Thursday, June 01, 2006

Your National Team: The Yanks go marching in...

As you can see by the newly added timer on the left, the time is near at hand. The U.S. National team will take the pitch against their first opponent, the Czech Republic, on June 12. I guess this would be as good a time as any to let you know who's who and what's what as far as U.S. Soccer goes.

Landon Donovan(Club team - L.A. Galaxy)
The 24 year-old midfielder is the best American player and should be the one to make this team go. He's the USA's version of Ronadinho, Totti, and Zidane. I'm not saying he's as good as any of them, but the potential is there (Ok, maybe not Ronadinho, but you know what I'm saying). In this version it would seem that for the U.S. to be successful, Donovan needs to be at his best. And if he plays the way some people think he can, he can be the best player on the field.

Brian McBride(Club Team - Fulham FC)
Brian McBride has become a respected striker in recent years as he has plied his craft in the English Premiership after transferring out of MLS. He's known best and most for scoring with his head off balls crossed into the box. He's a tireless worker who should start every game. Not spectacular, but very good and a good guy to have on your team.

Claudio Reyna(Club Team - Manchester City)
A mid-fielder, and the team captain, who is probably the US’s most respected player overseas. His job is to control the ball and hopefully dictate the pace of the game to the level coach Bruce Arena has decided. I've got to be honest, some might say that Reyna is our best player, but I don't see it. I generally want to ask the question, "What's he ever done?" I'm sure those people would say I just don't know what to look for. They may be right, but I'm not convinced. Either way, he's an important cog in the machine.

DaMarcus Beasley(Club Team - PSV Eindhoven)
In 2002 he was the X-factor. An ultra quick, super speedy winger opposing teams weren't sure how to defend. Time in Europe has developed him into a more all-around player, but he still has the ability to cause havoc. He might not be as important as he was in the last World Cup, but he's still crucial to the U.S. chances of getting out of the first round. Oh, and his small, real small. Beasley's listed at 5'8", 145. I might be willing to challenge both of those numbers in a court of law.

John O'Brien(Club Team - Chivas USA)
After spending most(maybe all?) of his career for the high profile Ajax of the Dutch league, O'Brien returned to the U.S. to play in MLS. The main reason is injuries. One after another, that caused him to miss most of the last 2 seasons. Healthy, he's really good. Landon Donovan has called him the greatest U.S. player...if he's healthy. And it's a huge "if". Most followers will be equally grateful and shocked should he make it through all three games unscathed. Oh, he's plays the midfield and has the ability to see the field and make passes few can...if he's healthy.

Kasey Keller(Club Team - Borussia Moenchengladbach)
As goalkeeper, and a pretty good one, Keller may be the one person on this team with the ability to single-handedly change the course of a game, this team, and maybe even the tournament. Some say that he's a top-five keeper in the world. I don't know enough to argue with them, but nothing I've seen from Keller would give me reason to consider doing so. A good goalkeeper can suck the life right out of an opponent because one spectacular save can nullify everything they've done right up to that point. Keller is big and strong, and at 37 this is most certainly his last chance to make a stand on the world stage. He may be the player I'm least worried about as the World Cup begins.

Eddie Johnson(Club Team - Kansas City Wizards)
First, I love this guy. It may have something to do with the fact that I watched him for the first 5 years of his professional career as he played for Dallas before being traded in this most recent off-season. Oh, and he's only 22. For all you math majors out there, that would mean his career began when he was 16. If things go they way I think they should, he should be playing up top (forward) next to McBride. He adds an element that few teams can boast, at least to this degree, and that element is speed. Speed, speed, speed. What I'm saying is, "He's fast." You will need to remember that that particular advantage does not always show up in the way you might expect. What is does do, is put a bit of fear into defenders for they know that should Eddie decide he wants to be by them, he can. The big question mark is can Johnson finish the chances his abilities provide. If he does, you're probably looking at the next (first?) world soccer star to emerge from these shores.

Oguchi Onyewu(Club Team - Standard de Liege)
"Gooch", as we'll call him, is a beast of a defender. Six-foot-four and 210 pound of muscle. To all us NFL fans that may seem pedestrian, but in the world of soccer it's somewhat extraordinary. Especially, since we're talking about US Soccer. He's another rising star who will try to physically dominate the other side's striker and hopefully not collect too many cards. It should be noted that because of his size, his fouls can draw extra attention from the refs. That's a bad thing, but a bi-product we're willing to deal with because of his obvious potential.

Bobby Convey(Club Team - Reading FC)
Convey has probably had the best year of any player at the club level as he was a vital cog in helping Reading earn passage into the Premiership from his left wing position. He's a fairly speedy guy who likes to take on defenders and hopefully create scoring chances. Convey's gone from someone on the bubble of even making the national team to a player that I think should be starting on June 12. Bruce Arena might not agree, but what does he know? This guy's not scared to challenge anyone, and "fearless" is typically a good quality when you’re getting ready to take on the world. If he doesn't start, there's a good chance he'll be the first off the bench should the US need an offensive spark.

Steve Cherundolo(Club Team - Hannover 96)
This is your starter at right back, another solid guy who continues to be more and more dependable. He can also make the occasional run up the wing to join in the attack and send in some nice crosses.

Eddie Pope(Club Team - Real Salt Lake)
Ok, time for a little brutal honesty. The guy scares the gravy out of me. It's not to say that he won't be good, he's just been a little up and down. At times he can look old (he's 33) and lost. Not good when you're supposed to be manning the central defense. Other times he actually can look quite good and in total control. Oh God, please let it be the latter.

Eddie Lewis(Club Team - Leeds United)
Four whatever reason, the US cannot develop a left back. Thus, Eddie Lewis, even though he plays almost exclusively mid-field for his club side, will be manning that position. He's a smart player with good tools, but he will be playing out of position so he could be short on some technical skills. Recent injuries (Hejduk and Gibbs) make Lewis even more vital than he was just weeks ago. Oh, because he is a midfielder his is quite capable of using his speed to add a player to the attack.

Clint Dempsey(Club Team - New England Revolution)
Clint is a young player (22) who could become quite important should injury befall one of the midfielders. Even so, the Texan (how many Texans have played in a World Cup?) is slick on the ball and brings a similar game to the pitch as Convey. I wouldn't be shocked if he found his way into all the games and maybe even started one.

Pablo Mastroeni(Club Team - Colorado Rapids)
Pablo is a defensive midfielder who would most likely be the first off the bench should the USA find themselves leading and in hopes of holding it. Some people might call him a "hack", and well...well he's our hack! So, I don't know what they're talking about.

Carlos Bocanegra(Club Team - Fulham FC)
If Eddie Pope is not the guy or falters, Carlos is more than capable to step in. He's been playing in the Premiership for a couple of years now, and his play has shown that he belongs.

Brian Ching(Club Team - Houston Dynamo)
Josh Wolff(Club Team - K.C. Wizards) The only two players remaining that will probably see any significant playing time are the two other forwards, Ching and Wolff. I might be over simplifying to say that Ching would replace McBride and Wolff would replace Johnson, but that's what I suspect. They both bring similar skill sets to those they sit behind. There is some evidence to suggest that Wolff could start if Arena decides that match-ups dictated such a move, but I would be mildly surprised.

So there you have it, more comprehensive than anyone could have ever wanted. First, let me say that the prospects for the US moving on to the second round are probably 50/50 at best. That's not because they're not as good as last time--I think they're much better--it's just that they're first round opponents are quite stiff. If you need some encouragement, keep this in mind, a large portion of the players listed above (Donovan, Beasley, Johnson, Convey, Onyewu, Dempsey) are under the age of 24. This is not a team on the way out; this is still a team on the way up.

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