By Ridge Mahoney
Drawbacks there are to the selection of Bob Bradley as interim head coach of the USA national team, but unfamiliarity with the domestic player pool isn't one of them.
Of the 29 players he's named for a training camp that starts Jan. 3, only Heath Pearce of Danish club Norjsaelland doesn't play in MLS. Clint Dempsey and one or two others might be bound overseas early in the New Year, of course, but there's no FIFA international window by which to summon European-based players anyway, and so the first two games of the year - against Denmark Jan. 20 and rival Mexico Feb. 7 - will be contested by domestic players, more or less.
Still, 10 of the players named by Bradley have never been capped, and only Sacha Kljestan - whom Bradley coached at Chivas USA last season before taking up with U.S. Soccer - is age-eligible to play on the Olympic/under-23 team that Bradley is also in charge of.
"That's the exciting part of trying, in this next cycle, to find the right moments for young guys to play in more important international games and get experience, and find out which ones really have it," says Bradley. "In these camps these guys get to know each other and have a chance to compete together."
And while he's going to look at a lot of players in the next few months, including a few who've been out of the loop, there's a clear directive to anyone summoned.
"There are a lot of people in this country who have given their heart and soul to the game, and honestly, to get to the other side for a second, I probably don't have that much time for the ones who aren't willing to do that, or who pretend that they do," he said. That's the only way to be successful in anything."
Here's a short rundown on the players called at each position:
Goalkeeper: Joe Cannon and Matt Reis have three caps between them, Brad Guzan has one, and Troy Perkins has none. Yes, the scramble for spots behind likely long-term No. 1 TimHoward is wide-open, but Cannon and Reis are both 31, and hardly fit the bill if grooming young talent is the goal. Yet both are solid keepers well steeped in the pro game.
Defenders:Conrad is the only central defender with significant experience (17 caps). The other central choices are MLS Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell and the 2005 Rookie of the Year Michael Parkhurst, both of whom play in three-man back lines for their MLS teams, and Eddie Robinson, who anchors the middle of Houston's 4-4-2 formation. Boswell's club teammate Bryan Namoff is also in the squad. Dasan Robinson, Bornstein, and Pearce are the choices at left back - if a four-man defensive line is used - and on the other side, Albright has been the best right back in MLS the past few seasons.
Midfielders: Bornstein played left mid primarily in the second half of the season, Joshua Gros is left-sided but played a lot on the right for D.C. last year, and lefty Justin Mapp found some success tucking inside and pulling the strings.Brian Mullan is a rightie all the way, and the central slots are crowded: Kyle Beckerman, Brian Carroll, Ricardo Clark and Kljestan are the options for roles in the middle, Dempsey and Pat Noonan can play wide or float up top.
Forwards: Kenny Cooper gets his first shot at taking the big-forward role so ably filled by the retired Brian McBride. In his first season with FC Dallas, he proved there's touch and mobility to go along with bulk. Nate Jaqua, another large lad, will vie for his second cap, as will Alecko Eskandarian. Taylor Twellman, scorer of five goals in his 19 appearances, starts a new cycle of World Cup aspirations at age 26. The nimble, crafty Chris Rolfe(four caps) has been elusive the few times he's been on the field. Donovan will be entering camp shortly after his wedding to actress Bianca Kajlich.
BRADLEY'S 29 (CAPS)
84 Landon Donovan
50 Pablo Mastroeni
23 Clint Dempsey
19 Chris Albright, Taylor Twellman
17 Jimmy Conrad
13 Pat Noonan
5 Heath Pearce
4 Brian Carroll, Chris Rolfe
2 Joe Cannon, Brian Mullan
1 Bobby Boswell, Ricardo Clark, Alecko Eskandarian, Brad Guzan, Nate Jaqua, Justin Mapp, Matt Reis
0 Kyle Beckerman, Jonathan Bornstein, Kenny Cooper, Joshua Gros, Sacha Kljestan, Bryan Namoff, Michael Parkhurst, Troy Perkins, Dasan Robinson, Eddie Robinson