THINGS TO LOSE SLEEP OVER
OK, I'll start with the obvious caveat that there's a lot of time between now and 2010, but I thought I'd share what has me worried as I look forward to the next World Cup.
Certainly, the choice of a manager is a big deal and the wrong one could be a major problem, but that topic has been covered in excruciating detail. Until something happens, I don't think I have anything to add to the "Klinsmann for America" chorus.
As we wait for that decision, I have accumulated something of a "to do" list for whomever gets the job.
The first came to me from Greg Lalas (editor of Goal.com, former MLS player and brother of Alexi) during an email exchange with him and some other friends. Greg pointed out that one major gap in our 2006 squad was the size/speed combination.
He pointed out quite rightly that our fast guys aren't very big in midfield and up top - see Beasley, Donovan, Convey - and our big guys aren't very fast - see McBride, Ching and some aren't really either as they get by mostly on skill and guile - see Reyna and Dempsey.
Looking out at the competition - both from our group and from those teams that were successful in advancing during the group stages - there were at least one or two guys per team that combined speed and size.
The guys I'm talking about aren't necessarily big in the sense that they're tall - most still have the low centers of gravity that allow for quick movements - but they are physically solid where Beasley, Donovan, Convey, and Dempsey look like they've never even seen a weight bench. Among the shorter guys, where is our Nedved? Our Essien? Our Rooney?
Among the target men, McBride and Ching are certainly rugged, but they don't compare to the world's frightening target men. Granted, we had a physically robust group, but our guys weren't nearly the threat that Luca Toni and Jan Koller were in the air. Adding insult to injury, those two gentlemen are also faster than our "big guys."
Looking on the horizon, these same shortcomings can be ascribed to most of the candidates put forward in the initial 23 Tickets to South Africa feature.
Freddie Adu, David Arvizu, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Bennie Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen are all players who have a chance to figure in 2010, but they are all currently in the Beasley/Donovan/Convey mold of slightly-built skill players.
Conor Casey and Kenny Cooper seem like the front runners to replace Brian McBride as our target man in 2010, but neither could be described as dominant physically. Eddie Johnson has the chance to develop into a Louis Saha or Didier Drogba-like combination of size and speed, but he seems to be regressing rather than progressing.
A second serious issue was brought back to my attention last week by reader Jason Price, who asked me what I thought about our strength in net as we move towards 2010. I have to admit that, for the first time in recent memory, goalkeeper is a position that we have to worry about.
Everyone was extremely bullish on Tim Howard after his meteoric rise to prominence at Old Trafford a few seasons back. He came out of nowhere to have an outstanding season for the Red Devils and the presumption was that he was "the goalkeeper of the future".
Since then, T-Ho (that nickname always kills me) has seen a lot of pine. He certainly should have a chance to re-establish himself at Everton this year, but if that doesn't work out or he is injured, things start looking pretty bleak.
We have been fortunate for years to have Friedel and Keller tag-teaming to ensure that we have an excellent option in net. Throw in the Tony Meola era and we've been solid in net for a long, long time.
Behind Howard, the most logical candidate is Reading 'keeper Marcus Hahnemann. He had an excellent season for Reading in their promotion season and will have at least a year of Premiership experience under his belt by the time we get to 2010, hopefully more.
The big worry with Hahnemann is that by 2010 he will be getting old and you never know when skills will diminish or injuries will start to linger. He won't be older than Keller was this time around, but he'll definitely be a question mark given his age.
After Howard and Hahnemann, there isn't much in terms of proven talent. Brad Guzan entered MLS with a great deal of acclaim, but between some injuries and the disaster that was last season at Chivas, I don't think we know much more about him than we did when he came out of college.
Quentin Westberg was our #1 during the 2005 World Youth Championships, but he's been tucked away in Europe and no one has heard much from him since. He was pretty good for the Under-20's in Holland, but he didn't have the look of a guy who was going to develop into a dominant player.
Things are so bad that Troy Perkins is starting to get some mentions as a possible candidate. This is a guy who has come from so far out of nowhere that he still has a day job in the mortgage game when not playing for DC United.
Nothing against Troy, who has had an excellent first season as a starter in MLS as well as some high profile saves against Chelsea and Real Madrid in exhibitions - but if that's all it takes to start getting mentions for the national team, things aren't good at your position.
Speaking of the exhibitions against Chelsea and Real Madrid, my third worry was brought back to my attention during those matches. The worry is that there are no American creators at the MLS level.
Freddy Adu has some potential in this regard, but his skills are much better suited to his current winger role or that of a striker. No, right now DC United and the MLS All-Stars have the best of their creativity provided by foreign-born players.
Christian Gomez, Jamie Moreno and Dwayne De Rosario are the most visible examples this season - throw in Marco Etcheverry, Amado Guevara, Carlos Valderrama, and you have an epidemic.
We have no Dennis Bergkamp to call our own, no Zidane, no Pirlo. That is to say, we have no one at either withdrawn striker or "#10" who sees the game at the chess-master level and then has the skills to make the pieces work the way he wants them to.
I offer the above - my neuroses, my fears, my insecurities about the potential of our squad for 2010 - to the new manager of the National Team. Once you've settled into your office and figured out which way is up, you'd better get started on filling these gaps sooner rather than later.
You'll probably sleep better for the next few years if you do. I KNOW I will.