USA: Bradley goes with names he knows

By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor

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 isnÆt one of them.

Of the 29 players heÆs named for a training camp that starts Jan. 3, only Heath Pearce of Danish club Norjsaelland doesnÆt play in MLS. Clint Dempsey and one or two others might be bound overseas early in the New Year, of course, but thereÆs no FIFA international window by which to summon European-based players anyway, and so the first two games of the year û against Denmark Jan. 20 and rival Mexico Feb. 7 û 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 û whom Bradley coached at Chivas USA last season before taking up with U.S. Soccer û 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.''

The only field players 29 or older û Jimmy Conrad and Pablo Mastroeni û played in the 2006 World Cup. (The other players from the 2006 squad are Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Chris Albright.) Eight players have a maximum of two yearsÆ experience in MLS, and three û Dasan Robinson, Kljestan, and Rookie of the Year Jonathan Bornstein û are fresh off their first pro seasons.

ôI know our players, I know our league,ö says Bradley, whose tour of duty included Chicago, the MetroStars and Chivas USA as well as being Bruce ArenaÆs assistant at Virginia, D.C. United, and the national team program. ôIÆve coached a lot of these guys, IÆve coached against a lot of these guys. The familiarity that I have with all of that are things that become important.ö

Bradley has drawn heavily from the D.C. United and New England rosters, picking 11 players from teams that normally play variations of a 3-5-2 system. Under Arena, the national team primarily played with four in the back. Bradley will have plenty of options while he tinkers with formations and personnel in training camp and the first two games of 2007.

And while heÆs going to look at a lot of players in the next few months, including a few whoÆve been out of the loop, thereÆs a clear directive to anyone summoned.

ôThere 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 donÆt have that much time for the ones who arenÆt willing to do that, or who pretend that they do,'' he said. ThatÆs the only way to be successful in anything.ö

HereÆs 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 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 MLS teams, and Eddie Robinson, who anchors the middle of HoustonÆs 4-4-2 formation. BoswellÆs club teammate Bryan Namoff is also in the squad. Dasan Robinson, Bornstein, and Pearce are the choices at left back û if a four-man defensive line is used û 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 thereÆs 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 heÆs been on the field. Donovan will be entering camp shortly after his wedding to actress Bianca Kajlich.

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
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