Thursday, November 30, 2006
With Thanksgiving passed and the holiday season begun, there is no better time to do our best impersonation of St. Nicholas himself and open up the YA Mailbag.

Alan Boothe wrote in to ask a question about the Stars and Stripes in international youth competition. "I read your article about the U-20 World Cup and have a question. How come the US does not compete in U-21 competition like they do in Europe?"

Alan, you bring up an interesting question. However, until FIFA decides to change the World Youth Championships age limit from 20 to 21, I don't think US Soccer will choose to play in Under-21 competition.

Speaking of the Youth National Teams, Ignacio Farias gave us own version of 23 Tickets to Canada. His choices are as follows:

Brian Perk, Chris Seitz, Mike Gustavson

Amaechi Igwe, Nick Besagno, Ofori Sarkodie, Neven Subotic, Blake Wagner, Nathan Sturgis, Tim Ward

Quavas Kirk, Miguel González, Rodrigo López, Michael Bradley, Dax McCarthy, Danny Szetela, Freddy Adu, Kyle Nakazawa

Josmer Altidore, Johann Smith, Preston Zimmerman, David Arvizu, Robbie Rogers

Ignacio, thank you for providing your selections. In terms of the number of players chosen, it differs from the number allowed at the full international level. It turns out, in this tournament, only 20 players can make the final roster... we gave out three too many tickets in the first edition!

With that said, I'll work with your list.

At goalkeeper, there will be quite a battle for the second goalkeeper slot. Seitz is a shoe-in, but the second slot is very much open in the air.

At defender, you have most of the notable names. Recent comments from Under-20 head coach Thomas Rongen tend to indicate that Subotic is too raw at this point for the Under-20 level. Watch out for Omar Gonzalez from the University of Maryland, I think he will develop into an Oguchi Onyewu-type player.

In the midfield, I think only one of González/López will make the final cut. Up top, Arvizu is not in the same class as the other options.

That said there will always be a couple surprises. Otherwise, great job, Ignacio.

Moving on to the senior national team, our 23 Tickets to South Africa always seems to stir the collective minds of American soccer fans.

Bolton Wanderers and US Under-20 National Team forward Johann Smith received a lot of love from our readers, who were thoroughly disappointed he was not included in our November rendition.

James Barbour wrote in to say, "What gives? Why no mention of Johann Smith in your 23 Tickets feature? Granted he isn't playing regularly, but he is on an EPL team that is playing well, and he certainly has to be worth a look."

While Scott Stottlemyre chimed in saying, "With regards to your 23 tickets series, I would just like to inquire how on earth Johann Smith is completely left out of the discussion? If Big Sam gives the guy enough credit to keep him around how can he be ignored in such a composition?"

As the resident YA Youth National Team "Guru", I have followed Smith's progress over the past year. There is no doubt in mind he made the right decision to go to Bolton. Big Sam is one of the best coaches in England and provides his players a quality environment to grow and develop.

That said, I believe it is too early to pencil the "Connecticut Express" into the US roster for 2010. He is very green, but clearly has immense potential. In terms of physical attributes, Smith is neck-and-neck with New York Red Bulls defender Marvell Wynne as the fastest player in the US player pool.

On the progression of forwards for 2010, I am not convinced that Smith will be best the forward from the Under-20 age group for South Africa. Sixteen-year old Jozy Altidore was already nipping at Smith's heels at the end the MLS season.

Now, what will be interesting to follow is the partnership between Altidore and Smith that Rongen is building for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2007. With qualifying less than two months away, we will get to see who is the more developed player.

Mr. Stottlemyre continued with, "And can you guys honestly see the US going to the WC without the likes of DaMarcus Beasley and/or Landon Donavon?"

Scott, I happen to agree with your comment on Donovan. The expectations for people are high and with a disappointing World Cup, fans feel that the team needs to try something else. The reality is Donovan is one of the top players in the US pool and that is not going to change over the next four years.

On the other hand, Beasley has been the most disappointing player in the US pool this year. He has fallen far from his days as a pesky player on the left flank. Injuries and lack of first team time has hurt him tremendously.

Up-and-coming players such as Jonathan Bornstein are gaining first team experience and will have ample opportunity to challenge Beasley for a spot over the next couple of years.

Greg Seltzer's Aces in the Hole article conjured up some thoughts on younger midfield players getting a look at the senior level.

We received this message from Andrew Green. "I'm sick of the media here in the States insisting that LD is the only prospect for the future besides Clint Dempsey in midfield. It's good to read something positive about the other younger players out there making an effort to improve as best they can by whatever means they can secure."

Charles Snyder added, "I want to see Adu, Benny, Bradley all get some action this summer. I feel it is very important to get these guys playing together as much as possible even if the next cup is a few years away."

The good thing about the top prospects in US soccer is that a majority of them are in attacking positions, particularly in the center of the park. With guys like Bradley, Feilhaber, Justin Mapp and Lee Nguyen, the probability that some will pan out is likely.

Whether they can challenge for Donovan's spot as the playmaker remains to be seen. One thing seems for sure: the midfield for 2010 will be significantly stronger than it was at Germany 2006.

Korey Sutton sent in this MLS question. "I was wondering what you guys thought about the MLS not going to a single table next season?"

For a league like MLS, it is difficult to have a single table. In a country like England or Italy, when the distance between clubs is significantly shorter, a single table makes sense. In the United States where some clubs are nearly 3,000 miles apart, the wear and tear of travel would take its toll by the end of the season.

Furthermore, does anyone really want to see Columbus play Colorado three times? I didn't think so.

Julio Hernandez might get the reward for most unique idea of the month. "You guys need to start a lobby group. Now that the Democrats have won the Congress, we need to start lobbying for several hundred million dollars to bring the best players over to play in MLS. That way we won't need the 'Beckham Exception'.

That way our World Cup team would be able to compete, and might I say win the World Cup! Then again, the world hates us anyway, could you imagine the outrage if we actually won the World Cup?!!

Julio, For some reason I can't see Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and the gang signing a bill to pay for international soccer stars to come to the United States. If anything, they should setup entitlements to develop youth soccer programs.

On your second point, most of the world may not like the United States, but they sure like our money. FIFA is no different.

Evan Ream sent in a John O'Brien question. "What happened to John O'Brien, I know he's on Chivas, but I haven't heard or seen anything about him in a long time. Is he injured again, and if so, will he play next year?"

Injuries have killed O'Brien's career possibly more so than any other player to ever wear a US National Team Jersey. He is still a member of Chivas USA. There were rumors circulating that the Red Bulls were interested in his services, but those rumors have since died down.

Hopefully, O'Brien can recover and return to the form that earned him 10 years with Ajax; unfortunately. I don't think it is in the cards for the talented midfielder.

Last, but not least is the discussion of US National Team manager.

Robin Duffee sent in this note to YA in response to Mark Flannery's article The Right Man for the Job, "On the list of candidates for the vacant MNT coaching post, the names of Klinsmann and Pekerman are the two that, to me, stand out the most.

These are two coaches with World Cup experience, and each one has their strengths and weaknesses. However, to say that Pekerman wouldn't be as good for the job as Klinsmann isn't quite true... His success at the youth level is unparalleled, and could prove very useful in this transitional time, during which there is a changing of the guard in many different positions.

Younger players (Adu, Feilhaber, Bradley) could flourish under Pekerman, although as mentioned in the article, youth development is not a guarantee of success, but it certainly helps the cause, especially in the long run."

Matt Snyder said that he "couldn't agree more" about choosing Jürgen Klinsmann, saying there is "not a better coach or fit for the USMNT", while Tim Perman also believes "Klinsmann is the man for the job."

Matt Hughes disagreed, saying that Pekerman would be a better choice, "Klinsmann is the guy to give your team that extra push it needs to get to the next level. Pekerman is the guy to transform your system and make it good for years to come.

Pekerman is what we need right now, not Klinsmann. Saying that, Klinsmann would not be a bad hire, but I think JP is more what we need right now."

Tom Knapp may have described it best with these remarks, Pekerman and JK have both their strong and weak points. You point out JK's strengths well, but Pekerman is not chopped liver either.

I would prefer JK for reasons you laid out, but getting Pekerman wouldn't exactly be a horrible decision by any means. Is there anyone in the US who can compare?"

Everyone has their personal preference, but in reality, either coach would be a great selection for the United States. Pekerman might be the better choice to develop players, while Klinsmann could bring more respect and media attention to the sport in the United States.

Both have valid attributes, but it's up to Sunil Gulati to decide which is of greater importance to US Soccer at this juncture.

Thank you all for sending in your questions and comments. Your feedback is greatly appreciated in the http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=contact&action=show§ion=generalYA mailbag[endlink]

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