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Top U.S. Goal-scorers at '06 World Cup

A 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.

The roster has been picked. The roster has been debated. The roster is set…deal with it.

Now’s the time to talk about what these 23 men can accomplish when they kick off their World Cup campaign against the Czech Republic on June 12 in Gelsenkirchen.

With just three weeks until that time, there are a plethora of topics streaming through the minds of fans, being disputed on Internet forums and getting kicked around by co-workers on company time when the boss is out of the office, or at least out of earshot.

While no American insurance company is following the footsteps of their Dutch counterpart (insurance company SEZ is offering employers the chance to insure themselves against the sudden rise in staff sick days that are expected during the World Cup), we know the excitement of this year’s tournament in Germany is already slowing your productivity.

Hey, it only happens once every four years. Why not get excited? Even if that means your efficiency suffers. Get the guy who rips on soccer in your office back by making him pick up your slack.

We’d like to help reduce the work rate across the country by providing you with some debatable topics over the next few weeks. We’ll give our thoughts in Armchair Midfielder, but then provide you the opportunity to tell us we’re idiots (geez…that never happens) and explain to us the wrong of our ways. We’ll post your comments in a new category in Center Circle called 50/50 Ball, created to allow fans to present their opinions, arguments and insightful commentary (well, at times at least).

So, where do we start? Well, in 2002 the U.S. not only advanced to the quarterfinals, they did it by scoring goals. Brilliant deduction on our part, huh? OK, so no surprises there, but while you can feud whether scoring goals or not allowing goals is more important, the truth is you’re not going to get anywhere without putting the ball into the net.

That theory then begs the question: Who will be the player hitting the twine for the U.S.? Will it be McBride, Donovan, or will someone like Dempsey or even Convey get into a groove and end up being the leading scorer for the U.S.?

Here are our odds on who will be crowned top scorer for the U.S. this summer. Let the discussion begin.

McBride didn’t move up to second place on the all-time scoring list for the U.S. by luck. He’s smart, tough, efficient around the goal, the best we’ve got in the air and, most importantly, his experience at the highest stages with club and country give him an edge almost unmatched by anyone other than Captain America. No question he can score on the biggest stage with goals in each of the two World Cups he’s played in (the only U.S. player to do so). After the lone goal in 1998 and the game-winners against Portugal and Mexico in 2002, don’t be surprised if the Fulham striker is able to keep the tally rising in 2006.

The Tiger Woods of the group, he’s just below the top spot due to McBride’s experience. While also being the most well-known players on the U.S. squad, he also might be the guy opposing coaches Bruckner, Lippi and Dujkovic are most concerned about. Having passed Cobi Jones for the all-time lead in assists with 23 this year, his ability to spread the wealth is well documented, but he’ll go for the glory himself when he has the chance, evident by being just four goals behind McBride all-time. In his first World Cup he struck twice and was agonizingly close against Germany, Oliver Kahn ruining his chance to be the top U.S. scorer in 2002. He tied Eddie Johnson with seven goals in qualifying and you can expect to see his name on the scoring sheet this summer.

Bursting on the national team scene with eight goals in his first nine caps (a feat never before accomplished in MNT history), Eddie has proven he can put force the opposing ‘keeper to pull the ball out of his net. After that lightning start though, things have cooled for the Wizards striker. An injury took him off the field and he’s had to work to get back to where he was at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005. Is he there yet? Will he be able to be at least half as efficient at the World Cup? He did win he Golden Boot with the U-20s at the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championships in the United Arab Emirates (although three goals were PKs). If he gets back to being en fuego, he could easily lead the U.S. to some victories in Group E and beyond, but at this point it appears Landon and McBride are a bit more dangerous.

Lightning quick and a handful for any international right back, Beasley no doubt has the ability to cause havoc, but he’s a little bit of a gamble in terms of scoring. He does have 12 goals in 55 appearances and had a pretty remarkable string of goals with PSV after moving to the Dutch club, so he is definitely a threat. Compared to some other U.S. players, though he doesn’t have the size or heading ability to be all that dangerous on set pieces, such as corner and free kicks, which are crucial opportunities for teams to score, especially in a World Cup.

JOSH WOLFF (15 to 1)
Not known as a real consistent scorer on the MNT (nine goals in 45 games), Wolff still has the ability to be a dark horse. He’s been in good form with Kansas City and with the experience of one World Cup under his belt, he’s going in knowing what to expect. Wolff could definitely sneak up on a few teams in Group E, who probably know more about forwards Johnson and McBride. But, how much will he get on the field? In 2002, he only saw 67 minutes (two appearances, one start) and you’d expect he’d see at least that much this time around…but how much more?

Another real dark horse that is tough to pick as becoming the top U.S. scorer in Germany because it’s hard to determine just how much Deuce will see the field. Four goals in his short MNT career, shows Dempsey isn’t intimidated on the highest level and is determined to make an impact when he can. Fans and media alike are comparing Clint to Beas in 2002, a player that can have a breakout performance during the tournament. Just remember, as great as Beas was in 2002, he never scored or played in the knockout stages.

EDDIE LEWIS (25 to 1)
In theory, moving from left mid to left back decreases Eddie’s chances to find the back of the net. Plus, one can argue that he was never seen as a deadly scorer, rather his greatest contribution was dropping in perfectly-placed crosses to heads of the McBrides and Donovans of the team. Saying that, you have to consider that his wicked left foot will still be available for free kicks. A couple weeks ago, the Leeds United midfielder curled a precision left-footed free kick from 22 yards over the wall to salvage a 1-1 draw against Preston North End in the first leg of the League Championship Promotion Playoff Semifinals. He’s hoping he does the same come June.

BRIAN CHING (28 to 1)
One of the rational people used to defend Ching’s inclusion on the World Cup roster was that he scored in meaningful games, tallying the late equalizer against Jamaica and heading home the opening goal against El Salvador during qualifying. Qualifiers aren’t the same as the World Cup though, and while Ching is definitely dangerous on free kicks, he’s only a threat if he’s actually in the game, which might not be too often this summer.

JOHN O’BRIEN (35 to 1)
If O’Brien doesn’t score another goal for the U.S. Men, no one would probably mind. His opening goal against Portugal in the 2002 World Cup that started the USA’s amazing run is viewed as such a cherished memory by most fans, they almost give him five goals for that one. In reality, JOB only has three goals in 29 appearances and it’s unlikely he creates another precious memory with a goal in ’06…but we can dream.

BOBBY CONVEY (40 to 1)
Convey has only one goal during his 36 caps, although it was a timely strike as it gave the U.S. a 3-2 victory over Costa Rica and third place in the 2003 Gold Cup. While his strike rate isn’t jumping off the stat sheet, the soon-to-be 23 year old (his birthday is May 27) did have an impressive season at Reading FC, tallying seven goals while helping them to EPL promotion.

If you’re going to pick one player to start a soccer team with, an argument can be made that you should choose Reyna. He’s a mastermind with the ball and a player that can run your midfield, but usually isn’t the last person to touch the ball before it goes in the net. After scoring two goals in 1994, Captain America scored one goal every year after (1995-2000) for a total of eight in 108 caps. The six-year dry spell probably won’t change this summer, but we won’t mind as he’ll be setting up the rest his teammates for the glory.

While some of these guys have tallied a handful of goals (Boca and Olsen both have six) the rest have one or none. With limited scoring prowess and a question of how much they’ll be on the field, chances are low we’ll be seeing any of these names in the running for the Golden Boot.

They’re keepers. Enough said. Oh, and PK’s don’t count.