After watching 48 matches over two weeks in the FIFA World Cup group stage in Brazil, it would be understandable to experience a soccer hangover of sorts. Instead, for some MLS players, who have been on a league mandated break for much of the month, the games provide a blueprint for when they do return to action.
Ignoring a nil-nil draw between Vancouver and Montreal midweek, MLS returned with a bang Friday night with compelling and exciting games in New Jersey and Portland. The quality on display was not quite to World Cup levels, but it was a far cry from what MLS has offered in the past, and at times was worthy of that in Brazil.
For San Jose Earthquakes defender Jordan Stewart, the World Cup offers not only the best spectacle the beautiful game has to offer, but a big motivator to himself to do the very best he can in his own career. The MLS break for players is good for healing up bumps and bruises, but it also serves to increase anticipation for when the league resumes.
"Yeah, especially when you are watching the World Cup," shared Stewart on the eve of the Earthquakes California Clasico clash with the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium. "The first three or four days of the break you are at home chilling. Then the World Cup starts, and you are watching all the teams. You want to play again. It always seems to be the case with soccer, as when I used to play back in England, when we had the European Championships or the World Cup, I'd be on holiday, but I'd get the itch to be back playing."
Stewart, who said he has watched virtually every minute of the World Cup group stage, takes in the entertainment, but also the lessons on how to play in big games.
"When you are seeing quality players," said Stewart, "you want to get out there and try and play at that level yourself."
Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin, once a member of the U.S. men's national team player pool, has also been swept up by the World Cup. When not required for training, Cronin took in a lot of the matches from Brazil. He was especially pleased to see his long-time San Jose teammate Chris Wondolowski make his World Cup debut, even it only came as part of a cameo role against Portugal.
"I think he has done great," said Cronin. "Obviously, it was just one game, but he did well when he was in. I was really happy to see the U.S. team move on, and I think it will be a good matchup against Belgium."
His own impressions of the tournament have helped fuel his desire to get back on the field, and after the tune-up the team got in facing the Seattle Sounders in midweek in a fifth round U.S. Open Cup game, a tense battle that was decided on penalty kicks, to the Sounders favor, he eagerly awaits tomorrow's match against the Galaxy.
"It was good to get a competitive game in," said Cronin, "though we were disappointed to lose. We will be flying out there tomorrow, no doubt."