Jonah Freedman
Thursday April 2nd, 2009

Try, if you can, to focus yourself back to the club season after an epic week of World Cup qualifying. I know it's tough, what with every player you love dressing up in a different uniform. But that's why we love the game. To help with the transition, we're going to do a soft landing and pick the player from each of our 10 clubs who best helped his cause while on international duty.

Meanwhile, we checked in with the Dapper Don of American soccer journos, our own Grant Wahl, who is on book leave until June. Grant has been ensconced in South Africa for the past six months writing his tell-all on David Beckham's time in Major League Soccer, and he tells us The Beckham Experiment: How the World's Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America is available for pre-order and will ship July 14. If you're a fan of Wahl's, you'll be unsurprised to hear that this book is going to be dynamite. Grant got more inside dirt on the Galaxy soap opera than an embedded war correspondent. I can't wait to get my hands on this one.

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through April 1.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1FC Barcelona
Previously: 2
FC Barcelona
International star: Gerard Piqué
The homegrown center back knew that by coming back to his boyhood club from Man. United last May, he'd have a better shot at the Spanish national team. Now he's the first-choice fill-in for his idol, Carles Puyol, with both club and country, and maturing beautifully. In three caps with Spain, the 22-year-old Piqué has been highly effective, both at snuffing out dangerous strikers (you try marking Turkey's Nihat or Semih Senturk) and by getting his 6-foot-4 frame involved on set-pieces, where he can be dangerous. Barça needs that kind of consistency when Puyol is injured.
2Manchester United
Previously: 1
Manchester United
International star: Wayne Rooney
It's not like Roo's some secret, but the way he seemed to be everywhere against Ukraine at Wembley is the kind of fly in the ointment Man. United needs as it hunts down another three trophies this season. Rooney has been maddening with the amount of injuries he seems to suffer, and that makes it even more frustrating when he puts on the kind of performance like he did Wednesday -- and that was without scoring a goal.
Previously: 4
International star: Albert Riera
First off, you've got to give it up for a guy who can out-Turkey the Turks. Riera's injury-time crusher on Wednesday turned the tables on the kings of the last-minute goal, and extended Spain's unbeaten streak to 31. But Riera really has become Liverpool's biggest unsung hero. He may not score often, but when he does -- take that Turkey goal, his bullet against Aston Villa last month or his go-ahead screamer in the Champions League group stage vs. PSV Eindhoven last December -- they're highlight-quality.
Previously: 3
International star: Michael Ballack
Note to Chelsea: This guy can still ball. The German captain has had a rough go at Stamford Bridge. But with die Mannschaft, he remains a rock and increasingly has put the team on his back. His rocket-volley against Liechtenstein last weekend was sick, and he hit again Wednesday in Wales. True, not exactly top-tier competition. But when you give Ballack a prominent role in your system, he'll crush you with ruthless efficiency. Too bad it may be too late to fix that at Chelsea.
5Real Madrid
Previously: 5
Real Madrid
International stars: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart
There always seem to be fireworks when the Dutch national team gets together; it's just when the games that really count draw near, the Oranje tend to shrink. Real needs more performances from its Holland quartet like the clinic they put on in the past week, a combined 7-0 drubbing of Scotland and Macedonia. We're not saying bring Total Football to the Bernabéu, but some regular fluidity would be great.
6Inter Milan
Previously: 6
Inter Milan
International star: Júlio César
Finally, Brazil has a reliable keeper who seems to get better and better. The Inter netminder held down what could have been a very bad loss in Quito last weekend by stopping 10 Ecuador shots in dazzling fashion, keeping Brazil in the game and preserving an undeserved 1-1 draw. On Wednesday against Peru, he had to make only one save, but it was another gem. Good thing for the Nerazzuri that, no matter how hard they try to screw it up, they can count on the guy between the pipes.
7FC Porto
Previously: 7
FC Porto
International star: Cristian Rodríguez
Given their nations' recent performances, it's almost impossible to single out any of the Portuguese or Argentine players on the Porto roster. Crazy that they were all outplayed by a guy from a country that's desperately trying to regain some footballing relevancy. La Cebolla didn't score for Uruguay this past week, but he held the ball up and drew attention from defenders, thereby being a huge reason his team was able to shock Paraguay and grab a point off Chile. Rodríguez is a highly underrated option as a decoy in attack, and the Dragons need that wild card in the Champions League against mighty Man U.
Previously: --
International star: Eduardo da Silva
At the risk of oversimplifying, you can argue that Arsenal's season went south when the Brazilian-born Croatian striker went down to that gruesome ankle injury last February. That he's even walking again is cause to cheer. But Eduardo is back to his old ways on the pitch, scoring jaw-dropping goals for both club and country. He also has had a big part in Arsenal's rally back up the EPL table and could be a difference-maker in the Champions League quarterfinals against Villarreal. And how Croatia could have used him at last summer's European Championship.
9São Paulo
Previously: 9
São Paulo
International star: Miranda
Considering he was the only guy on São Paulo's roster called into international duty, this isn't a tough call. But the fullback made the most of the opportunity, finally grabbing his first cap on his fourth Brazil call-up and playing nearly the entire match against Peru. The 24-year-old worked in a classic sweeper capacity and probably drew even more European eyes to him to add to his scintillating performances for his club. Bayern and AC Milan reportedly are interested in his services. Hope he's got his phone close to his ear over the next few months.
10Bayern Munich
Previously: 10
Bayern Munich
International star: Lukas Podolski
This depends on which Poldi you saw in Germany's dual blowouts: the one who abused Liechtenstein and Wales, bagging two goals? Or the one who instigated a fierce on-field argument with his captain, Ballack? That, in a nutshell, encapsulates why Bayern is so disappointed in the talented young striker -- he's capable of brilliance, yet he seems to be unwilling to grow up. That's why he's on his way back to Cologne at season's end. In the meantime, Bayern needs him more than ever with Miroslav Klose out for the rest of the year.
Honorable mentions: Juventus, Boca Juniors, Villarreal, Cruzeiro, Olympique de Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, AZ Alkmaar, Libertad, Dynamo Kiev, VfL Wolfsburg
Dropped off: Boca Juniors

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