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Sunday, August 21, 2005
We here at YA would like to thank you for your ongoing support, as well as for all of the comments you have sent in response to our prediction features on the World Cup squad for 2006.

Since there is still plenty of time left before the big event, we thought we'd highlight some of your comments and keep the dialog going by adding our - ok, my - comments to yours.

As new information becomes available each month, we'll update the list. Why should Bruce and his assistants have all the fun?

One note from my "One Man's Opinion" article: an anonymous reader asked whether I'd made a mistake by saying my squad featured four strikers rather than three. The answer is certainly open to interpretation, but here's how I got to four…Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride, Jeff Cunningham and Clint Dempsey. While Dempsey generally plays in a withdrawn role - what my friends and I tend to refer to as the Paul Scholes role - behind the strikers for New England, if he makes the WC squad, it will be primarily as a back-up striker rather than as a midfielder. He can certainly do both, but given the overabundance of midfield candidates, his role will be to back up Brian McBride and Eddie Johnson.

With that out of the way, on to your comments Best XI style…

I) O'Brien might be skilled on the ball, but he's our missing link at left back. I love Bruce, but we need to get the best 11 on the field. Vanney will get burned out there, it's a fact. - Bram Binsky

I agree that Vanney doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence, I'd prefer to see his replacement come from the ranks of the younger guys - perhaps Jon Spector after a year of starting for Charlton. O'Brien certainly has the capability to take the spot, but I think he would be better in midfield. If it happens, I don't think it will be planned. I think it will happen in Germany as a result of poor play or an injury. If we have a chance to talk to Coach Arena in the near future, we'll be sure to pass along the news of your amorous feelings towards him.

II) What about Zak Whitbread, the defender currently in Liverpool's first team? Playing in the Champions League for the reigning champions should at least put you on the bubble for inclusion. - Chris Allen

For whatever reason, BA hasn't given Zak much of a chance to show what he's got one way or the other. If Zak can find some first team football somewhere - probably on loan given the size of the Liverpool squad - his profile will likely go up.

Otherwise, he'd better hope that the USMNT wraps up qualification quickly and Bruce decides to experiment with some of the younger guys in the remaining qualification matches. I'd love to see him get the chance but right now, I don't think he merits even "On The Bubble" consideration until Bruce calls him in.

III) Reader Andrew Fowler sent in his version of the WC 23 that included Chris Albright and Clyde Simms.

Albright - Bruce obviously has a thing for Albright going back to UVA and DC United. I have to say, I'm still bitter about the Albright-as-striker years here in DC, so I'm not in a good position to comment. He seems to have adapted nicely to his role as a right back, but that's really all he is. If Cherundolo and Hejduk both make the roster, it's hard to see Bruce picking another player who is primarily a right back.

Simms - The story of Clyde's rise from Richmond to the USMNT to DC United in the last year is a great one, but let's not get carried away. He's not starting for his club, hard to believe he has a spot for his country. As much as I love DC United, we aren't Chelsea - guys who play regularly for their national teams don't ride the pine here.

IV) There were a bunch of comments concerning the relative merits of the "old guard" versus guys who are having excellent years in MLS…

The Old Guard - our readers were split on whether Eddie Pope, Brian McBride and company would provide excellent leadership or should be relegated to their easy chairs at home for the duration of the WC. For me, the argument gets down to plausible replacements. I'm not ready to hand the keys over to Ching or Jaqua just yet and Casey is hurt, so who would replace McBride? There are more possibilities to replace Pope, but there aren't four central defenders who have clearly shown that they are superior to Eddie.

MLS Stars - Our readers mentioned Nate Jaqua, Taylor Twellman, Chad Marshall and Chris Klein specifically and wondered why they haven't gotten more of a chance. Some crazy comparisons of Twellman to Shearer and Cantona... the point is well taken. Hopefully, these guys will fall into the same category as Whitbread - and hopefully, Arena will use the post-qualification matches to give these guys more of a serious look.

To be fair, Jaqua has only had one nice run of form and probably needs to put together an entire excellent season before he merits serious consideration. Marshall has probably been hurt by Columbus' struggles this season and Klein hasn't been quite the same force since his injury troubles.

The only explanation I have for Twellman's exclusion is that he's an undersized power player - he reminds me a lot of a great college quarterback who doesn't get drafted in the pros because he's sort of topped out at the current level of competition. How many guys less than 6' tall successfully play the kind of game Twellman has on the international level? Plus, he's injured pretty frequently. Not taking away from the great success he's had at the MLS level, but I think there's a reason he hasn't gotten much attention from BA or European clubs.

V) Hejduk is still the man! Most of the teams in our region have 5 guys on their squads like him; little guys who run under your legs, kick your heals, and never get tired. - Alex Kubinski

Alex sent a great e-mail on a few topics, but this comment underscored the vast difference of opinion that seems to exist around Frankie Hejduk - people either love him or hate him. I'm sure he's a great guy, but I have to say I'm in the latter camp.

Strike one - the holding midfielder should be the source of agitation in my mind with Makelele, Keane and Vieira being the prime examples. Strike two - we have Cherundolo who should be the starter at right back. Strike three - given that Frankie's real "skill" is his workrate, I'd prefer to see Marvell Wynne take this role since his work rate is the equal of Frankie's and he may yet develop the offensive game and tackling skill that Frankie lacks.

Alex, the reason that most of the teams in our region have five guys like Frankie on their squad is that they aren't very good and in the absence of skilled players, they have to settle for players who have nothing more to give than fitness and maximum effort. If we are to contend for a World Cup, this is not sufficient.

VI) You're definitely not a bunch of hacks - JP Butkovich

Thanks, we try not to be.

VII) Ben Olsen: What happened to Ben? Finally back on Bruce's radar. Solid play in the Gold Cup only helped his cause…would be surprised not to see him there. - JP Butkovich

Since JP said such nice things about us, he gets two entries in this space. (Never underestimate the power of sucking up.) That said, I have to disagree with JP on this one, despite my longtime support to DC United and Ben Olsen.

I like Ben Olsen and think that he's done an excellent job coming back from the injuries that plagued him in his early 20's. Regardless, I'm not sure what role he'd play on the World Cup roster.

Ben is primarily a holding midfielder and I can't see him getting the nod ahead of Chris Armas or Pablo Mastroeni. When you throw Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, and John O'Brien into the picture as central midfielders, the picture gets even more grim for Benny.

I think Ben's Gold Cup performance definitely helped his cause and it never hurts when you've lived in the coach's home for an extended period of time - as Ben did when he first arrived at DC United. However, barring an injury, Ben is likely to be watching with the rest of us at Summer's or Lucky Bar rather than from the bench.

VIII) Santino Quaranta, "the most naturally gifted 1v1 player since Tab Ramos". - Jason Price

Um, what? Another guy who isn't starting for his MLS team? Not a good start for Santino's candidacy.

Maybe he's past his injuries and he's matured in the last year, but he needs to do a lot more before he convinces me he's ready. If he continues playing out on the right for the USMNT, he stands a better chance of making it because of our documented issues at that position. I still have a hard time believing that there's enough time for him to erase the memories of the last four years of underachieving, sulking and being hurt.

I hope he proves me wrong as he continues to get playing time both on the National Team and at United with Eskandarian and Adu hurt. Regardless of his potential, I'd think that being the undisputed first choice for DC United at either striker or on the right side of the midfield is an absolute must.

I very much appreciate YA's argument for Cunningham. Very convincing. - Jason Price

Jason redeemed himself with this…did I mention the amazing power of sucking up? Even more so when it's one of my comments as opposed to a general compliment to YA. Big ups to Jeff on his inclusion for the upcoming T&T match - let's hope he can work his late game magic and leave the same sort of impression on BA as he did on Chris Coleman.

IX) I like Kasey Keller and he is a good goalkeeper and a lock, barring injury, to start in 2006 but "arguably the best keeper in the Western Hemisphere" as your writer stated it is going too far. Not when Dida is Brazil's goalie. There's a reason Dida is the goalie at Milan while Keller is with lowly Monchengladbach. - Martin Cutler

Hard to argue with Mr. Cutler based on honors and the reputation of their respective clubs... and Dida may well continue to improve since he is significantly younger than Keller... but think about the following for a moment.

How good would Keller look with Maldini and Co. in front of him rather than what will probably be a defense that will struggle to stave off relegation?

If I were choosing a keeper for one match or to make one save, I'd probably take Keller over Dida right now. If I were taking a keeper for the next three, five or ten years, then there's no question that Dida is the guy.

X) Support for Ricardo Clark for USMNT - maybe not now, but sometime. - Kevin Mason

I included this one in the Best XI because it was a chance to discuss someone who hasn't gotten much attention since he was drafted. I'm willing to discount the time he spent at MetroStars due to the fact that they're the MetroStars and have been a mess since he arrived. Given that, I think of Ricardo Clark as a rookie now that he's moved on to San Jose. If Clark is in need of inspiration, all he needs to do is look at his teammate Brad Davis who has come to the ‘Quakes under similar circumstances.

XI) Hey...I liked Neal's take on the 23 guys also...save one player. Did he seriously watch the Under 20's GK in this last WC...a very shaky performance in my opinion. I couldn't believe that he was the best Under-20 that we have. - Matt Youngsman

As it turns out, I did watch every minute of our matches at the WYC this past summer. The point of including Westberg in my WC2006 squad wasn't to imply that he was ready to be the man right now or that he's our 3rd best keeper. I don't think it's clear that he's the second coming of Brad Friedel in his prime or even of Tim Howard two seasons ago at Man United. On the other hand, at the same age, it wasn't clear where Tim Howard was headed either.

My thinking was driven by the same thing that led USA Basketball to select Christian Laettner for the original Dream Team roster.

Here's a young guy who we think has a lot of potential and this might be a great experience for him. Never quite worked out for Laettner , who has had a nice but far-from-spectacular career, and it might not work out for Westberg either. But given the quality ahead of him in Keller and Howard, it's a calculated risk.

The chances of any of the other suggested keepers - Reis, Hahnemann, et al - being on the roster in 2010 is pretty slim given their respective ages and whether it's Westberg or someone else, I think we need to get younger at the goalkeeper position and this is one way to do that.

To close up today's lesson, we will review the full lists of 23 bravely submitted (in the interest of brevity, names only):

PACK YOUR BAGS
Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley, Cory Gibbs, Eddie Lewis, John O'Brien, Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Pope, Brian McBride

NEARLY A LOCK
Oguchi Onyenu, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Pablo Mastroeni, Carlos Bocanegra, Frankie Hejduk, Claudio Reyna

IN A BATTLE
Bobby Convey, Ben Olsen, Josh Wolff, Steve Ralston, Chris Armas, Greg Vanney, Marcus Hahnemann, Matt Reis, Clint Dempsey

MOVING UP/DOWN AND ON THE BUBBLE

Up: Taylor Twellman, Jeff Cunningham, Santino Quaranta, Brian West, Alecko Eskadarian, Clyde Simms, Eddie Gaven, Adin Brown, Jonathan Spector

Down: Brian Ching, Conor Casey, Clint Mathis, Tony Sanneh, Jay Demerit, Freddy Adu, Richard Mulrooney

JP Butkovich

Goalkeepers: (3)
Kasey Keller, Marcus Hanehmann, Tim Howard

Defenders:
Gregg Berhalter, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Cory Gibbs, Greg Vanney, Chris Albright, Jimmy Conrad

Midfielders:
Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, John O'Brien, Steve Ralston, Pablo Mastroeni, Eddie Lewis, Clyde Simms, Frankie Hejduk

Forwards:
Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride, Pat Noonan

Andrew Fowler

PACK YOUR BAGS, BOYS
Kasey Keller, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, John O'Brien, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride

NEARLY A LOCK
Cory Gibbs, Carlos Bocanegra, Josh Wolff, Pablo Mastroeni, Tim Howard

FAIRLY SAFE BET
Eddie Pope, Gregg Berhalter, Clint Dempsey

IN A BATTLE
Steve Ralston, Greg Vanney, Chris Albrght, Marcus Hahnemann, Santino Quaranta

PLAYERS I WOULD LIKE TO SEE MOVE UP
Brad Davis, Taylor Twellman, Jonathan Spector, Jeff Cunningham, Jay DeMerit, Eddie Gaven, Chris Klein, Pat Noonan, Ben Olsen, Santino Quaranta, Matt Reis, Marvell Wynne

Shane Weebe

Keepers:
Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders:
Oguchi Onyewu, Cory Gibbs, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk, Jimmy Conrad, Craig Berhalter, Greg Vanney

Midfielders:
Pablo Mastroeni, DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis, John O'Brien, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston

Forwards:
Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Jeff Cunningham, Taylor Twellman

No way:
Eddie Pope, Jonathan Spector, Clint Mathis, Conor Casey

Maybe:
Josh Wolff, Benny Feilhaber

Luis Casillas

Goalies: Keller, Hahnemann, Howard

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

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

Forwards: McBride, Johnson, Twellman, Cunningham

First XI : Keller; Cherundolo, Onyewu, Gibbs, Bocanegra; Beasley, Reyna, O'Brien, Convey; Donovan, McBride

Hoping to be 2006's Steve Cherundolo (those hoping for a last minute phone call comprise the Cherundolo XI):

Goalie: Reis
Defenders: Albright, Whitbread, Berhalter, Vanney
Midfielders: Ralston, Armas, Gaven, Mapp
Strikers: Casey, Wolff

Jonathan Schwartz

[note]Stay tuned for September's 23 Tickets to Germany![/note]
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