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The Return of Familiar Faces

fcd jeff cunningham 300x168 The Return of Familiar Faces

Major League Soccer’s decision to conduct its semifinal playoff rounds at the same time as this international break has severely hamstrung Bob Bradley’s selection.  With two very interesting friendlies against European sides that have already qualified for next summer’s World Cup, these matchups would have provided an opportunity to test some of the best we have to offer. Alas, that will have to wait until February as the signature player of US Soccer, Landon Donovan, and the US’ most reliable attacking option, Brian Ching are both unavailable. Stuart Holden who has joined Donovan as versatile core midfield player will also be unavailable.

Results do not matter in these sorts of friendlies. But the opportunity to test ourselves against excellent competition after the relative ease of CONCACAF qualifying (to the credit of the US, the ease was due to strong performances at home and two very clutch road wins), is something regrettably that is being squandered.

Slovakia, came through what I consider to be, one of the strongest and deepest qualifying groups in any Confederation. To reach South Africa, they had to beat out Slovenia, a very strong side, perennial power the Czech Republic (with whom the nation delinked in 1993), Poland who qualified easily for the Euro 2008 tournament in Spain’s group and Northern Ireland who have become strong under the subsequent strong management of Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Winterburn, two former great players.

Denmark, the United States second opponent came through a group that included Portugal, Sweden and Hungary. Prior to this qualification, Portugal and Sweden had both qualified for every major tournament this decade. I’ve written in great detail already that I rate Denmark’s chances very highly for next summer. I do not rate Slovakia’s chances quite as highly, but both sides are unmistakably solid.

Dealing with MLS, scheduling has been a problem of Coach Bradley’s for much of his tenure. He has been hamstrung time and time again when wanting to call his most competitive squad for big matches. Thankfully, last year the final US qualifier in the semifinal round did not matter, because that match was held the week of MLS Cup.

The side called in by Bradley features some old friends. Jeff Cunningham is called in for the first time since 2005, while Eddie Johnson gets yet another recall. Marcus Hahnemann, Frankie Hejduk and Jimmy Conrad will provide the dressing room leadership that has sometimes been clearly lacking from this US side.  The loss of Charlie Davies opens the door for Johnson and Cunningham. Also, expect Robbie Findley to compete vigorously for a World Cup spot.

Perhaps most importantly, creative midfielder Sacha Kljestan has been recalled by Bradley. Kljestan can provide the US something that the side is lacking right now. A creative force in the center of the pitch that can make the right runs off the ball to create scoring chances. One thing however stands out: without Brian Ching’s ability to hold up play and Landon Donovan’s work rate out wide, scoring chances are likely to be more limited for the US on this two match tour.

Surprisingly, from my perspective DaMarcus Beasley who has worked his way back into the Rangers team isn’t being given a look. Obviously the longtime US veteran had a bad summer, but should he regain his form, his skill set and experience will be invaluable in a World Cup. The friendlies also provide Jozy Altidore, whose play with Hull City has been nowhere near that of a Premiership standard to regain some confidence. Altidore, who just turned twenty has looked out of sorts since the summer for the US, and all year at the club level.

Here is the US squad:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves), Troy Perkins (Valerenga)
DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Sacha Klestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Eddie Johnson (Fulham)

This entry was posted in Leagues: Major League Soccer, US National Team, US Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

24 Responses to The Return of Familiar Faces

  1. Tommie says:

    Slovakia’s group tough? How about our group? Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras all would have won that group easily. We probably would not have dropped a point in that group. Remember, we beat Poland 3-0 just a year and a half ago on the road. I expect to do the same to Slovakia.

    Denmark’s group was a joke also. Hungary isn’t a legit soccer playing nation. What have they ever done? Sweden has lost to us twice in two years and Portugal was under achieving badly.

    CONCACAF is much tougher to qualify from than UEFA in most cases.

    • Slovakia’s group tough? How about our group? Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras all would have won that group easily. We probably would not have dropped a point in that group.

      Sorry Tommie, Slovakia’s group was very tough. I doubt we would have gotten through without dropping a point, and I can guarantee you Costa Rica would not have even made the UEFA playoffs from that group.

      Remember, we beat Poland 3-0 just a year and a half ago on the road. I expect to do the same to Slovakia.

      Fair enough, although Poland started their reserves in that match to experiment ahead of the Euros. You may remember we played the Czech Republic in the 06 World Cup and were embarrassed 3-0, and that same Czech side minus the sometimes retired Jan Koller was in this group.

      Denmark’s group was a joke also. Hungary isn’t a legit soccer playing nation. What have they ever done?

      You cannot be serious? True Hungary hasn’t been great lately but have had some decent youth sides the past few years. But since you asked what they have “ever” done, you are going to get an answer.

      Hungray was the first team to EVER beat England at Wembley, scoring six goals in the process. The next year the Hungarians hung seven goals on England in Budapest. Have you ever heard of Ferenc Puskás? He’s perhaps the greatest player in the history of this sport. If you are going to shoot of your mouth with stupid statements you consider facts, you are going to get an answer like this.

      Sweden has lost to us twice in two years and Portugal was under achieving badly.

      Again, you cannot be serious. Those were bonafide “B” games (even if FIFA doesn’t classify it as such) that took place outside of the FIFA windows. Sweden’s top players all at a high level in Europe. So do ours except for Donovan. The recent match we played with Sweden inside a window, we managed one shot on goal in the August 2007 loss at Gothenberg.

      Tim Howard had a masterful game preventing the scoreline from being worse than 1-0.

  2. Glubber says:

    To say that Costa Rico and Honduras would have won that group easily is absurd.

    Having said that, yes, Kartik is vastly overrating Poland, Slovenia and Northern ireland.

    • Lars says:

      Poland is a better team than most CONCACAF teams, including Honduras.

      Slovenia is overrated but still a good side. I’d put it on par with CONCACAF middleweights like Costa Rica, Honduras and yes, even Canada.

      I don’t know enough about Northern Ireland.

  3. Glubber says:

    Rica, that is … Rico Clark on the mind I guess!

  4. kginkc says:

    Let’s stick to the point of the article, and that is: potential player selection availability versus the purpose of playing friendlies in the post WC qualification scedule. I would suggest the team is in good shape in finding the backup combinations they will need in group play and in the elimination round. The players mentioned who are unavailablie due to injury, club playoff, other undisclosed reasons will most certainly have a spot on the SA2010 roster. So now the team must fine tune the other parts, the substitutions, the 2nd game starters, the injury replacements, so that the teams quality is not compromised during the tournament. If anything, it is good to have the chance to work with those who are fighting for a roster spot. You can determine the player’s ‘other’ qualities when dealing with challenges. Any thoughts along this line? Thanks.

  5. Matthew N says:

    Calling Kljestan “creative” is like calling McDonald’s “fine dining.” He looked like he could be one of the next great US players, but he has been absolutely awful at the international level and just mediocre at the club level. This roster is incredibly weak and I expect us to be beaten soundly. Without Donovan, midfield service will likely suffer (though Rogers, Feilhaber, and Kljestan have shown flashes of brilliance) and the striking options Bradley has provided leave a lot to be desired. I guess Bradley is using these matches as a chance to get a last look at a few possible fringe players for South Africa. I had hoped that we would take these seriously (though to be fair, MLS playoffs really throw a wrench into everything) and see how we stack up against a couple strong European teams.

    • I agree on Sacha and i had long argued he isn’t an international caliber player. But right now outside of Landon creating from the wing we have zero creativity in the center of the pitch, so I am anxious to see what he can do.

      These are friendlies so anything can happen result wise. If we took this squad into a competitive match against these two sides, I’d agree totally- they would both beat us comprehensively. But in a friendly, who knows?

      • The Ghost of Josimar says:

        Dear Kartik,

        It should be blindingly obvious that Sasha Kljestan is just a place-holder.

        Kljestan is nowhere near as good as Jose Francisco Torres. The notion that Kljestan can be a “creative force” at the international level — well it tickles the funny bone.

        For his part, Torres has limits. He is young, small, and sometimes fails to impose himself on the game.

        But a quick look at yesterday’s match against Toluca immediately shows you that the kid has a creative brain and can play clever passes out of the central midfield in ways Sasha never will be able to. And in ways no one else in the player pool can.

        We all know Torres is not available because of league commitments.

        But a serious line-up for South Africa would be an *unbalanced* 4-4-2, possibly with Castillo even providing width as left back. Something like the following:

        ——————- Howard ——————
        Cherundolo Demerit Bocanegra Spector
        ———————- Jones ——————
        -Donovan———Bradley——Torres——
        ————————-Dempsey————-
        ——————–Altidore——————-

  6. EPLNFL says:

    Really I think this works out well for the US. We certainly need to give some other players a look with the recent injuries. The games being in Europe we should use primarily European based players to reduce travel strain and stress.

    I for one think MLS has done a good job on the playoff schedule. Last weekend they worked well with the networks to schedule TV times that made MLS a good option if you football team was not playing. Also, given the crowds at the various stadiums the times seemed to help attendance.
    Next weekend being an international one should further focus attention to the league semi-finals ove for the most part a bunch of friendlies.

    I love the USMNT but MLS has helped American soccer on this one and it is always good to have MLS action and USA action on the same weekend as long as they are not up against each other.

    • Let me explain while it could have been a problem. Andiry Schevchenko thought seriously about signing with MLS. What had he come to MLS and been placed on let’s say Chicago or Real Salt Lake?

      Being a star attraction (some considered Sheva the best player on the planet in the 2002 to 2006 time period)MLS would have lost him to Ukraine’s playoff matches versus Greece for a spot in the World Cup.

      This wasn’t a far fetched scenario at all. Sheva’s wife is American and preferred he come to MLS rather than sign with Dinimo Kiev.

  7. Chris Webb says:

    Brian Ching – “the US’ most reliable attacking option”?

    Kartiki, what HAVE you been smoking? Is Bryan Zygo now ghost-writing for you? (I keed, I keed…)

  8. bookmakers says:

    Talking about CRica, some say they just might win against Uruguay…..I find it hard to believe but…

  9. paul says:

    Chris, thanks for pointing out that howler by Kartik. Calling Ching “the US’s most reliable attacking option” is like claiming Condor Casey as “the fastest player on the US men’s national team.”

    Here’s hoping more of our players in the FMF have a chance to suit up for Denmark…

    • Ching is the most consistent attacking threat. He’s more involved in more dangerous play and build up than any other current US forward. That is a FACT. Truthfully, that is more a reflection of our ineptitude up front and the failure of Jozy Altidore to develop as well as the inconsistency of our other forward.

      BTW, being a threat does not just mean scoring goals. Ching is more involved with build up play than Altidore, who is becoming a lazy player, ever is.

  10. WonsanUnited says:

    Nigel Winterburn? Surely you meant Nigel WORTHINGTON.

  11. SDM says:

    If Ching is such a threat, why is Connor friggin’ Casey getting the nod over him lately? And to go after the MLS for playing this weekend, while not saying a peep about the FMF playing (and causing Torres and Castillo to not be selected) continues to prove your disdain for all things MLS.

    • The FMF and Brazilian League are playing. But they are not in the playoffs, which is a big difference. Also, I have been overly supportive of MLS lately. I have consistently called it more compelling than the English Premier League and have been ripped by PL fans for having the audacity to point out more people watch MLS and support MLS clubs in the US than Premier League clubs. Yet, I am still see as a hater by some.

      The truth is right now, MLS is among the handful of most compelling and competitive leagues in the world. Among English speaking countries it is the best product. Americans fans have re soundly voted that they prefer it to the imbalanced and pre-ordained product that is the EPL .

      That’s why MLS has a responsibility to change its scheduling procedures as it becomes a bigger and better league. If I thought MLS was a terrible league like some, I wouldn’t laud Sacha Kljestan’s recall, call Ching our best attacking threat, and maintain that Donovan is one of the top five international footballers on the planet. Those guys all play in MLS not in the EPL.

      • Ron says:

        Kartik- you have been overboard in your recent support for MLS. I am sorry, but MLS is not the most compelling and competitive league around. Moreover, I am offended you decided to take your USL coverage elsewhere and stop covering it here. The current situation in USL has a greater affect on the future of American soccer than the miscellaneous MLS issues covered here and yet you have show you are nothing more than a third rate hack by bowing to the angry comments of some posters who are nothing like MLS yes men (like the infamous guy with the handle “fan”) and have stopped any and all coverage of USL. Thank god IMS kept covering the crisis. That’s why I go there now, instead of here.

        • Ron, fair enough. The commenter’s on this site overwhelmingly voted that they wanted more favorable coverage of MLS and no coverage of USL, so I complied.

          For USL coverage, please visit http://thekartikreport.com

          And for the record, I do believe MLS is the most compelling and competitive league in the English speaking world. That includes England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Kenya, India, Nigeria, etc.

          I did not say in the world. The Bundesliga, Ligue Un, Russian Premier Laague, FMF, Erevidise, Serie A (Brazil), and several others are more compelling and competitive than MLS from where I sit. But none are in English speaking countries.

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