Saturday, November 11, 2006
Well, the mailbag is overflowing yet again and it's my turn to give you all my "enlightened" opinions...

Andrew Ikeda writes, "I recently read the article 'Off the Beaten Path' regarding US players trying to make the top flight teams and competitions of Europe. This of course is ideal but as we all realize, it is not possible."

Andrew, I couldn't disagree with you more on the likelihood of Americans playing in the top European competitions. For one thing, stating that it is impossible is not the American way - we have to think positively about how we can get there, not lose hope and go home.

Just last year, DaMarcus Beasley was playing in the Champions League with PSV. This year, Benny Feilhaber has been playing in the competition with Hamburg. We have a number of young players whose teams are (and were) playing in the UEFA cup like Gooch Onyewu with Standard Liege, Michael Bradley and Robbie Rogers with Heerenveen, and Erik Hort with Sparta Prague.

Remember, it also wasn't so long ago that Claudio Reyna was playing for Bayer Leverkusen and Glasgow Rangers, John O'Brien was playing for Ajax and Peter Philipakos was playing for Olympiakos, all teams that are playing in Europe this year.

I can definitely tell you, though, that the best players in the world are playing in the Champions League or UEFA Cup - so if our Yanks can't get there, the US National Team doesn't stand much of a chance of competing in a World Cup.

Rees Linn writes in with a question on Jason Endres' 23 Tickets to Canada, asking, "...You mentioned most of the Yanks abroad that are the right age ... but you didn't mention Michael Dal Pra... I single out Dal Pra because I know that he was highly considered for the U-17 squad that played in the world championships in Peru."

Rees, I've been looking for information on Pra-style, but haven't managed to track down his current club whereabouts. One thing's for certain though - an Udinese representative confirmed to YA that Dal Pra is no longer playing for them.

Even so, the number of mini-Yanks at European academies is growing. Thomas Rongen seems to be a coach that believes in meritocracy, and if only so many players can make the team in 2007, inevitably a number of good players will be left out.

Peter Sheehan gets the award for most comments in this mailbag. Peter's first comment: "As always, YA has done a phenomenal job keeping US fans abreast of our players abroad... Right now we need a coach. Any insights?"

Peter, we'll accept the kudos whole-heartedly! I have no insights on coaches, but I'm happy to share my opinion - don't go American for this cycle.

There exists an enormous gulf between the level of competition in MLS and at World Cup at present. As Americans, we shouldn't take that personally. What we need now is a person with a higher level of strategic experience that can make the most of our player pool.

Sheehan comment #2: "Michael Bradley's father will be named 2006 MLS Coach of the Year. There is also the possibility that he could be named assistant head coach of the MNT along with Klinsmann. Your thoughts?"

You know, the young Frisian used to be referred to as Bob Bradley's son. Now is elder Bradley referred to as Michael's father? What a difference a year makes!

Peter, you seem to be in possession of a lot of insider information, please don't start trading stocks. If the next head coach of the MNT is a foreigner, I think it would be great to see an American coach as his assistant.

Specifically with Bradley, I'm not sure that taking the assistant coach position would be a great career move. He has already been an assistant coach for the US National Team; if he's not taking the top job now, he should wait until it opens up again in 2010.

Bradley just started his tenure at Chivas USA to much acclaim. I would love to see him continue to develop that club and its numerous young American talents like Carlos Borja, Jonathan Bornstein, Brad Guzan and Sacha Kljestan.

I think Bradley's chances of becoming the main man will greatly improve in 2010, when the winds of change may not be blowing for a foreign head coach.

In response to Jason Endres' article Golden Between the Pipes, John Stupp writes, "Don't get too excited about Tim Howard. His Everton honeymoon is over. He's two games into his usual panic mode."

Clearly not everyone loves Howard, John, but I think the facts indicate otherwise. Timmy has performed well every game and Everton has only dropped two games out of 11, hardly the stuff of panic mode.

To give you the benefit of the doubt, let's just say the jury's out on Tim's performance so far this season, and I'll wink and nod and pretend like I believe it.

Eric Duany also chimes in by asking, "I have always wondered why Kevin Hartman has never been given more National Team experience."

Eric, I don't know. Why hasn't Joe Cannon been given more National Team experience? For that matter, why haven't any of the other good MLS 'keepers been given more National Team experience?

Now that the US will be at the 2007 Copa America, we may well see MLS goalkeepers donning the National Team jersey during the summer's busy schedule.

Brent Storrs writes, "... How about that Benny Feilhaber going the full 90, another one from the soccer rich region of SoCal..."

I agree, Benny is one of our best young players to watch. After competing well for Hamburg's second squad earlier this season he successfully made the transition to the first team and is now starting games, including some of the club's Champions League matches.

The downside is that Hamburg has been struggling mightily in the top flight this season, and making zero impact in the CL... well, you can't win 'em all.

Charles Bona gave us a good laugh with his comment in regards to Sunil Gulati's announcement that the US will play in the 2007 Copa America and his reiteration that the new coach will speak Spanish at some point: "I think [the next National Team coach] should also be required to speak Italian, Vietnamese, Pig Latin, Hebrew and all other languages that are or might be spoken at any time in the United States! He should also have played soccer. (You always have to ask for something ridiculous.)"

To REALLY confuse our opponents, I suggest that our team be trained to communicate strictly in Pig Latin on the pitch. That way, Marco Materazzi will have no idea which family member of his we're insulting.

Once we posted our latest edition of 23 Tickets to South Africa, we again received a torrent of comments - everyone loves playing the guessing game.

Brent Storrs is back! Brent writes, "Feilhaber has to be in the PACK YOUR BAGS section or at least he should take Donovan's spot in NEARLY A LOCK... Why? Because he grew up playing in Southern California and he is now playing in the German Bundesliga. Donovan couldn't play there, Hejduk couldn't play there... We can't afford not to have him."

Brent, have you plastered your walls with Feilhaber posters? How many Feilhaber jerseys have you purchased? C'mon, admit it. If Feilhaber continues his current run of form on the first team, he'll quickly move up our chart.

One of the debates among YA staffers was whether he would play as a defensive midfielder or as an attacking midfielder. He's playing as a defensive midfielder for Hamburg, while he played more forward for the US Under-20's.

Nevertheless, Benny has stated previously that defensive midfielder was not his original position and that he's comfortable playing in the attacking role. Like you, I believe that Benny would potentially play upfield for the 'Nats in the spot that Donovan should relinquish.

Landon, I hope you're looking over your shoulder at the young guys coming up, because soon enough we won't have to tolerate your shenanigans anymore.

There appears to be some frustration with our choices of defenders, with both Dale Mason and Hernan Ulloa both pointing to recent MLS stand-outs.

Dale Mason chipped in to tell us, "MLS Defender of the Year (Bobby Boswell) is only a bubble-battler? Hello McFlyyyy? I don't think so. When you have four CD's on the entire list and one of them is DeMerit, some serious detox is called for. Bozilla will be in Africa..."

Hernan Ulloa wrote in with similar surprise about Michael Parkhurst not being on the list: "I can't believe you haven't included the best defender in MLS - Michael Parkhurst. His smooth operation in the back has been the linchpin of the tough Revs defense. He was the 2005 Rookie of the Year, but does not merit even an honorable mention?"

Guys, Jimmy Conrad barely made the list. Boswell may have made 2006 MLS Defender of the Year, and Parkhurst may have been 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year, but both have a tough group of defenders ahead of them to displace in Gooch, Gibbs, Bocanegra, Spector and DeMerit.

Why do people continue to doubt DeMerit? He had two solid seasons in the Championship and has been solid this year in the Premiership. He's not a starting player in the EPL by accident!

If the next head coach ignores this now EPL-level defender, even if it's in favor of an MLS fill-in-the-blank of the Year, I can tell you now that the uproar will be deafening.

Ben Prescott took the other side of the argument with his message, "... How come you have DeMerit moving down on the latest '23 Tickets' update? I mean sure he got beat a couple times by arguably the best striker in the world (Henry), but he's also helped Watford post two consecutive clean sheets.

And you can't fault him for Watford's lack of quality finishes up front... Also after reviewing the list of probable strikers for 2010, it seems the USMNT is still in need of a pure goal scoring forward... Who do you see moving into that role over next couple of years?"

Ben, I think DeMerit's slide reflects uncertainty about Watford's future and his future in particular. While DeMerit can't logically be blamed for Watford's lack of points this season, it seems more and more likely that Watford may go back down (dare I say the "R" word?).

In the event they do go down, will DeMerit follow them or stay up? If Watford's unlucky streak changes or if DeMerit gets his well-deserved call-up to the National Team, expect him to rise up the chart again.

I had an interesting conversation with my French neighbor about the question of pure goal scoring forwards when I saw that France is only playing Henry upfront, even though they have many quality forwards. Specifically, I wondered why David Trezeguet (who plays for Juventus) was getting so little playing time for the French national side.

His response, which greatly enlightened me, was that international football has become so tactical that it's more important to have additional midfielders to control possession or wingers that are good at scoring, like France's Franck Ribéry, playing behind a lone forward.

I think our "23 Tickets to SA" reflects this trend in having Kenny Cooper move up the ranks, especially since he has demonstrated his versatility to play up front or in the midfield. As to who I see moving into the pure role you mentioned, I would unequivocally state Chris Rolfe, but I'm not sure that buys him a seat to South Africa at the moment.

Jason Frerichs hit us up with the following: "Now that we know we're going to Copa America, have you considered writing a "23 Tickets to Venezuela" article? Also, wondering what your take is on Johann Smith ... is he the real deal?"

Jason, that's an interesting suggestion, but after batting it around the YA water cooler briefly, we decided that a Copa America team ladder a) was too unpredictable and b) would cause a 23 Tickets glut.

I can reveal that the 2008 Olympic team will get the 23 Tickets to Beijing treatment as the tournament nears. Look for that first edition some time in the new year.

With regards to Johann Smith - it's too early to tell. When I watched him playing at the 2006 Milk Cup, I had no idea that he would be making his Premiership debut so soon. But just like the faith we had in Guus Hiddink's selection of Lee Nguyen, the fact that Sam Allardyce has put young Smith on the field speaks volumes.

Ignacio Farias graced us with his own 23 Tickets, choosing chose Howard, Perkins and Pickens as goalkeepers... Cherundolo, Wynne, Onyewu, Gibbs, Bocanegra, Spector and Pearce as defenders... Dempsey, Quaranta, Feilhaber, Clark, Bradley, Convey, Beasley, Donovan and Gaven as midfielders, and Twellman, Cooper, Adu and Rolfe as forwards.

He also mentioned that Freddy and Landon could switch positions depending on the opponent. Ignacio, much appreciated and very detailed.

The one selection that truly confused me was putting Freddy Adu as a striker when it seems quite clear to me that his development has taken a different direction. Also, I honestly don't see either Troy Perkins or Matt Pickens knocking out the leagues of highly-qualified keepers ahead of them, although either one may qualify for the third slot.

Korey Sutton dropped us a line asking, "Why haven't you added Jeff Cunningham to the 23 tickets? He's big and has a lot of pace. Plus he can score a lot of goals... How come no one is looking at this guy?"

Korey, JC turned 30 this year. While I don't dispute his numerous qualities, and frankly want to see him playing for the 'Nats next summer, I don't see him as one of our front men in 2010.

Thanks to everyone for your comments, we greatly enjoy receiving them in our http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=contact&action=show§ion=generalYA mailbag[endlink]!