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Top 10 Under 10

A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A. If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.

As the U.S. moves closer to qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, there are the usual suspects helping get the job done: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo, Claudio Reyna, Pablo Mastroeni, Eddie Pope, and you know the rest. But what about the newcomers? The guys who have gotten a slight taste of life with the full Men, but aren’t what you’d consider regulars yet and aren’t guaranteed to be in Germany come 13 months from now. Who are they and who has a chance to make the biggest impact for the U.S. over the rest of the final round of qualifying or even possibly make the final World Cup roster?

Well we’ve got a list, but we’ve set one simple rule: All the players have to have less than 10 caps. It’s our “Top 10 Under 10.”

If you don’t agree with us (what’s new), give us your feedback or even your own “Top 10 Under 10.” Maybe we’ll post your list, maybe we’ll just point and laugh at it (heck, you’d never know), but we’d like to hear from you. E-mail us at

1. Eddie Johnson (8)

1,3,1,1,0,1,0,1. This isn’t binary code (the computer nerds surely picked up on the 3). It’s the number of goals Eddie Johnson has scored in each of the eight games he’s played in for the MNT. Add them up and that’s eight goals in eight games. That’s a goal a game. Even better, he’s scored a goal just under every 70 minutes he’s on the field. At this point, this really isn’t even a question, is it? In the past six months, E.J. is the best U.S. player under 10 caps as he’s emerged as the breakout player everyone was saying he could be during his stints with the youth programs. Heck, one might argue he's the best player EVER for the U.S. before their 10th cap. The likelihood of Eddie continuing this strike-rate is probably slim, but until he cools off the FC Dallas striker is one of the most dangerous players on the squad every time he steps on the field. Let’s hope we see a lot of ones, twos and threes behind Johnson’s name in the game reports as the U.S. continues on its World Cup qualifying path.

2. Clint Dempsey (5)
Eddie Johnson’s MNT career may have skyrocketed once he got called up, but his national team development was in the works for a long time as he spent time with the U-17s, U-20s, U-23s and a couple years in MLS. Clint Dempsey was a different story. Hardly in the youth national team picture, Dempsey was one of the last players picked for the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship and spent more time freestyle rapping on the bus then he did actually playing against international competition in UAE. A month later, buried behind the giant shadow of Freddy Adu in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, Clint was picked by New England in the first round to hardly any fanfare. He must not have liked the quiet as he quickly made noise in MLS, winning Rookie of the Year, which was enough to earn him a cap in the final match of 2004 for the U.S. Men. Four more caps this year (including two starts) and a blazing start to the MLS season explains why the Texas native is near the top of the list.

3. Oguchi Onyewu (4)
Players may shy away from Gooch due to his size and broadcasters may do the same due to the pronunciation of his name, but Bruce can’t help but be drawn to the former U-17 player’s ability. A big (6-4), solid defender that is good in the air and has the ability to get forward and be a scoring threat on set pieces, Onyewu got his first cap as a reserve against Panama in October of 2004 and has since started in three matches. The biggest defender for the U.S., Gooch could become one of the central cogs on the backline if he continues to develop his game and show Bruce he can hold his own with some of the best strikers in the world. And to boot, his given name, Oguchi, means “God fights for me.” I mean, could the U.S. get a better 12th man?

4. Conor Casey (6)
Conor Casey has played in six games with the U.S. Men – all starts. While he has yet to play in 2005, getting the six caps in ’04 and starting every match says something about the impact Bruce thinks Casey can have up front. A strong and tough player, a number of people are looking to the FSV Mainz forward to be the replacement for Brian McBride, a player that can be the target man to win headers and play well with his back to the goal. Conor didn’t get a lot of playing time this year with struggling Mainz to help bolster his credibility for a recurring spot on the MNT, but his past performances demonstrated what he can contribute down the road and you can bet he’ll be in the mix.

5. Taylor Twellman (8)
Taylor Twellman has been part of the U.S. Men since 2002, but he’s still sitting two below 10 caps. Why? Injuries (and maybe the fact he has yet to score for the U.S.). He had five caps in ’03 before being sidelined with a concussion and multiple facial fractures in August and then diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot two months later. Due to the injuries, Twellman took a bit of a step back and now it’s just a matter of fitting him back in with a number of other talented forwards who are also showing their worth to Bruce. He did have two memorable caps last year, winning a header against Mexico that put goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez off-balance, allowing Eddie Pope to bury the game-winner and getting his first World Cup qualifying appearance against Jamaica. So will he be back soon? The answer is a resounding yes. Bruce knows Twellman is a powerful attacker with an innate ability to find the back of the net, so no one needs to worry (you hear that Wynalda?).

6. Brian Ching (8)
With the equalizing goal in the first qualifying game of the semifinal round against Jamaica and the game-winner in the following match against El Salvador, Brian Ching provided the U.S. with four crucial points to begin their path to the 2006 World Cup. Not too shabby for a guy who had to battle through injuries in ’03 to get back into the national team fold and before the tension-packed qualifiers had just two caps (both as a reserve) in friendlies against Wales and Poland. He’s showing he doesn’t always need Landon by his side this year with San Jose as he’s notched four goals and two assists in seven games to increase his career stats to 23 goals and nine assists in 55 games played (unfortunately, he just suffered an injury and will be out for awhile). With the wealth of experience he has with MLS and now in qualifying with the MNT, it’s hard to believe Ching is still under 10 caps.

7. Pat Noonan (5)
While keeping tabs on Clint and Taylor, Bruce couldn’t miss Noonan who had a remarkable sophomore campaign with the Revolution notching 30 points on the year (11 goals and eight assists) to share the 2004 MLS Budweiser Scoring Championship with MetroStars midfielder Amado Guevara. Noonan got his first cap for the MNT back in March of 2004, but didn’t start making a regular contribution until a year later. He’s played in the last four games, starting two, and has shown his ability to contribute at this level, notching his first career goal in his first-ever start against Colombia. With his ability to attack from either wing, he could be a useful tool for Bruce moving forward.

8. Eddie Gaven (2)

Despite other U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team players like Freddy Adu and Jonathan Spector getting a bit more of the headlines in the U.S. and around the world, if you know the game, you know Eddie Gaven is the engine that will drive the team at the World Youth Championship. Called “The Man,” “The Stud,” and “The Catalyst” by players, coaches and media alike when he’s with the U-20s, Gaven has one of the brightest young futures of any American player. Pretty remarkable when you consider the 19-year-old midfielder can’t see (hair in his eyes) and is mute (really, have you ever heard him talk?). We kid, we kid. Then again, Eddie doesn’t need to talk off the field because he does it on the field with his consistent and confident play. He’s already gotten a taste of the full Men’s team with a few camp call-ups, two reserve performances against Poland in 2004 and Colombia this year, and in less than three years in MLS has been named one of the best players in the league. As of now, the MetroStars midfielder is concentrating on leading the U-20s past Argentina, Germany and Egypt, but it won’t be long until Bruce Arena comes up on his caller ID.

9. Chad Marshall (2)
After leading the U.S. Under-20s to a remarkable fifth-place finish in UAE, Marshall moved onto the MLS and quickly became a fixture in the Crew’s back four. Marshall might not be as flashy as his two MLS Rookie of the Year candidates Clint Dempsey and Freddy Adu (Dempsey ended up winning the award), but he was probably the most consistent contributor of the three. A tall, strong defender, Marshall started 27 of the 28 games he appeared in after getting his first appearance in mid-April and was integral in helping the Crew to an 18-game undefeated streak. He got his first call-up to the MNT earlier this year and in his first appearance against Colombia he showcased his ability to be a goal scoring threat (remind anyone of Alexi Lalas?), heading home a cross. Next for Chad is a possible qualifier as he continues to gain confidence at the highest level. 

10. Jonathan Spector (1)
Spector may be one of the most intriguing of the young players making a push for time on the full team, partly because not many people have seen him play. By now, everyone knows his astounding story of moving from forward to defender while with the U-17s and then getting signed by Manchester United, but only a few can truly say they’ve seen the Arlington Heights native play enough on the defensive line to know exactly how good he can be (seeing a few Man U games in the beginning of the year doesn’t count). So, what are we going by? Well, if Sir Alex Ferguson is keeping him around instead of letting him go (Man U squashed a potential loan to Blackburn after injuries made their backline thin) and U.S. U-20 head coach Sigi Schmid has penciled him in as a starter for the World Youth Championship despite only being with the team once in the past two years, he must be doing something right.