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
Guzan has one, and Troy Perkins
has none. Yes, the scramble for spots
behind likely long-term No. 1 Tim
Howard 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
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 -
four-man defensive line is used - and on the other side, Albright has
been the best right back in MLS the past few seasons.
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
BRADLEY'S 29 (CAPS)
84 Landon Donovan
50 Pablo Mastroeni
23 Clint Dempsey
19 Chris Albright, Taylor
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