Just when Major League Soccer is approaching the crucial part of the season, with every point important as the 16 teams scramble to be among the eight that will make the playoffs, along come the national teams.
In the first week of September, no fewer than 98 international games will be played worldwide. Many of them will be qualifiers for the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine or the 2012 African Cup of Nations, to be staged by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
In other words, MLS teams are obliged to release players who are called up by their respective countries, and a dozen league clubs have been affected, including Chivas USA and the Galaxy.
Chivas USA midfielder Osael Romero has been called into camp by El Salvador for its Sept. 4 friendly against Honduras at the Los Angeles Coliseum and for a game against Guatemala on Sept. 7 at Washington's RFK Stadium.
Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts has been called up by Jamaica for its Sept. 5 home friendly against Costa Rica in Kingston, as well as its friendly against Peru in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., two days later.
Ricketts went into Saturday night's game against the Kansas City Wizards at Home Depot Center involved in a tight race to finish as the league's top goalkeeper in 2010.
Having given up 14 goals in 20 games, his 0.70 goals-against average was second-best in the league behind FC Dallas and former Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman's mark of 0.69. Hartman's mark dropped even lower Saturday afternoon in a 0-0 tie with the Columbus Crew .
Barring a late-season loss of form, both goalkeepers were on track to better the all-time MLS single-season mark of 0.82 set by Houston Dynamo and Canadian national team goalkeeper Pat Onstad when he led Houston to its 2007 MLS title.
Ricketts had a league-high 10 shutouts before Saturday's game and was one shy of the club season record of 11 set by Hartman in 1999.
Josh Saunders, who earned a shutout in his only league appearance of the 2010 season, will start in Ricketts' place when the Galaxy plays the Fire in Chicago on Sept.4.
Several of Kansas City's players also are heading for foreign fields in the coming days, including forward and leading scorer Kei Kamara, the former Cal State Dominguez Hills player who became an Internet sensation this year when he made one of the most glaring misses in soccer history.
It happened in a game against the Galaxy in Kansas City on April 24. With the ball on the Galaxy goal line and needing only the slightest of nudges to be tapped in for a goal, Kamara, in his haste, lunged at it, slipped and contrived to knock it in with his arm.
That handball infraction cost Kansas City a victory in what turned out to be a 0-0 tie.
It was called the "miss of the century," but Kamara, who has been called up by Sierra Leone for its African Nations Cup qualifying game against Egypt in Cairo on Sept. 5, has taken it in stride.
"Miss of the century is always going to be with me," he told MLSsoccer.com last week. "You type my name on the computer and it comes up right away."
Opportunities to play for your country come along less frequently, which is why Romero, Ricketts, Kamara and 21 other MLS players will jump at the opportunity in the coming week.