by Robert Ferringo - 05/05/2006
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I remember back in fifth grade when I got to represent my school in the city spelling bee. To me that was the Pinnacle. And at the time I honestly didn't think that there could be any greater honor than that.
But now I suppose that marching through the streets of history-soaked European cities, competing in front of billions of militant and fanatical fans, and representing your country in the single Greatest sporting event on the planet might just be slightly more impressive.
Slightly. S-l-i-g-h-t-l-y. Slightly.
The roster for the United States men's soccer team, which will represent The Nation in the World Cup this summer, was announced Tuesday. Coach Bruce Arena has selected the 23-man team after nearly four years of qualifying in which the U.S. posted a 36-9-14 record.
The World Cup begins on June 9 in Germany. The United States opens on June 12 in Gelsenkirchen against the Czech Republic. The U.S. is currently ranked No. 4 in the World according to FIFA, while the Czech's are No. 2.
There are 12 players on the roster that appeared in Korea back in 2002, while 11 are World Cup virgins. The Soccer Community may look at Major League Soccer like some low-rent carnival sideshow (think: D-League) but 11 players on this U.S. roster currently play professionally in the States.
In futbol, it all begins in the back. The American defense - consider it Eddie and the Bruisers - boasts speed, experience and power. Steady veterans Eddie Pope (third Cup) and Eddie Lewis are the stabilizers. Speedy Frankie Hedjuk was named to his third Cup team, but will not play due to a knee injury.
Fullback Steve Cherundolo will need to raise his play in the absence of Hedjuk, as will Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu is 6-foot-2 and is an absolute beast in the back. But he's also known to have a hot temper. He'll need to keep his head and control the penalty area in order to make his mark this summer.
The last, but certainly not the least, line of defense is keeper Kasey Keller. Keller was the 2005 U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year. He is the country's all-time leader in wins (51), shutouts (44) and qualifying appearances (31). Basically, he's a badass. The backup goalie is Tim Howard, who dazzled Europe for Man. U. 2003 before tailing off over the past two seasons.
The strength of the American club lies in its midfield. Team captain Claudio Reyna is one of America's best ever, and he and Keller will become the only U.S. players to appear in four World Cups. He doesn't score a ton of goals, but Reyna controls the flow from the center and is still the most skilled footballer. Though he may be a step slower, he is still the facilitator and is responsible for controlling the flow.
Landon Donovan, the newest Poster Boy for American Soccer, joins Reyna in the middle. Donovan is the flux capacitor for the Yank's offense. Whether distributing to the forwards or attacking the goal, Donovan is to the U.S. team what Wayne Rooney is to England. (And if that analogy doesn't work, Donovan is to the U.S. what Steve Perry is to Aerosmith.)
The enigmatic, but supremely talented DaMarcus Beasley will be relied upon heavily from the outside. Beasley is streaky, but because of his speed and athleticism he is to be respected and feared by opponents. Beasley is joined by crafty John O'Brien and surging Bobby Convey.
If there is an X-factor for this crew, it may be the play of the men up front. Striker Brian McBride, the mid-90s Poster Boy, will be making his third World Cup showing. He is expert in all facets of offense, but at times is underutilized. He will be joined up front by Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff. McBride and Wolff have a strong likelihood of finishing as the top scorers for the U.S.
If there's anything to be gleaned from the announcement of the U.S. roster, I suppose it's that we have developed the depth to compete with the top teams on the planet. The trouble is, while our athletes are top-notch and our defense technically sound, I'm not certain we have the intuitive flair and creativity up front to take the Next Step. The selections by Arena were conservative by all accounts, which shows that he believes our best is clearly Good Enough to compete for the crown straight-up.
The Americans have a difficult group, with Italy (currently No. 14 in the world) joining the U.S. and he Czech's. But that's where the experience on the club should shine through. A trip to the second round is far from a certainty, but if the Americans fail they will at least know that the World beat its best.
2006 USA World Cup Roster
|2||Albright, Chris *||D||6'1''||185|
* Replaced Frankie Hejduk (injury) - May 3, 2006
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