Logic trumps Emotion: The US National Team’s “Provisional 30”

US National Team coach Bob Bradley today announced the 30-man provisional US World Cup team that will head to Princeton, NJ for its pre-World Cup camp.   This is not an easy task and Coach Bradley will inevitably have people pick away at his choices from every conceivable angle.

Choosing this team, and soon having to narrow the list to the 23-man FIFA limit, is a difficult task for any World Cup bound coach – at least as far as media/blogger critiques are concerned.   I do not plan to second guess the Coach . . . but that does not mean I don’t have some opinions on the choices, or on those left out.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

Thoughts on the goalkeepers: Frankly, this was the position with the least mystery.  The three choices are all capable keepers and probably well ahead of others that follow on the depth chart.   No surprises.

Defenders:  Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall

Thoughts on included defenders:  Hard to say that there are any real surprises here.     Bornstein seems to get more criticism than he deserves, but is a Bradley favorite.    Onyewu is coming back from injury and – if we are honest – didn’t look like a world beater in his pre-season friendly matches with A.C. Milan.   Goodson and Chad Marshall are in a tough spot for making the 23 man limit, since others like Bocanegra and Spector are more versatile across the back line. 

Thoughts on excluded defenders: Edgar Castillo looked like a possibility for a while but was never too likely to bounce Bradley favorite Jonathan Bornstein. (Nor was it clear he should.)   As a New England Revolution fan/watcher, I have a soft spot for Michael Parkhurst and Kevin Alston, but Parkhurst had not done enough to be here and Alston isn’t ready for a World Cup.   (Watch this space though…)

Midfielders:  Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers

Thoughts on included midfielders: Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley were obvious choices.  Watching qualifying and Gold Cup games also mean that Holden, Clark, Edu and Feilhaber were all likely choices.   After that, it gets a bit interesting.   Many in the US fan base will be glad to see Torres included, though he’s not a lock for the 23.   Beasley, Rogers, Kljestan and Bedoya are bubble players right now.  Beasley brings experience while Bedoya represents the future.   Rogers is a bit of an enigma, having performed very well for the USA against lower-level competition, but not really looking like a game changer against stronger opponents.  Kljestan is a positive offensive factor, when on form, which is never guaranteed.

Thoughts on excluded midfielders: Generally speaking, there were not huge surprises here.   Kyle Beckerman’s fate was probably sealed when Maurice Edu reached full fitness. 

Freddy Adu:  If you’ve read my work before, you know I have a soft spot for Freddy Adu.  Seeing his pro-club teammate Eddie Johnson make the 30-man cut must be extremely hard on Freddy, who seems to be finding his form to some degree in Greece.   I could argue that there’s more experience in Adu than Bedoya (or Rogers?), despite both showing promise, but that’s from an outsider’s view so I’ll defer to the Coach’s perspective.   

Forwards:  Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez

My thoughts on included forwards:  Clearly, current-form rules the day.   Buddle, Gomez and (even) Johnson have been scoring and that is clearly the determining factor here.   Jozy was a lock, though his season was more about promise than results.  Ching will need to prove he’s game-ready in camp to make the 23, but there aren’t many other forwards like him available.  Johnson would be a surprise to make the final cut, but that is what the camp is for.

My thoughts on excluded forwards:  This was always going to be the most scrutinized group.

Charlie Davies. Coach Bradley did what he had to do.  The World Cup is not a place for sentimentality.  It is a place for the best team you can assemble – which at forward has a lot to do with form and confidence.   It’s not a popular thing to say in US Soccer circles but ever since that horrible accident took place Charlie was always on the outside looking in. 

Jeff Cunningham and Conor Casey:  Jeff and Conor must be wishing that the World Cup was in 2009 instead of 2010, because they were the hot properties of last year, but haven’t made an impact this year, while others have been shining for their respective leagues or teams. 

Kenny Cooper:  Hindsight is 20/20 for Kenny Cooper, whose pro-club hopping was an over-engineered attempt to make this World Cup team, which failed on a number of levels.   As he watches Edson Buddle (MLS), Herculez Gomez (Mexico) and Eddie Johnson (Greece) prove: it’s not where you play, it’s how you are playing.

Logic trumps Emotion

The exclusion of Charlie Davies will clearly be the main discussion point following this 30-man roster selection.   But clearly Bob Bradley made the decision that he won’t be ready.   That’s logic. 

My wanting Freddy to get another look?  That was more emotional.

Now that the team is beginning to take shape, let’s get back to illogical commentary about the expected results.   How we’ll beat up poor injured England.  (Illogical.)  How if we don’t get far into the tournament Bradley and Sunil Gulati are useless.  (Illogical.)

The next few months are logically going to be an emotional ride. 

Game on.

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US Men v. El Salvador: The glass is half…

Since thinking through results of soccer matches require a fair bit of perspective, and I’m often in need of some emotional detachment . . . I’m going to try offering a view double-sided view  of the US v. El Salvador game (and maybe others)  via a glass half-empty vs. glass half-full analogy.

(With this game, I am doubly drawn to a “halfway” view of an analysis, since that’s about how much of the game I saw . . . due to a significant (and certainly user-error-driven) mistake in DVR planning.)

Glass Half Full View

  • USA won a critical three points, just as they needed to and remains on track for qualification.
  • If it were not for some phantom calls (Dempsey-to-Jozy?) and a mis-hit breakaway (a tired Dempsey) this could easily have been 4 to 1
  • Seeing Davies and Altidore up there as a growing tandem warms the heart
  • In counter-attacks (and some pure passing motions) we often move quickly, precisely and are hard to deal with going forward
  • Presuming Charlie Davies isn’t badly injured, we got out of Salt Lake City without any yellow card or injury trouble (that we didn’t come in with)
  • CONCACAF referees are not what we would like them to be, and if there’s a karma issue here, hopefully we spent a good deal of the mystery call voo-doo that was coming our way in this game

Glass Half Empty View

  • We are incapable of keeping possession and managing a game against even presumed lesser teams – scenes from Azteca in midfield all over again, no possession . . . meaning any precise attacking sequences occur far to infrequently and the defense is constantly under pressure
  • Left-back roulette continues with the unspectacular Bornstein, the (club) homeless Pearce and the often-recalled-to-center-back Bocanegra . . . can Castillo or Orozco help?
  • Central defense was OK, if not over-powering . . . but if Onyewu is the answer we may be in for a wild ride (poor pre-season with AC Milan for my money, and hasn’t been playing since heading to Italy)
  • Qualifying just got incredibly interesting, especially now that Mexico has remembered how to play soccer . . . 3-0 at Costa Rica?  Ouch.
  • If this is indeed the best players we have in the country (and I’d have trouble naming an altogether different bunch)  and we continue to give up early goals and cannot control against CONCACAF minnows . . . is the coaching door really closed until after the World Cup?

Wednesday night’s game versus Trinidad and Tobago might tell us if we are full, empty, or in need of a new glass altogether.

Also, I wanted to point out a great blog over at the excellent No Short Corners.    Always on my must-read list, this particular post covers Colombia’s victory (always close my heart after the USA), the decisions against Arsenal and Chelsea this week and a very interesting commentary on the shady Jack Warner, the Trinidadian who is CONCACAF President.