Sunday, January 21, 2007
Being currently with neither cable nor satellite television, I made my way to a local establishment to watch the US take on Denmark, with half a hope that I may find someplace showing the game.

Although Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff passed through this town in the mid-90's, Columbia, South Carolina is not really a soccer hotbed, so I was surprised to find the game already on a TV above the bar in the corner.

Nobody seemed to be taking note of their national soccer team, so I figured I must have just been lucky due to the fact that the game was on ESPN2.

Nonetheless, the Public House with its fish & chips had earned my respect.

I am generally a fan of these late January scrimmages. The MLS is a summer league and the federation is right in taking advantage of the ability to have an extended training camp in the middle of the winter.

Denmark, like last year's early winter opponents Norway, don't play a lot of league soccer this time of year, and I recognize the convenient and somewhat conservative set-up (note to USSF: the Russian league is also on winter hiatus, so how about inviting Guus and boys some time?).

My problem with these games, however, is that it sometimes allows some undeserving players to don the Red, White & Blue.

I am not referring to young up-and-comers who are on the cusp of international action and can use such a game to gain some confidence.

Even though I would have rather have seen Heath Pearce in the first eleven on Saturday, it was still nice to see Jonathan Bornstein earn some solid minutes and to even come away with a goal after Justin Mapp's nifty move and pass - more on that later.

I don't mind seeing the likes of Kenny Cooper, who incidentally also came away with a debut goal, suit up for the first time, or Chris Rolfe, whose play in MLS has certainly justified a call up.

My problem is when used-to-be's and never-were's are given another cap in games like this.

More specifically, I am talking about Chris Albright, and to a lesser extent, Eddie Johnson. I will even be so bold as to include Pablo Mastroeni in the discussion.

I understand Albright's predicament - knee injuries slow down most mortals and apparently he was even sick on Saturday - but choosing a veteran, especially one that has never excelled at this level, is way too conservative for my liking.

Concerning Johnson, I don't know what to make of his effort, but he needs to work out what is wrong with his game elsewhere and not with the US badge on his chest.

As for Mastroeni, I have seen one too many reckless tackles from behind for my liking. That is, his proclivity for negative actions always has the potential to outweigh any positives he brings to the game.

With the fish and chips getting ever heavier in my belly and me wondering if my waitress is old enough to serve beer, the second half kicked off and I was excited to see Justin Mapp enter.

Having spent the last eight years living in Germany, his play was not much more than hearsay (both good and bad) for me.

Landon Donovan had looked adequate in the first half, and he was able to add, albeit weakly, to his impressive national team scoring record.

I still found myself wondering why it often seems like the opposing teams are the ones who provide many more sublime moments during the game, as was the case on Denmark's first goal.

As I stated earlier, Mapp's reputation had preceded him and he did not disappoint.

His move into the box between two defenders that included the use of his upper body followed by the nifty baseliner with his off foot brought me to my feet in the bar (despite the fish 'n' chips).

Mapp didn't dominate by any means, but the US has enough workhorses to back up a player or two who can provide that moment of genius that can sometimes decide a game.

He needs to start against Mexico and Ecuador and into the summer, even if he has an off game at times.

I have used the word conservative a couple of times in my ramblings, which brings me to coach Bob Bradley.

I am not very excited so far. He seems to be an extension of "business as usual" approach that has marked the team over the last few years.

The National Team, more so the entire structure than the actual team, needs a shake-up, and I found myself (almost) hoping that the Danes would score another goal or two to shine a bit more light on the need for change.

I don't necessarily fault Bradley. He has the dreaded interim label and the last thing he can afford to do is take chances and fail, but it maybe a few more chances is just what he needs to step out of the shadows of Bruce Arena and make the job his own.

I suppose we will know more on February 7th, when we square off against our neighbors to the south, Mexico.

My remaining thoughts of the early evening as I was contemplating the repercussions of shoving a college basketball fan's cigar down his throat are random at best.

Why Mapp hasn't appeared on any European radar is a mystery, but the young midfielder needs to make a move to Europe so he can take advantage of the rock-star like existence European soccer players enjoy before he goes bald.

Kyle Beckerman has a cool name and even cooler hair, though his place on the National Team is probably somewhere on the outside looking in on competitive matches.

Finally, no matter how buff Kenny Cooper is, there is nothing pretty about an pasty Englishman taking off his shirt.

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