As it turns out, I'm not very good at taking direction. Instead of going with what I think WILL happen, I went with what I think SHOULD happen.
The editors of this fine website have challenged those of us who contribute to start the speculation and rumor-mongering early and put forth votes for who should comprise the roster for next summer's World Cup in Germany.
Never one to shy away from reckless conjecture and flaunting of my own opinion - I am, after all both a consultant and an editorial columnist - here we go.
But first, some background on my criteria and biases.
Let Youth Be Served
After the no-brainers, there comes the mix of older guys who have been there and done that both for club and country with the young guys who have demonstrated their potential and need a chance to show what they've got on a bigger stage. While we need a mix of both, I will almost always favor the latter group.
I'm in this as much for 2010 as I am for 2006, and I'm willing to sacrifice a spot on the substitute's bench for the cause - Bruce, are you listening? We will not repeat the Tony Sanneh debacle from the Gold Cup on my roster.
Despite the excellent work done by this site and others covering the many Americans playing abroad, if I haven't seen 'em, they aren't on my squad.
I'm pretty sure that this is Coach Arena's policy as well, since he can't seem to find the phone numbers of many of the young guys playing abroad to call them in to camp. Oh yeah, this was also one of the rules that the editors requested we abide by - since they decide whether to post this or not, seemed like a good idea to comply.
If I had to select a style that I'd like to see the US play, it would borrow heavily from the Dutch style - an excellent combination of flair, fundamental soundness, with just a touch of German aggressiveness.
I watched some of the Arsenal v. Ajax pre-season match and loved seeing Bergkamp moving back to sweeper to cover when Toure took a run forward and ended up crossing to Ashley Cole. Ajax broke back quickly and there was Dennis, not only sweeping, but doing so very effectively as the defenders retreated. The lesson? That when forced to choose between a player who is tied to one position vs. one who can do a bunch of different things, I'm going to choose the latter almost every time.
I'm going to start out choosing 3 keepers, 7 defenders, 8 midfielders and 4 forwards and when I see who's left, I'm going to pick based on who I think can help most rather than having a pre-conceived notion of what position that last guy should play.
OK, here we go...
PACK YOUR BAGS, BOYS
Keepers - Kasey Keller, Tim Howard
Defense - Oguchi Onyewu, Cory Gibbs, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo
Midfield - Landon Donovan, John O'Brien, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Lewis
Strikers - Eddie Johnson
They don't get comments... if they needed comments, they wouldn't be locks, now would they?
NEARLY A LOCK
Assuming he's healthy, Eddie is still a classy defender and I think it will be valuable to have his experience and leadership, especially since the other guys I'm going to choose are younger.
I'm on the fence here.
If Arsene Wenger can consider Patrick Vieira surplus to requirements before his 30th birthday, then we can now consider Claudio's national team mortality.
However, if Bruce can convince him to take a role on the substitute's bench and not complain about it, then I think it's worth including him for his veteran guile and potential to shine one last time on the big stage if someone gets hurt or runs out of gas late in a game.
A great utility player and I like him in the holding midfield spot more than I like Chris Armas. No knock on Armas, he's a very good player, but I like Pablo more and I think we should only be taking one of these two guys to World Cup.
The injury to Conor Casey moves this much closer to being a lock. Bruce needs the option of a target forward and if McBride can continue his form from the end of the ‘04-‘05 season in the EPL, then he's in.
FAIRLY SAFE BET
Not my favorite player of all time, but we need someone on the roster who is decidedly a right-sided midfielder to deliver the crosses to Donovan and our forwards who are generally very good in the air. I'd love to see someone else emerge in this role, but I have no idea who that might be. Hence, Ralston seems to be a good bet.
Given the article I wrote on him, I'm obviously a fan and he's done nothing to dissuade me since. I could see him earning a European contract coming out of WC06 if he isn't playing for Fulham by next week (Chris Coleman must have been impressed with what he saw and he'd fit into the budget pretty easily). On this squad, Dempsey will probably see more time as a Forward (call him McBride Lite - all the ariel skill with half the muscle) than as a Midfielder, but like so many of our midfielders (e.g., Beasley, Donovan) he can move back and forth which will give Bruce plenty of options to mix and match depending on the opponent.
His exclusion from the Gold Cup squad signals to me that he's past the "audition" stage. The only thing that might keep him out is the emergence of one of the younger defenders over the next year. Jimmy Conrad was good in the Gold Cup, but it was certainly not a "he's got to have a place on the WC squad" sort of performance either.
IN A FIGHT
I know, he didn't have the greatest World Youth Championships tournament due to injury, but he meets the versatile criteria as well as the young-with-a-lot-of-potential criteria. He can play anywhere on defense and centrally in midfield if we need someone to step in. This decision gets easier and easier if he starts regularly for Charlton this season.
I like him a lot as a player, his form for San Jose has been excellent this season and his performances in the Gold Cup were at least enough to give him another look. The only hesitation I have with him is that he's playing a position that we're loaded at. Eddie Lewis is a completely left-sided player. DaMarcus Beasley spends a lot of time on the left and John O'Brien can play out there as well. Davis may lose out on a numbers game but right now, for my money, someone will have to take this spot away from him.
I told you I was going to favor the young guys, but really, if we're down to our 3rd keeper, things aren't going well.
Whoever gets this spot should be there for a learning experience - D.J. Countess hasn't put together enough good performances to get the nod so, by virtue of his youth and performances for the U20 team, Westberg is my guy.
If Countess blossoms in the second half of the MLS season or another young ‘keeper stakes a claim, this could change pretty quickly but for now, I hope Quentin gets the spot over one of our 30+ year old MLS keepers or Hahnemann - also over 30 and unlikely to be the guy in 2010.
I believe the hype and fully expect that he could be the DaMarcus Beasley of this World Cup: brought along for the ride to gain experience for the future, but unexpectedly stepping up and playing a major role. Obviously, this gets a lot easier if he has a year of professional experience between now and then rather than another year at UCLA... but either way, my butt is planted firmly on the Marvell Wynne bandwagon.
This is completely from the "what would I do?" as opposed to "what would Bruce do?" file.
Cunningham brings something different to the team. Explosiveness and trickery - not the hallmarks of US Soccer but after 75 minutes of running after Eddie Johnson and battling with McBride, Cunningham offers an excellent change of pace. I am, of course, in no way swayed by his performance last Saturday against Columbus.
So there they are, the 3 keepers, 8 defenders, 8 midfielders, and 4 strikers that I think should be on our roster should the World Cup start tomorrow.
Since it doesn't start tomorrow, that means there is an entire year for the veterans (Reyna, McBride, and Pope) to prove that they haven't lost a step, for the young guys (Gaven, Mapp, Marshall, Whitbread, et al) to prove themselves, and for injuries to throw a monkey wrench into the works.