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.
This month, as if it hasn't been analyzed enough, the "always on" Armchair Midfielder will size up the 23 players that Bruce Arena will take to Korea, and if all goes incredibly well, Japan.
I wish I didn't completely agree with just about every one of Bruce's final 23. This piece was all set to be one where I could whoop and holler about those who somehow made the cut and those who deserved a ticket but would get stuck at the terminal on standby. I was all geared up for a heated, albeit one- sided, debate ... but then Bruce went and picked the absolute best 23 he could for the Man-Eat-Dog world that lies around the bend.
Okay, so we're going to do this anyway, position by position, player by player. I'll do my best not to gush. No really.
Goalkeepers (3): Kasey and Brad. Brad and Kasey. Friedel, Keller, Keller, Friedel. Who will be the starter? Will the backup be able to deal with the decision? Oh, the drama. Actually, oddly enough, the real controversy was over who would get to hold the clipboard as the team's third stringer. Sure Tony Meola's the guy if you're looking for veteran savvy, but I would've taken Tim Howard just to give him that vote of confidence and taste of the Cup for the future if we really feel that he's the next #1 for the U.S. Zach Thornton? He'll be putting out Fires all summer. Nickie Rimando? You have been sentenced to a season of soft goals and frustrating losses back at home in D.C.
Defenders (8): While the midfield and forward selections were pretty much reduced to no-brainers over the last couple months, the choices in defense have been the big topic of conversation for this team, especially after shaky performances at the end of World Cup Qualifying and more recently against Germany and Ireland. Who's it going to take to piece our backline together? At different times during Bruce's tenure, the answers have been United boys like Eddie Pope, Carlos Llamosa and "Goose". More recently, Gregg Berhalter and Pablo Mastroeni have even looked like the answer. But that's just the central defense. On the flanks, things are even more sketchy. Regis, who's looking more and more like soccer's Allen Iverson with the untucked jersey and corn rows, is as up-and-down as they get. And I'm not talking about his ability to push forward. Right back is a whole ‘nother talk show. If right back was a triangle slot, Sanneh would be a square and Hejduk would be a circle. But all of that said, Bruce made the right call and chose the best that we have. Cherundolo just isn't ready for prime time. Vanney is a great MLS player, but not quite an international. And Mulrooney should make a solid defender for the future. But Berhalter and Pablo both performed well when it counted and are perfect selections, one for his marking and ability in the air, the other for his versatility and superior hairstyle (you guess which is which). All in all, Bruce has a decent mix in the backfield.
Midfielders (8): I like our midfield. In fact, I like it so much, I think we need five in the middle of the park rather than Bruce's favored four. Armas is the obvious choice at defensive midfield, Johnny O'Brien looks good on the left flank and Earnie provides valuable experience patrolling the right side, so all of that is set. But while it doesn't take a genius to know that Claudio belongs in the center of everything, I can't help but feel like we need an offensive presence on top of him. Yes, Claudio is the man in the middle and his composure on the ball is enviable, but I know I'm not the only one who thinks that he slows down the attack too much. With our lack of size, speed is something that we need to utilize to the fullest extent. On a quick counter, I'd rather have someone who heads toward goal looking to make that final pass than someone who will hold it and hold it, then spray the ball out to the flank as the defense recovers. Claudio is a perfect connector of the defense to the offense, capable of clogging up the midfield and teaming with Armas to shut down the attack and gain possession. But someone like Landon Donovan would fit better in the playmaker role. With a 4-4-2, we're not nearly as dangerous taking it to a team like Portugal or putting away a team like South Korea. Sure we lose a little in the back, but as average as we've been against tough European teams, it may not matter much. With a 3-5-2, you're committing to the attack and telling your opponent you're going to come at them with everything, which is something that the ‘98 World Cup team never did and suffered accordingly.
Forwards (4): Whereas I like our midfield choices, I absolutely love our forwards. There isn't a player on the roster, or in this country, that provides more to the overall attack than Clint Mathis. I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone if he scored a couple of goals in Korea. And McBride looks to provide the perfect complement, both on and off the field, to the unpredictable Mathis. Add to that a sparkplug like Josh Wolff and a tireless worker like Joe-Max coming off the bench, and you've got virtually every type of forward you need going into battle. Poor Ante and Jovan, you say? Ummmm ... not likely. Two players who at times disappeared when given a starting role, the bottom line is that they don't really bring anything to the table that we don't already have in our final four forwards.
And there you have it. Twenty-three talented players, one composed coach, two formations to pick from, and 27 days until we get to find out if we made the right choices.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (The U.S. World Cup Roster)
2) Word Association (w/ WNT midfielder Kristine Lilly)
3) Desert Island Discs (w/ U-19 WNT midfielder Jessica Ballweg)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT defender Frankie Hejduk)
5) Big Man on Campus (w/ U-20 MNT goalkeeper Steve Cronin)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT forward Clint Mathis)
7) Mark That Calendar ("Nike Road to Korea" -- May 12, 16 & 19)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (WUSA trivia)
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