wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Eskandarian and the USMNT: what if?

When I was in the sixth grade, the only person who would talk to me was the class fat kid. And even when fatty deigned to speak to me, it was invariably about his obsession with comic books. For some reason, one of the "coms" (as he called them) sounded interesting to me. It was called What if? and posed a series of counterfactuals about how things would have been different if some major world event hadn't occurred.

Today, as I watched my DC United emasculate Red Bull New York 4-1, punctuated by two goals from Alecko Eskandarian, I was thinking about a What if? style experiment of my own. What if Matt Reis hadn't flattened Esky early last year, leaving the DCU forward concussed and out of commission for the entire season? How might this have changed things for the USMNT?

I can't imagine that Bruce would have overlooked an in-form Eskandarian. He brings something that no one else in our forward pool does. There's a certain confidence to his play, just short of recklessness, that the US could really use. I think the closest analogy is to Clint Mathis. When he was in form during 2001-02, Clint ran at defenses with a steely nerve that was unmatched. Eskandarian and Mathis are alike also in that their primary weapon is a deadly shot. Esky scores some goals simply because goalies can't react in time to the speed and the swerve; he's not a touch-and-finesse scorer (like EJ or Twellman). The best example of Esky at his best has to be the 2004 playoffs, when he scored some great goals against the Metros, New England, and KC (four in the playoffs all told), all of which were absolute bombs.

Of course, some have rightly pointed out that Esky seems a little one-dimensional in that he's so plainly left-footed. This is something you can get away with in MLS, but at the international level it's a major liability because it allows defenders to know what you're up to and it cuts down on your ability to react quickly in situations where the ball isn't at your preferred foot. Plus, Esky (unlike Mathis) has shown no indication that he can recreate his MLS form at the international level.

Despite these reservations, though, I have to imagine that if Eskandarian hadn't been clocked by Reis that unfortunate night about a year ago, he'd be in the USMNT picture, if not on the team. And while it's far too late for Esky to be a factor in WC06, it really makes me wish he'd had the chance to show for the Nats, because none of our current options bring the Mathis-esque intensity and drive that Eskandarian does. Watch out in 2010, though.


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