In recent months Bob Bradley’s squad selection has become more and more European based player heavy. Yet we’ve seen little or no discernible improvement in the form of the National Team. The side has won easily at home and struggled away from home even against seemingly over matched opponents. Even with the players perceived as creative in the squad the US has had a difficult time breaking down the most basic of bunkered defenses. We saw this in road matches at Barbados, Guatemala, Cuba and El Salvador in the last twelve months.
Last summer we also saw a number of European based players join the national team and look unfit and disinterested. I was present for the US match at Wembley against England and saw an uninspired effort particularly from those players that had gone through a grueling European campaign and had played meaningful club games in May.
This is not to belittle MLS but I suppose it will be seen as such. You just don’t have particularly meaningful MLS games before September. Because the league is based on parity and a single entity structure, dropping points in April and May often times has little or even no bearing on the final table.
For the USMNT this June’s Confederations Cup is a deadly serious matter. Should the US bow out of the competition quickly as it is likely to do with the typical Bradley player selection, any chance to be seeded for the 2010 World Cup will be lost as will the credibility and momentum US Soccer has gained in the last few years domestically among a skeptical audience for the sport.
The performance in the last twelve months of largely European based squads has been underwhelming. I am not arguing that the American national players based in MLS are somehow better players than those in MLS. I think by most standards, the best American players are abroad, although Landon Donovan, Kenny Cooper, Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Jimmy Conrad are all very notable and significant exceptions to this trend.
Many MLS based players will fight to the death on the pitch for the national team. It is after all the pinnacle of their careers to put on the US Shirt. With the shifting emphasis on the European continent away from international football and towards the club game has left many European based players tired, and worse unmotivated when they fly in for USMNT games.
That apprehension to play football a hemisphere away has shown itself in the terrible road performances of the last year by Team USA when reliant on players flying in from Europe in the middle of a long club season. As last Summer’s performances demonstrated for some of these players, even the most talented ones, another month of training camp and matches is not what the doctor ordered.
Additionally, for many this will be the fifth straight summer of national team action. Bruce Arena tried to mix his squad up for the 2005 Gold Cup, but obviously relied on his core in the 2006 World Cup and Bob Bradley inherited that core for the 2007 Gold Cup. In 2008, Bradley called Euro heavy squads up for grueling Summer friendlies against a trifecta of world powers and the US team looked gassed and as I have stated earlier, largely uninterested in the proceedings.
Several current MLS based players have had more success with the national team in truly big games than the current players Bob Bradley calls to his squad. I would include Eddie Lewis and Josh Wolff two key figures in the US victory over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup in that list along with Clint Mathis who along with Wolff was the key figure in the historic 2-0 qualifying win over Mexico in Columbus back in 2001.
With so much on the line and many capable in form and yet fresh American players availible, Bradley should opt for this option. He can return to the European based players if the MLS heavy squad I propose for this summer fails when the US travels to Azteca in August to to face Mexico.
Here is my proposed Confederations Cup squad:
GK Tim Howard (Everton) Troy Perkins (Valangra)
Other possible call ups: Zach Thornton (Chivas USA), Bill Gaudette (PR Islanders), Luis Robles (Kaiserslauten)
DEF Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Marco Vidal (Indios), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjælland), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus)
Other possible call ups: Chris Wingert (RSL), Ugo Ihemelu (Colorado), Tim Ward (Chicago), Bobby Boswell (Houston), Nat Borchers (RSL)
MID Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Chris Rolfe (Chicago), John Thorrington (Chicago), Eddie Gaven (Columbus), Rico Clark (Houston), Santino Quaranta (DC United), Steve Ralston (New England)
Other possible call ups: Robbie Rogers (Columbus), Brian Carrol (Columbus), Eddie Lewis (LA Galaxy), Colin Clarke (Colorado), Seth Stammler (New York), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus)
FWD Charlie Davies (Hammerby), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Jozy Altidore (Villeareal), Josh Wolff (Kansas City)
Other possible call ups: Jerimiah White (Aarhus), Robbie Findley (RSL), Nate Jaqua (Seattle), Brian Ching (Houston), Chad Barrett (Toronto FC)