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

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Final 23

We've played our last friendly before the deadline for finalizing our WC roster, so now it's time for Bruce to decide on the final 23. Although Bruce says that he'll be monitoring players' performance in MLS over the next three weeks, I have to think that with the exception of one or two spots, the roster is set. As far as who the final 23 will be, here's my prediction:

GK: Keller, Hahnemann, Howard

Keller, of course, is a no brainer. Although I haven't actually seen him play, Hahnemann, by all accounts, has been outstanding for Reading this season. And after Keller and Friedel, Howard is probably the American 'keeper with the most natural talent. He has no doubt suffered from his lack of playing time with ManU, and when he played last season, seemed prone to embarassing mental lapses. But as far as natural ability goes, he's head and shoulders above the competition.

Defenders: Bocanegra, Onyewu, Pope, Gibbs, Cherundolo, Hejduk, Albright

The only two guys on the above list who are not locks to make the final roster are Hejduk and Albright. Hejduk makes the cut because of his versality (he can play either left back or right back), and because of his experience and strong performances in previous World Cups (I still remember how he was one of the few U.S. players who didn't look scared playing against Germany in WC '98). Albright makes the roster as a backup to Cherundolo on the right. Against certain teams, or in certain situations, I think Bruce will want to have the option of playing someone with Albright's physical presence at right back, rather than the diminutive Cherundolo or Hejduk. Albright has also done well in the chances he's gotten with the nats. He had a good second half against Jamaica, and was twice robbed of a goal by sterling saves from the Jamaican 'keeper.

Conrad and Berhalter get cut, simply because we're so deep at center back. Although Conrad and Berhalter are both competent defenders, Boca, Gooch, Pope and Gibbs are just in a different class. Spector gets cut simply because he doesn't have the experience, which is really too bad because he's got boatloads of talent. If this World Cup came a year later, then I think Spector would have been a lock to make the final roster.

Midfielders: Reyna, O'Brien, Donovan, Beasley, Lewis, Convey, Mastroeni, Dempsey, Olsen

The first seven guys listed above are all locks, assuming they stay healthy (which is a big assumption in the case of Reyna, and an even bigger assumption in the case of JOB). Lewis or Convey likely will end up playing as much left back as they will midfield, but since they're natural midfielders, and play there with their clubs, I'll list them as midfielders.

The only two players listed above who are on the bubble are Dempsey and Olsen. Olsen makes the cut because he is a team leader, who gets the guys fired up both in practice and for the matches. Because of that, Arena will want him around, and he'll help the team even if he never actually gets a minute of playing time in the World Cup. He plays with a lot of heart, always working his ass off and giving 110%, a quality that Arena no doubt finds particularly endearing. He's also an Arena favorite -- a UVa boy, and when he played for Arena at DC United, he actually lived with the Arenas his first year or two there. Arena also had good things to say about Olsen after his performance in the Jamaica match. Barring a rash of injuries to our other midfielders, I'd be very surprised if Olsen starts. I can see him being called in as a late game sub for a forward if we're ahead and want to protect a lead.

Dempsey makes the team as much by default as anything else. Ralston looks like he's still injured, and had a stinker against Jamaica. Noonan, while competent, just hasn't looked as dangerous as Dempsey in the chances they've gotten with the nats. Dempsey has shown, both in MLS and with the nats, that he has a nose for the goal. He also makes things happen -- the U.S. looked much more dangerous against Jamaica once Dempsey was subbed in. Of course, there are things that could keep Dempsey off the final roster. The fact that he punched out Franchino certainly doesn't help. And I get the sense that Bruce just doesn't really like Dempsey all that much. Dempsey is also young, and could use a bit more seasoning at the international level (although I think he learned a lot when he ended up on his ass more often than not in the friendly against England). Bruce commented after the last World Cup, though, that the World Cup is a young man's game. No doubt Bruce was referring, at least in part, to the performances of Beasley and Donovan, who were both 20 years old at the time. Beasley in particular had about as much international experience at the time of the '02 WC as Dempsey has now.

Forwards: McBride, Johnson, Twellman, Wolff

These are the same four forwards that 'Celo predicts, and I'm with him on this. McBride is an obvious lock. Johnson makes the team because he's so damn talented, and because he had such a hot streak with the nats before he got injured. Wolff makes the team because of his experience, his good play in the '02 WC, and because, even if he has lost a step due to age, injuries, and surgery, he still has decent speed, and I think Bruce will want to have available a speeding, slashing forward (although Johnson and Donovan can also both play this role).

Whether Bruce will take Twellman over Ching is a close call. I think Twellman gets the nod simply because, based on their recent form with the nats, Twellman has looked better. He broke his duck in the January friendlies, and he was unlucky to have had near misses or legitimate goals called back before he finally scored for the nats. Like Olsen, Twellman goes balls-out every game, which can only help. Twellman, if he makes the final roster, will probably be the last forward off the bench. And if Ching lights it up in MLS over the next three weeks and Twellman doesn't score at all, it's possible Ching gets the call over Twellman.

So that's one man's prediction as to who the final 23 on our roster will be. Now we just have to wait until May 3, when Bruce announces the actual roster.


Blogger DF said...

Great stuff. I find myself hard-pressed to disagree with any of this.

As for defenders, Albright over Berhalter/Conrad makes sense to me too given our depth at CB, the need for a backup to Dolo (though Hejduk could readily fill that role as he did in WC02), and Chris's strong showing against Jamaica. But I don't see him playing much because I suspect he's not fast enough for the international game. I fear he'd get overwhelmed by either Italy's or Czech Republic's wingers.

The group of midfielders seems about right. I'd prefer Noonan to Olsen, though, because we need more depth on the right, and Olsen is really a better D-mid than he is a winger. At the defensive mid position we already have three top choices (Reyna, Mastro, JOB), so I don't think Olsen brings much. But given Bruce's love for Benny, I think it's a safe bet (if not a good choice) that Olsen will be on the team. And considering that either Noonan or Olsen will play little, it's really a moot point, and I like Ben and would like to see at least one DCU player on the roster. Plus, if Noonan is injured it's a moot point in a different way; Ben goes.

I think Dempsey's definitely in, too. I wouldn't call him a bubble player, considering his quality play against Poland, in the Jan/Feb camp, and against Jamaica.

The forwards sound right to me. Wolff has produced more for the Nats than Ching, who has always struck me as a cut below world-class. Still, that group of four does not thrill me. It's also not clear that Bruce will take four forwards; he said at halftime of the DC/Chivas game last week that he's still not sure how many forwards he wants to take.

7:13 PM, April 15, 2006

Blogger mirarchi said...

Good point about our depth at d-mid. If O'Brien, Mastro, and Reyna are all available, it's hard to imagine much use for Olsen, although he may have a bit more bite in the tackle than Reyna, and maybe O'Brien. I hope Olsen wouldn't get any playing time as a winger -- does he ever even played there for his club (since his injuries)?

Noonan is an interesting possibility, and it might make more sense to take Noonan over Olsen, given how thin we are at right-mid, as you point out. In the end, though, I think Bruce just likes Bennie too much to leave him off the roster -- so as far as predicting who Bruce will take, I'm sticking with Olsen. As you point out, it's probably all a moot point, since neither would get much playing time.

As far as the backup to Cherundolo goes, I think I'd probably want Hejduk over Albright in most cases, if only because Hejduk has performed so well for us in the past two world cups, and has that much more seasoning than Albright. But Bruce may want Hejduk on the left against certain opponents (I think Hejduk is better defensively than either Lewis or Convey, and does a better job getting up the flank than either Gibbs or Boca).

That's interesting that you have reservations about Albright's pace. I'd always thought of him as a reasonably fast player (I seem to remember him having decent speed when he played as a forward or winger).

10:41 AM, April 17, 2006

Blogger mirarchi said...

I just saw that Ives Galarcep has predicted the same 23 as me, except that he takes Berhalter over Albright:


I think that Galarcep may be right that Berhalter makes the final roster -- I think Bruce likes him, and likes his experience (this will be the first World Cup for Gooch, Gibbs and Boca). I still think, though, that Bruce will want backup to Cherundolo in addition to Hejduk, who Bruce may need to play on the left. So maybe both Berhalter and Albright make the final roster, and Bruce cuts a midfielder (Dempsey?) or a forward (Twellman?).

11:22 AM, April 19, 2006

Blogger DF said...

"So maybe both Berhalter and Albright make the final roster, and Bruce cuts a midfielder (Dempsey?) or a forward (Twellman?)."

This would be an unmitigated disaster. We need Dempsey's creativity (I think he may even start) and Twellman's depth at forward (while he's not a great option, he's about as good as it gets for us, especially given recent form).

11:53 AM, April 19, 2006

Blogger mirarchi said...

I agree. I'm afraid, though, that Bruce will end up taking Berhalter, which I think would be a huge mistake. Pope will provide veteran leadership, and given his presence, I don't see a need for Berhalter's additional experience/leadership. And I agree with you that either Dempsey or Twellman add much more to the team than does Berhalter.

I don't think we'll see Dempsey starting though. First, I don't think Bruce likes him. Second, if JOB and Reyna stay healthy, our midfield will be packed. JOB, Reyna, and Beasley are locks to start in the midfield. If Bruce goes with a 4-4-2 and starts Donovan as a middie as well, then there's no room left for Dempsey. Even if Bruce starts Donovan as a forward, or plays five in the midfield, I think Bruce would try to get either Convey or Lewis into the midfield before Dempsey (possibly by playing Beasley at right mid to make room on the left).

I like Dempsey, though, and I hope he at least makes the roster. I like his fearless attitude, his nose for the goal, and the creativity and spark that he seems to provide. At the very least, I think he'll be an asset as a super-sub.

10:09 AM, April 24, 2006


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