Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday, whichever one you happen to celebrate. As 2005 comes to an end, it's time to clean out the YA Mailbox and get to the comments you've written in over the last couple of months. I'm going to start off with two apologies.

The first is a general apology for taking so long to get to some of your messages, my real job has been extremely busy over the past couple months and there's been less time to write.

The second is an apology/correction to Jeff Maurer for spelling his name wrong in a previous mailbag column - he's spent a lot of time contributing well-thought-out opinion in response what we do here at YA and I should be able to figure out how many r's he has in his last name.

With those out of the way, on to a mailbag that covers a variety of topics including Nike, yet more on Landon Donovan, and, of course, World Cup Roster speculation.

Thanking You For Your Support?

Reader Dan Osuch writes the following seconding Bruce Arena...

"I was recently struck by some commentary from Bruce Arena. Granted this is a paraphrase, but he basically challenged soccer fans in this country to buck up, literally, and spend money on soccer."

He wants us to buy a ticket, buy a jersey or a T-shirt. I agree with him, we owe it to MLS and the National Team to help boost their revenue. It's the only way they will truly get better both on the field and off. Heck, even if you can't watch, leave your TV on your local MLS game while you're out just to help boost the ratings."

I love Dan's passion for the issue but what Dan and Bruce are asking for is charity.

American consumers have proven over and over again that they're perfectly willing to throw money at whatever leisure activities they find compelling. The job of Bruce Arena, MLS and US Soccer is to make the product compelling enough that people WANT to spend money on it.

I don't think soccer fans are any different than fans of any other sport - we go to games, we buy jerseys, some of us even travel overseas to watch the Nats on their travels.

If Bruce and Co. want to do something about that - how about beating Italy and the Czechs in group play? How about not scheduling the MLS season and major US National team games at the same time?

You don't hear Denny Green asking Arizona Cardinals fans to buy more jerseys, he says, "We have to put a better product out on the field and fans will come."

So Good He's Writing For Us Now

Aaron Gidding wanted to clarify some comments he had made previously about the state of the sports media in the US and express his sincere desire to see the demise of Jim Rome as a meaningful part of said media.

He was persuasive enough that he's been welcomed aboard as part of the Yanks Abroad staff - look for his Press Box Reports in the New Year and pay no attention to the lesson that there's a great deal to be gained from telling me I have no idea what I'm talking about.

My Kingdom For A RM

Charlie Kestenbaum read one of our earlier 23 Tickets features and wondered the following...

"My question is, I read your pack your bags story on the US team for WC 06. Who plays right midfield (Donovan?). You have as many as half a dozen contenders for certain positions and almost none (certainly none among your top 23) for right midfield among the 50 names in the story..."

Charlie, I wish I had a good answer for you; Bruce Arena wishes he had a good answer for you - Steve Ralston and Santino Quaranta are the two best bets among players who actually make their living playing on the right side of midfield. Bet on Bruce to try some creative things to try to plug the GAPING hole on the right before June.

Destination Prague

Greg Smith has an interesting suggestion for MLS Cup Winner Landon Donovan...

"Landon is a smart player and his strategies are rooted in hockey's up tempo, effort based attack. A hard working club that plays attacking football and recognizes the value of a player like Landon would be the ideal fit.'

'It isn't any secret that AEG controls the fate of most American players looking to play abroad and a blue chip property like Landon will be kept inside the Anschutsz empire. AEG owns several German clubs but they have recently agreed to a partnership with Sparta Prague, I think sending Landon to a team guaranteed European action like Sparta would be the solution."

"Sparta offers a smaller step up in domestic action than the possible disaster of a high profile English club, and though not an offensive outfit they have the horses to compete in Europe."

If I knew more about the Czech league, I'd probably have more to say about this but I thought it was worth sharing since the volume of mail we received on the topic shows that there is a lot of passion for this topic and this suggestion is a little different than the rest.

Heir Apparent?

Kenya Brown laments the lack of American coaches beyond Bruce Arena with the following comment...

"I have not seen one coach who could possibly match or improve on what Arena has done. There have been glimmers of hope. Bob Bradley and Sigi Schmid would have been good replacements, but the former has been sacked from the Metrostars and the latter is in a new job. So, who is out there?"

I agree that this may well become a huge issue in the wake of Germany 2006, especially if the Nats make it out of their group and Bruce attracts some/more interest as a result.

We're still paying the price for the Steve Sampson era by not being a top seed in this tournament despite our current world ranking (our poor showing in France '98 is the biggest reason for Mexico beating us out for the Top 8 spot) so a succession plan would be nice.

I'd actually like to see us bring in a new wave of young foreign coaches at all levels who can help teach both our coaches and players what is expected at the highest levels of European and South American soccer and even more so because I agree with Kenya that there aren't many appealing American candidates on the horizon.

Production Values

Mark Odynocki and Jeff Fulton had a lot to say about the quality of on-field experience and television production available to soccer fans here in the States and I couldn't agree more. The difference between putting on a quality show and a mediocre one is minimal once you've decided to do it in the first place.

My favorite current sports-related example is the difference between Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn (both ESPN shows featuring print journalists opining on the topics of the day). Both shows are filmed at the same studio here in Washington, DC and feature similar topics but the difference is night and day.

PTI is firmly entrenched in my TiVo Season Pass list while Around the Horn is barely watchable. US Soccer needs more PTI level quality and less Around the Horn if it is going to attract more diehard soccer fans to watch every week and more casual fans to tune in from time to time.

This is true of the stadium experience, advertising, and television game production.

Oh Yeah, the World Cup Roster

Now that the other stuff is out of the way, it's time to hear what you think about the state of the National Team and our most recent "23 Tickets" feature rapid-fire style...

"I think you guys really underestimate Quaranta's standing in Bruce Arena's eyes."

"Arena just loves the kid as a back up to Ralston on the right flank. Arena has said before that he doesn't necessarily take 23 most talented players, he'll take the 23 work the best together. This means guys that are hard working and have good attitudes. Being a D.C. fan, I've seen this all summer long. Not to mention, the kid has a rocket shot."
- Tommy Gladnick

I think Quaranta's standing in the 23 Tickets feature has more to do with our collective lack of enthusiasm for ALL of our right-sided options than Santino's chances of actually making the roster. With so much quality on the left, it's hard to rate superior players like Eddie Lewis or Bobby Convey behind Quaranta even though he might have a better chance of going because of the position he plays.

"Anyone who knows a pebble about soccer knows Armas shouldn't be in our top 30, let alone top 23, so I agree, but there's a reason Mastroeni has rightfully been kept in the MLS the last 4 years. The scouts can read a stop watch."

"Also, I've seen almost every Fulham game, Bocanegra did not get faster in England, he can not see the field in Germany either, line him up with Mastro, Armas, Vanney, and Berhalter and you've got a photo finish, or the slowest defense in the world."
- Todd Fabian

My condolences for you having seen that many Fulham matches and fortunately, Gooch, Gibbs, Lewis and Cherundolo are pretty quick and should be able to cover for Mastroeni.

It should also ease our collective minds to know that neither Roy Keane nor Patrick Vieira were World Class sprinters in their day either. Not saying Mastro is anywhere near that good, just saying speed isn't everything.

"I'm pleased to see someone (CW) thinks Cobi has value - who can feed Donovan better? And who can forget how he tormented Mexico in WC'02?" - Tom Adams

Before we hire a driver for the Cobi bandwagon, let's remember that Cobi is 90 years old.

"Chris Rolfe - Is he really this good? He needs to prove it, if and when he does he will be on the roster, unfortunately it will not be this year. Could be another Taylor Twellman, too good for MLS, but not good enough on any other stage." - JP Butkovich

The last time I saw Rolfe in person he was easily the best player on the field in a playoff match against DC United. It seems unlikely that he's ready for a major role in Germany, but there was a spark there that might inspire me to put him on the end of the bench for 2006 over someone like Josh Wolff who also seems unlikely to play a major role AND isn't going to develop for 2010 either.

"Having watched Brian Carroll for several seasons at DCU, and noting how BA has wisely singled him out for praise in his last two starts for the Nats, I believe he deserves more consideration than you have been giving him."

"Call him Mr. Clean. He is a tough defender and rarely gives away a ball. He has an engine that doesn't quit, and has been an iron man at DCU (never missed a game due to injury). I think he will have a breakout year in 2006 and will be going to Germany as a reserve defensive midfielder."
- Jon Wright

Carroll is a nice MLS player and may have the potential you refer to but the center of midfield is pretty crowded right now. Brian should be aiming for A) the weight room; B) a solid European league; and C) 2010.

"I think Jonathan Spector will mature at Charlton and become a pretty good left back before the World Cup. So if he gets out of the funk he is right now and continues to get better I think we have to put him on the World Cup squad." - Benjamin Brinkley

Sadly, it looks like the entire Charlton squad is sinking into a ditch dragging down the World Cup hopes of Darren Bent and Danny Murphy as well as Spector. Hopefully, both player and club recover because I agree that we'd be better off now and in the future if Jon earns a spot for Germany.

"Am I the only one who feels that Eddie Pope should not be included on the USA roster that travels to Germany next year?" - Matt Aberman

Matt, you are not alone. I'm a huge Eddie Pope fan but I haven't seen any evidence that he deserves a spot.

"At the lower end of your list, I would add Frankie Simek to your list of bubble players. The kid is starting in the England second division (Championship) just like Lewis and Convey." - Charlie Olken

We'd be happy to add him to the list if Bruce would give him an invite to camp one of these days...

Hopefully, all of the above gives you some idea of what your fellow readers are thinking. We've also had a few notes from people looking to find out more about the administrative details of playing abroad, hopefully, we'll have something for you soon.

With that, we here at Yanks Abroad wish all of our readers the best of everything in the New Year and here's to a great showing in Germany.