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)