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Thursday, March 2, 2006
The US show in the snow will not go down as a vintage victory but as useful preparation for the 2006 World Cup and in addition will have given Bruce Arena more food for thought.

After the game the US coach was his usual non-committal self, insisting the team as a whole impressed but he did mention Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni and Bobby Convey as particular stand outs.

YA spoke to ESPN announcer and former US National Team stopper Marcelo Balboa who agreed it was more data gathering for Arena.

"This was a great preparation," he said. "This was a World Cup team and the Poles brought a full team. These are the kinds of games those players need because they are still fighting for roster spots."

Arena has two games left in which to make his mind up on the final 23, but the March 22nd clash with Germany will feature predominantly MLS players along with "our three players from Germany" and "a player or two out of England," according to the US boss.

All things considered then, the American squad for the World Cup should largely resemble the Poland game's roster, albeit with a little fine tuning.

At the post match press conference, YA raised the issue of how much of the final selection was already a fait accompli in his mind, and Arena responded thus:

"We have a way to go before we are ready to name our final team. There are going to be some tough decisions we have to make. We have a number of players competing for spots in a number of positions and it is not going to be easy for me to select the final 23 players."

The USA's central midfield duo from World Cup 2002 are still in the sick bay, but according to Landon Donovan, should slot straight back into the eleven when fit:

"It depends if we can get our full team out onto the field. If Claudio is healthy and if John O'Brien can get healthy that will help as far as experience goes but I think we are more athletic, I think we are faster and more dynamic (than in Korea)," he commented.

"I think then we had a lot of older players with more experience but now we have the younger players with experience."

The left back issue now appears to have been resolved to the coach's satisfaction after Eddie Lewis' sound showing in Kaiserslautern at full back as well as in his more natural role attacking from the wing.

"Obviously he is building a strong case to be our left back," Arena stated. "We have been able to play him in three games at left back and I think he has done well."

Up front Brian McBride is a sure starter whose absence tonight was immaterial though might have been down to domestic club influence - "We thought it was best to rest him and allow him to play 90 minutes for Fulham on Saturday," explained Arena.

But there is a battle on for the role of his strike partner, with Taylor Twellman, Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff all auditioning in the German snow.

Arena has been unable to ignore Twellman's recent hot spell but appears to reserve a soft spot for Johnson, as evidenced by his beaming reaction to his goal against Guatemala.

"Eddie still has a long way to go," he said post match in Germany. "But that is the most he has played in about a year so we just need to be patient and give him enough time to continue to move forward."

The other impressive claim was staked by the goalscorer Clint Dempsey, who now seems the most likely answer to the United States' right side vacancy, having performed on stage when required to in Kaiserslautern.

"I feel great because right now is crunch time, trying to get into the mix," Dempsey explained to YA after the match.

"I play as a non-traditional outside midfielder, more right-sided, kind of tucked in but still able to get forward and I am someone sometimes who can put balls in the back of the net."

"Clint continues to build a solid argument to be on our World Cup team," agreed Arena. "He is certainly positioning himself to be part of our team and certainly making it difficult for me to make some decisions."

It almost seems perverse that a good performance can create problems for a team coach but clearly Arena had an ideal team that will now demand some tinkering before June.

The biggest conflict raised by the win over Poland may well be the left side debate rearing its head again given DaMarcus Beasley's ineffective outing and Bobby Convey's sterling substitute appearance.

The Reading midfielder ran the Poles ragged for the last twenty minutes, imposing himself where Beasley had failed to and raising the possibility of replacing one of the American's apparent locks in the starting eleven.

"Yeah I thought I did well," Convey told YA after the game. "All you can do is prove yourself and do your best and that is how it is."

When asked whether his Kaiserslautern cameo would now pose Arena selection headaches at the national level, he agreed.

"For sure. I guess it is Bruce's problem. Eddie, myself and Bease are all doing well with our clubs and it is a difficult situation but hopefully he can find a way to get us all on the field at the same time. All I can do is prove myself and play my best."

And Convey cites his form with runaway Reading as as good a barometer for the summer in Germany as any national team experience.

"Playing in England for a team that has only lost twice all year and is about to get into the Premiership, that always helps in making the World Cup team," offered the midfielder.

"Bruce knows what I can do and he watches my club. He is a lot smarter than to base a World Cup team off of one game," Convey added.

"Bruce is going to have some really difficult decisions," Kasey Keller concluded after the match.

"That is to the credit of the state of the game in America. I was very happy with what I saw and I feel blessed with the guys I have in front of me."

[note]YA's Harris King contributed to this Extra Time[/note]

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