During this Major League Soccer international break — from May 31 to June 15 — European national teams will take part in the Group Stage of the UEFA Nations League. This competition serves as a tune-up for 2022 World Cup-bound European sides and as a chance to win a trophy for the countries that will miss out on the world’s biggest football tournament in Qatar. Several participating squads have called up international MLS players for the Group Stage. These players have a chance to showcase their skills for both their MLS and international sides.
Here are five MLS players who could make an impact at UEFA Nations League 2022.
5. Lorenzo Insigne – Toronto FC – Italy
Italian captain Lorenzo Insigne isn’t technically an MLS player yet. However, he will be a few weeks after the UEFA Nations League Group Stage concludes. The 30-year-old forward just wrapped up his stellar 12-year career with Napoli in Serie A. He’s headed to Toronto FC on July 1.
For TFC and MLS fans who haven’t followed Serie A closely, UEFA Nations League is a perfect opportunity to get a look at Insigne, who is about to become the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer.
Italy shockingly missed out on the 2022 World Cup, so this tournament will be the Azzurri’s only chance to lift hardware this year. Expect Insigne to be heavily involved in Roberto Mancini’s squad. The Euro 2020-winning manager will look to play of mix of established stars and youngsters with an eye toward the 2024 World Cup, which will likely be Insigne’s last.
4. Adam Buksa, Karol Świderski — New England Revolution, Charlotte FC — Poland
Poland has punched its ticket to the 2022 World Cup, and manager Czesław Michniewicz will use the UEFA Nations League to help him make decisions regarding his final roster for Qatar. Bayern Munich legend Robert Lewandowski is the squad’s unquestioned No. 1 striker, and Marseille’s Arkadiusz Milik is likely No. 2.
That means the battle for the Nos. 3 and 4 spots come down to 26-year-old Florentine forward Krzysztof Piątek and a pair of 25-year-old MLS strikers, New England Revolution‘s Adam Buska and Charlotte FC’s Karol Świderski.
Świderski has logged 1,010 MLS minutes this season to Buska’s 818 and has 14 caps for Poland to Buska’s seven. However, the Revs forward has seven goals and two assists to Świderski’s four goals and one assist.
Lewandowski should have a relatively light workload in the UEFA Nations League in June, so Świderski and Buska should both get a lot or run. It will be great for MLS fans to watch two of the league’s premier foreign-born scorers duke it out for a chance to make their country’s World Cup roster.
3. Kamil Jóźwiak — Charlotte FC — Poland
There won’t just be MLS players upfront for Poland in the UEFA Nations League. Karol Świderski’s Charlotte FC teammate Kamil Jóźwiak will be in action, too, as Poland takes on Belgium, Wales, and the Netherlands in Group A4.
The Polish midfield for Qatar 2022 isn’t as set in stone as the striker spot is, so the 24-year-old Jóźwiak won’t just be competing for a roster spot. He’ll be trying to make his way into the starting 11.
Jóźwiak joined Charlotte as an international DP in early April from Wayne Rooney’s Derby County in England. So far, he’s played four MLS matches and two in the U.S. Open Cup, starting two of the league games.
The young midfielder played quite a bit in Euro 2020 for Poland. Now that he’s recovered from a January injury suffered at Derby County, he is vying for a prominent spot again.
Jóźwiak will be a key for Poland with his passing, but he can also score on occasion. He has three goals for his country. Two came in 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, and the other was in the 2020 iteration of the UEFA Nations League.
2. Dániel Gazdag — Philadelphia Union — Hungary
Dániel Gazdag is having an excellent season for the first-place Philadelphia Union and will look to carry this form into UEFA Nations League for his native Hungary.
Gazdag, an attacking midfielder, has started all 13 games for Philadelphia in MLS this season and has logged 1,131 minutes. He has two assists and is tied for third in MLS this season with seven goals.
Hungary is another team that isn’t in the 2022 World Cup, so the UEFA Nations League becomes more significant. Gazdag’s squad is in an absolutely loaded group, with England, Italy, and Germany, so it could be a rough tournament for the team.
However, it will allow MLS and Philadelphia Union fans to see how the 26-year-old Gazdag measures up to some of the best competition in the world.
1. Xherdan Shaqiri — Chicago Fire — Switzerland
Before Lorenzo Insigne gets to MLS and becomes the highest-paid player, that honor goes to Chicago Fire’s $8 million man, Xherdan Shaqiri.
Shaqiri is a big-time international star, having played for European giants like Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and Liverpool. However, the 30-year-old midfielder hasn’t yet found his stride through 13 games in MLS.
Through 11 starts, Shaqiri has just one assist and three goals. More worryingly, the highly-paid DP has only led his team to two wins, and Chicago sits in last place in the Eastern Conference.
One big thing to watch as Shaqiri leads the Swiss team against Spain, Portugal, and the Czech Republic in the UEFA Nations League is where he plays for his country. He’s been playing centrally for the Fire but will likely play on the wing for Switzerland with the presence of central midfielder countrymen like Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler.
Playing on the outside is more natural for Shaqiri. And if Chicago manager Ezra Hendrickson sees his star have success there internationally, maybe he’ll be more apt to try it in MLS.
Stats courtesy of MLS.com