There are heated views of what lucky 23 players will represent the USA in the World Cup on many of the “usual suspect” websites. There’s also much discussion about the 30 (or “26-28”) players that Bob Bradley will call into camp in Princeton, NJ. The lists from the various pundits are not going to vary much. Let’s be honest, except for some corner cases (Gomez, Buddle, Klestjan, etc.) we are all talking about the same people.
(Note to players/staff headed to Princeton: Hoagie Haven = best subs, Chuck’s Chicken Wings = best buffalo wings, Princeton Record Exchange = toil away after practice hunting for the perfect $2 CD, Halo Pub = good, and relatively cheap coffee. Best desserts? Talk to Puchón at the The Little Chef Pastry Shop – OK, he’s a friend, so please say hello for me. I could go on . . . but Mr. Bradley probably has this covered.)
While I’ll be interested in the one or two surprises we’ll inevitably see, as dreamer who yearns for the beautiful game (nearly) as much as the victory, I find another exercise very interesting. What would the best 23 players be if we were picking a ‘jogo bonito’ team? How close can we get?
Let’s give it a try . . . and yes, you’ll need to suspend reality for a bit here.
Goalkeepers: I’m not anti-keeper, really, I promise. But as for this exercise, pick whoever you want. I’ll say: Howard. (For arguments of beautiful soccer, it might as well be Tony Meola, as it makes little difference. Just beg them not to boot every kick as far as humanly possible.)
Defenders: Yikes. Not the place to start when dreaming of beautiful, creative soccer. I could argue all of my choices here, but will go with Castillo, Edu, Onyewu and Spector. None of them is pure destructive force, but Gooch will need to be on his best behavior to stay out of the referee’s book.
Midfielders: Thing begin looking up here a bit. Adu, Feilhaber, Torres and Donovan bring skill and creativity. If there isn’t enough ball-winning in the midfield, move Edu from defense up and put someone else in the center of defense.
Forwards: Dempsey is a lock for me. I know he could play midfield, but I’m going with a Dempsey/Altidore front line hoping for skill, inventiveness and an interesting partnership.
Bench: I won’t attempt to fill out a full 23 based on creativity and skill alone, but can think of some likely bench players including Parkhurst, Bradley, Klestjan, Buddle, Beasley, Gomez and Cooper.
Now, before you walk away laughing, and convinced that I’ve lost my marbles. Let me try to redeem the last shred of credibility I may have started with here.
First, my thinking. I yearn for creativity. I would like to see skill, control and inventiveness. I would like not to see red cards. I would like to see passes, often along the ground, always to players in the same jersey. Cutting passes through the opposing team are also welcome. I would like to see risks – especially in the other team’s half.
Second, my caveats. I’m not suggesting Bob Bradley pick this team for the 2010 World Cup. I am not even suggesting my team would win more games than the actual team which will be picked, who despite moments of blog-based criticism, I will cheer for wholeheartedly.
Third, my explanation. If I’m not recommending this line-up and am not even sure it would win more games, what’s the purpose?
We need to drive home the realization of how hard it is for us to find creativity in our player pool. And we would be well served to never let go of the search.
While this team might lose more games, I would relish each victory of a creative team more and be hurt more my each loss. Creative soccer is more likely to create those “wow” moments that create US Soccer fans, smiles and respect.
And that is worth getting creative about.