Running the rule over World Cup candidates

Not for declaration and certainly not for vindication, here's a rundown on the status of certain MLS players as they vie for spots in the 2010 World Cup squad of 23.

Much more will be known next month when Coach Bob Bradley picks his squad for the game against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, and whether Jose Francisco Torres, and perhaps Edgar Castillo if he successfully applies to switch national teams, wilt under pressure to not play against Mexico for the USA in a game that counts.

Troy Perkins has done nothing at the Gold Cup to lose the No. 3 goalkeeper shirt, and Bradley won't pick an MLS keeper to sit on the bench behind Brad Guzan and Tom Howard. It ain't over yet and a few MLS guys can certainly fill the bill but unless Perkins suffers through a shocker, the job is his if he wants it.

Left back is up in the air, so Heath Pearce has a shot, assuming he can find a club, so unless Jonathan Bornstein can make a strong push, the Chivas USA man won't make the cut, though his left-sidedness keeps him in the picture.

Crew defender Chad Marshall has a good chance, though Jonathan Spector can play in the middle as well as at right back so that brings the probabilities for Marshall down a bit and those for teammate Frankie Hedjuk as well, though Frankie's experience and energy and endurance are invaluable.

But Frankie and Steve Cherundolo can only play right back, so if Spector is the starter, can you take both of them? And if both of them go, there probably aren't enough slots for both Marshall and Jimmy Conrad. Should Conrad prove to Bradley that his 2006 play can be replicated in 2010, Conrad may go at the expense of one of those aforementioned players. The odds for Marvell Wynne and Danny Szetela, just signed by D.C. United, are slim.

Playmakers and game-breakers are in short supply, so Stuart Holden is in the mix, possibly at the expense of Sacha Kljestan. Holden is more consistent, stronger on the ball, and better defensively than Robbie Rogers, though Robbie's speed is hard to overlook and left mid is subject to review -- and Holden has played on that side far less frequently than Rogers.

There might be enough room for both Holden and Rogers but with three keepers and (probably) eight defenders to be selected, that leaves only 12 slots, with maybe three or four set aside for wide mids, where Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey currently have first call. The logjam on the outside may also shut out Santino Quaranta.

The USA is overloaded at center mid but I've been impressed with Kyle Beckerman since he moved to Real Salt Lake two years ago. Tough, relatively quick, good feet, excellent engine, decent shot. He might ace out former Rapids teammate Pablo Mastroeni, assuming Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber all make the cut along with the Schalke guy, Jermaine Jones.

I must admit I'm a bit bemused at all the fuss about Jones. Yes, he's played three times for Germany and in 96 Bundesliga games, yet at age 27 that's hardly a glittering resume. He may indeed turn out to be capable at the international level, yet methinks right now his reputation is riding on that peculiar wave of "players we haven't seen must be better than the guys we have" that so many fans and journalists churn up on the Internet.

He's a rugged holding mid prone to fouls and cautions (nine in 2008-09, plus two more yellow-reds, along with three goals). Schalke has hired a new coach, Felix Magath, who just led little Wolfsburg to its first Bundesliga title.

The grass on the other side of the hill isn't always greener, especially for American soccer.

Remember all the pre-1998 World Cup hoopla regarding David Wagner and Michael Mason? They played in Germany, too, debuted with great fanfare and didn't impress all that much. Jones is injured and still needs his application to be processed and approved; hopefully Coach Bob Bradley will get enough time to know if he's closer to Thomas Dooley than Mason or Wagner, and better than what's currently available.

Though remote, there's always a chance another David Regis will come out of the woodwork. And wouldn't it be ironic if Castillo did come onto the scene and heat up the competition in that same position, left back, that Regis played, and/or knock Torres and/or Michael Orozco out of the picture?

Brian Ching made the team in 2006 but didn't play. The question is still whether he can contribute in a World Cup but he's tough, honest and determined, and still holds an edge over Kenny Cooper. A good game in the Confederations Cup would have raised Ching's stock. If Cooper goes to Europe and plays and scores consistently he can move up the depth chart.

Much depends on how much and how well Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore play this season, pertaining to numbers as well as personnel. With Charlie Davies in the picture and the latter two in the mix, Bradley may only take those three as "forwards" with Dempsey and Donovan as options up top as well as midfield locks.


4 comments about "Running the rule over World Cup candidates".
  1. Mike Gaynes, July 20, 2009 at 7:44 p.m.

    I agree with most of what has been said here, although it's hard to imagine how Eddie Johnson's name even got into the article. And while I understand why Ching might rate ahead of Cooper at this point, Cooper is clearly the vastly superior scoring threat. Neither is an efficient finisher, but Cooper simply does a much better job of getting into dangerous positions. Seeing him and Altidore on the field together is something I look forward to.

    I hope Bradley gives Torres more opportunities -- I think he brings a ball-control aspect to the midfield that no one else does. And I'll be rooting hard for Castillo to be all we expect him to be, because neither Pearce nor Bornstein should be allowed anywhere near a World Cup without a ticket.

    And who would have guessed at the start of this year that an article like this could be written with no mention (and appropriately so) of the names Beasley and Adu?

  2. George Hoyt, July 20, 2009 at 7:47 p.m.

    fascinating run down on the possibilities. I concure with the sentiments regarding some "unknown" foreign player stirring up the mix- unknown is unknown for a reason. Some interesting absentees in the list of names here are Freddy Adu and Demarcus Beasley. Do they fit in anywhere? Neither has really been able to prove themselves. Beasley seems to lack the spark he used to show on a consistant basis- I'm sure that relates to his lack of playing time and confidence. Its hard to know what's up with him or which came first, his poorer performances or his lack of first team time. I think he needs to get out of Scotland.

    Adu's something different. I'm not sure Bradley knows how to utilize him or if Adu knows how to be useful in Bradley's system. That being said, Adu has yet to make himself an unmistakable choice.

    For me, one clear choice in the names above is Torres. I'm not sure why he didn't see more time in the confedration's cup- I think he's a missing link in either defensive or attacking mid- savvy, creativity, ability to hold the ball and not cough up possession. That's more than a lot of other choices could say.

  3. Rick Culberson, July 20, 2009 at 9:28 p.m.

    Torres rightly or wrongly got blamed for defensive lapses in the last qualifier loss, but he really adds some creativity and confident possession play in midfield. But so does Feilhaber. Liked what I saw of back four of Spector, Onyewu, Demerit and Bocanegra at left back in Confederations Cup. Maybe Chad Marshall or Jimmy Conrad over Demerit, but still need some speed to counter likes of Kaka, whose explosive pace most in the world don't have an answer for either. Charlie Davies showed better than Altidore, who has a heavy first touch. Why not Davies and Dempsey? Or Davies and Donovan? And pass the ball on the ground, instead of in the air to a "target" like Ching or Casey or whoever other large body is deemed a necessity as a target forward.

  4. David Sirias, July 21, 2009 at 4:40 p.m.

    Ridge, this is the best "23" article written by anyone in them mainstream soccer press here in the USA. Yes, the omission of Adu and Beasley are glaring but correct. Adu does not fit into Bob's scheme, no matter how well he is playing. His real shot will come in the next cycle. Beasley is just done at the elite level, I'm afraid-- like Convey. Peaked early, injuries precipitated an early decline. My one quibble is with your assertion that Castillo is in direct competition with Orozco and Torres at left back. He IS in competition with both, but as a wide-left playerwith Torres , as Castillo can play there but Torres will never suit up as a left back. And I hate to agree with you on the point of EJ. He still charms Bob, despite EJ having zero soccer brain. EJ, not Ching, is Cooper's competition because I think Bob will take 4 real forwards, knowing that that much depth is required if you want to advance deep in the competition. I think he learned that from the CC I've accused Bob of a lot of things, but I don't thing he's a dumb guy or a slow learner.

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