First off I realize the continued desire of MLS to play right through international breaks means many of the players I mention below will not be available especially if Coach Bradley wants to use certain guys in qualifying. Thus MLS is largely responsible for the US National Team’s inability to field a fully competitive squad for friendlies against top nations who will have all of their players available. Understanding this situation, Coach Bradley much like Copa America last season needs to experiment with in-form MLS players who may not be part of the qualifying setup while leaving veterans who will be needed like Frankie Hedjuk, Taylor Twellman, Brian Ching, Pablo Mastroeni and Steve Ralston behind. In both 20020 and 2004 we had to rely on certain veteran players who were not going to be around for the next world cup to qualify. In fact in 2000 in a desperate situation, Bruce Arena talked Tab Ramos out of international retirement for one match which we had to win against Barbados otherwise we were going to be eliminated from the first group stage. Considering the team in 2000 had more proven parts (as would be evident in the 2002 World Cup) than the current US side, nothing can be left to chance, and players like Hedjuk and Mastroeni MUST be considered for qualifying. Also Michael Orozco should get a look but could possibly be unavailable until the Argentina match depending on San Luis progress in the Mexican playoffs.
Let’s face it: given the restrictions placed on Bob Bradley by MLS having matches in some cases on the same exact days as the US friendlies, chances of winning any of these matches is slim. Fabio Capello has already called in his squad for England and it is full strength to say the least.
I know the below lineup looks somewhat laughable. But the reality is that friendlies are when you experiment and find out if guys can hack it when internationals matter like World Cup qualifying. England will have their best XI which is just as well. They haven’t deepened their pool when guys get hurt because they are too sweaty about results in friendlies, and thus miss out on big tournaments like the Euros. On the other we have an opportunity which we missed at last year’s Copa America to deepen out pool to a point where any number of injuries or conflicts with clubs will not stop us from qualifying for the next World Cup. That has to be the focus of these upcoming friendlies and the ultimate goal of the matches.
The most important experimenting I would like to see is with some possible tinkering on the left side of both midfield and defense. Eddie Lewis can play left back and crazy as it may sound I want to see if he can possibly hold down that job for qualifying despite being 34. I would also like to see if Ramiro Corralles can play in a holding left sided role for the national team as he does for San Jose. Also I would like to start the matches with three holding midfielders but allow one to dictate play ala a traditional #10. This player would push into the attack up the middle and have the freedom to go forward. Michael Bradley can start in this role but I would also like to see Kyle Beckerman and Sacha Klejstan get the opportunity as I believe the role of an advanced central midfielder speciallizing in stimulating counter attacks suits both of their games.
Ideal Starting XI:
Steve Cherdundolo—————————————-Eddie Lewis————–
————–Maurice Edu———–Michael Bradley———————Rico Clark
Landon Donovan————————————————Clint Demspey——
GK: Kasey Keller
D: Heath Pearce, Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco, Kamani Hill, Jay DeMerit
M DaMarcus Beasley, Chris Rolfe, Ramiro Corrales, Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Rogers, Sacha Klejstan, Eddie Gaven
F Kenny Cooper, Alan Gordon
(You can pick up to 26 players for friendlies and then send them home. Again this is an ideal lineup but knowing MLS clubs and looking at the league schedule I understand half these players probably will not be available and that’s a real pity. )
Here are my justifications for controversial picks:
John Thorrington:He has lots of experience in Europe, even if the most recent was at League 2 Grimsby Town. He played for Man U and Bayern Leverkusen so he knows tough training and without a cap in 7 years let’s see if he is worthy of more looks. Give him a start against England and a run out again Spain. If he doesn’t cut it drop hi, but the bottom line is the US has zero proven attacking options (unless Josh Wolff works his way back into the team) so experimenting up front now while painful is essential.
Alan Gordon: When healthy he’s been impressive for the Galaxy. Always thought he could be a national team prospect, ala Brian Ching a late bloomer. Again the lack of striking options and the horrible performance of out young attackers
Chris Rolfe: Was a national teamer before injuries struck. Playing with Blanco has given him confidence.
Who is missing: Jozy Altitdore and Freddy Adu:
Both have hit a wall in their development and don’t need to waste time with the national team right now. We have guys ready to contribute who deserve a look. Altidore and Adu can prepare for the Olympics and try and impress there. As far as MLS reportedly wanting in excess of $8 million for Altidore (according to Steve Goff of the Washington Post) that figure is laughable and any European club that pays that is simply throwing money at a long term project. Altidore is quite honestly only slightly better than Eddie Johnson was at this age and we know how that turned out. Like in Johnson’s case, MLS is asking an extravagant transfer fee for an unproven player while letting proven players leave the league on free transfers every January.