: not all teams brought the full 26).

Of those 832, 36 play professionally in Major League Soccer, a jump from the 2018 World Cup’s 19. Of those 36, six play for either LAFC or the L.A. Galaxy. This guide is designed to help you maybe say “hey, I recognize that guy,” next time you flip on the telly to take in a match.

But first, some context.

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The Major League Lounge

MLS isn’t the retirement community it once was. It is a retirement community still, just not precisely the same one. It now has shuffleboard and a sweet arcade for the youths.

Alright, now let me dig myself out of that metaphor. Professional soccer stateside has been famous, historically, for serving as a prime landing spot for the superstars of international soccer to wrap up their careers as their physical talents start to dwindle and their desire to still make a lot of money holds strong (see: Beckham, David; Ibrahimović, Zlatan; Pirlo, Andrea; Messi, Lionel maybe).

Now, superstars are great. They fill stadiums and draw headlines. But, ideally, a league wants to be able to draw these talents earlier in their career while also producing players of the same caliber through the development systems within the country itself.

Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, the U.K.’s Premier League, and Italy’s Serie A develop and draw players well.

The MLS is getting better at both. A good, albeit imperfect, way to gauge how the MLS is holding up as a top-tier league is to see how many players on club rosters also play for their respective national squads.

And in L.A., there are national squad players aplenty.

A USA soccer player stands while looking just past the camera. He has a focused look on his face. He is dark-skinned with a purple USA jersey, and he has short dark hair and a short beard. Only the upper half of his body is shown. Behind him stands a light-skinned player also wearing a purple USA jersey. He has brown hair and is blurred. A mildly transparent blurred red line shows in front of his face.
USA, LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
(Tim Nwachukwu
/
Getty Images North America)

LAFC

  • Kellyn Acosta, Midfielder — USA
  • Jhegson Méndez, Midfielder — Ecuador 
  • José Cifuentes, Fullback — Ecuador 
  • Diego Palacios, Midfielder — Ecuador
  • Gareth Bale, Forward — Wales

LA Galaxy

  • Martín Cáceres — Uruguay

Now, before everyone prints out this article to hold by their side for the knockout round of the World Cup to spot L.A. players on-screen, maybe save the printer paper. Ecuador, Wales, and Uruguay are not advancing past group play, which leaves you with one player to keep an eye out for — Team USA’s Kellyn Acosta.
So, Saturday at 7 a.m. PT, keep your eyes peeled for the LAFC midfielder, who subbed on the U.S. squad in their draw against Wales and their victory over Iran. He’s made 55 appearances for the U.S., notching two goals and five assists.

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But hey, hold onto this primer if you’re looking to take a look back at the highlights for those other five lads!

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