May 2, 2006
US Men's National Team manager Bruce Arena will make 23 men very happy today as he will unveil the initial 23 man roster for the US team that will head to Germany and take part in the World Cup that starts in a little over a month.
As with any team that is assembled, there will be plenty of second guessing after the announcement is made. People will scratch their heads and ask why some players were named to the team. As others will question why this player or that was left off the roster. But, if Bruce Arena has made one thing clear during his long tenure as the US manager, it's that he's looking to put together the best team and not merely rattle off the names of the 23 best players in the US pool.
Also, just because a player is named to the team, or left off for that matter, it doesn't mean that they are guaranteed to be heading to Germany. The US squad will likely have at least a couple of players named that have serious injury questions that could alter the makeup of the roster between now and when the US debuts in Germany versus the Czech Republic.
Here is how I think things will shake out today:
This could turn out to be either the easiest position to predict or the place where one of the most controversial decisions could be made. The standard thinking is that Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and Marcus Hahnemann will be the three goalkeepers named to the team by Bruce Arena. Keller is the hands down number one and that is not in doubt. What has become a question since the Jamaica match, is whether Red Bull New York goalkeeper Tony Meola's experience would serve the US squad better as a back up than Howard and Hahnemann who have nowhere near the international experience that Meola does.
Personally, I can't see Howard or Hahnemann being left off the roster in favor of Meola. Although, it probably won't matter a whole lot in the long run as the US will likely be in deep trouble if Keller were ever unable to play for the US in Germany.
Prediction: Go with the chalk - Keller, Howard, and Hahnemann
With Bruce Arena likely to bring eight defenders to the World Cup, there are about a half dozen players that should be considered almost locks to be named to the US squad. Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Lewis, Eddie Pope, Steve Cherundalo, Corey Gibbs, and Carlos Bocanegra would all appear to be players that should have been able to rest easily last evening. Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter, and Chris Albright would appear to be the three defenders that are on the bubble and fighting for the last two roster spots. A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Spector would have been in that mix as well. Unfortunately, the Charlton defender dislocated a shoulder during an English Premier League match versus Portsmouth a couple of weeks ago and that would appear to dash any hopes he may have had to make this World Cup roster.
Prediction: Albright's track record with Bruce Arena gets him on the roster over Hejduk - Onyewu, Lewis, Pope, Cherundalo, Gibbs, Bocanegra, Berhalter, and Albright
The midfield will likely be where the toughest decisions have to be made both because of injury issues with two key players, as well as the depth at the position within the US player pool.
Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley will be the two easiest choices for Bruce Arena to make in the midfield. Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien will be easy selections for Arena to make, but they are also where the questions begin within the US midfield. Reyna and O'Brien will be key players for the US. But, both players are dealing with injuries with O'Brien only having played 5 minutes with Chivas USA, while Reyna was able to go a full 90 versus Fulham on Saturday.
Bobby Convey, Pablo Mastroeni, and Clint Dempsey appear to be safely on the team with Ben Olsen the leader amongst a group of bubble players that include New England Revolution teammates Pat Noonan and Steve Ralston, as well as Chris Klein and Kerry Zavagnin.
Prediction - Beasley, Donovan, Reyna, Convey, Mastroeni, Dempsey, Olsen, and O'Brien are in and Pat Noonan will be waiting by the phone in the event that O'Brien is unable to reach Arena's desired level of fitness prior to heading to Germany.
This crop of forwards really only has one true lock in Fulham's Brian McBride. Most people expect that Kansas City Wizards teammates Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff and New England's Taylor Twellman to join McBride on the team. But, all three MLS forwards have serious questions surrounding them at this point in time. Johnson hasn't been the same since injuries ruined a large portion of the 2005 season for the former FC Dallas striker. Josh Wolff is always an injury waiting to happen. Twellman has been productive of late for the US squad, but he's never produced for the US against high level competition. Plus, in a combined 13 MLS games played this season, Johnson, Wolff, and Twellman have combined for a grand total of 3 goals (1 goal each). Bruce Arena could shock a lot of people by perhaps going with a more flexible roster and add Pat Noonan instead of a fourth forward and expect that Landon Donovan could see time up top with McBride.
Prediction - Go with the chalk, but doesn't be surprised by a curveball - McBride, Johnson, Wolff, and Twellman
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to send any comments or complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. James promises to read (but not to respond) to all of them.