Quick post as we continue to ignore exciting basketball playoffs on the tough decisions facing Bruce Arena as he prepares the USA Soccer team for Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles in a just a few scant weeks.
Lovely news via ESPNsoccernet that the USA is healthier than could be hoped, though this quote from the article to me is more of an bad news/strictly OK news type of thing:
"John O'Brien is working his way back into form, Claudio Reyna looks refreshed and ready to follow up his All-Star World Cup in 2002 with another solid tournament and MLS forwards Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching are starting to show signs of being viable options alongside Brian McBride."
I couldn't possibly be happier to hear that John O'Brien was healthy, unless the news was delivered by a leather clad Winona Ryder sitting in my lap. I like the fact that we are only worried about his fitness, and not his health. That said, 3 friendlies lies ahead, and then the World Cup games, and O'Brien has been having Chris Chandler-like run of injuries, and he isn't getting dry-humped by 300 pound men 8 times every Sunday (as far as I know). Reyna is going to be a huge part of this squad's potential success. He still looks, at times, like the only guy who knows what poise on the ball is supposed to look like. He's been throwing his body a bit more than he has in the past, which is good news/bad news in and of itself. Great, Reyna can play defensive mid, and be a steadying influence, and creep into the attack. Bad, Reyna Break Like Glass. The last part of the quote is the most worrying. We are less than a month away from the Cup. Someone should have shown "signs of being viable options alongside Brian McBride" about 6-12 months ago. The starting line-up should be set, or you should be having a tough time picking between two equally talented players, not waiting to see which one shows more "signs of being viable" than the other.
"Signs of being viable" sounds like something the Bush Administration would say about Iraq. That is, by definition, worrying. Though I do think that if the Iraqis could get united behind Brian McBride, they would be much better off.
Here comes another quote from the article than seems more focused on the good news than the bad. See if you can spot the under-discussed worrying part of this paragraph:
The buzz in some circles is that Clint Dempsey is ready for prime time after an impressive training camp and some stellar performances for the national team this year. Before we hand him the starting right midfield spot, consider that he has yet to prove himself against top-flight competition (which he might have been able to do against Germany in March if he hadn't gotten suspended for punching New England teammate Joey Franchino).
Well, fine, if he hadn't punched his teammate, maybe we would know by now what kind of team player he could be? Also, Clint Dempsey Raps, as "Deuce"--he's totally underground, like how when Nike Soccer finds an underground rapper, and foots the bill for 4 1/2 minute rap video? That kind of underground.
But I don't know who else to give that job to. Steve Ralston has embalming fluid for blood, cinder blocks for feet, and the testicles of "Webster" era Emmanuel Lewis. Having a guy who has never played against top-flight competition because he was suspended right before getting to play against Germany? Does Brazil, or the Czechs, or the Netherlands have to worry about this kind of shit for their starting right midfielder? I don't think so. A team that can't pick out a top-flight right midfielder is a team in a bit of trouble, frankly.
I think this paragraph actually makes the situation at striker sound better than it did at the top of the article:
The fact that none of the forwards in the U.S. pool stepped up to take hold of the starting slot next to McBride was one of the biggest concerns before training camp began. Johnson and Ching showed enough during the 10 days in Cary to lead us to believe they just might be ready to take the role.
Johnson is the guy, if he is truly healthy and can regain the form he had when he ran roughshod during 2004 qualifying. That feels like a long time ago, and we haven't seen that form in awhile, and he never showed it against a team like the Czechs. Not his fault, of course, that he had to play games against the scrappy and talent-deprived and on ugly fields of the CONCACAF.
Brian Ching has been playing great of late. Major Caveat: In the MLS. Carlos Valderrama rocked the MLS despite being old, refusing to run, play defense, or really moving more than 10 yards in either direction from the midfield line. If rocking the MLS were hard to do, would I still fondly remember Digitial Takawira or Doctor Khumalo? Answer: yes I would, because those are still the coolest names to ever rock the MLS.
But back to my original point: the MLS ain't the Premiership of Barclay's, it ain't the Bundesliga, it ain't Serie A, it ain't even the Eredversie. It may be on par, with say, the Swiss league. Being a bad-ass for an MLS team is like being a badass for the FC Grasshopper. Which is to say, like being the skinny kid at fat camp.
One of my co-contributors, miwacar, will certainly leap to Brian Ching's defense. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm just saying miwacar has a serious Big Asian Man fetish. Read his words with caution.
Apparently, one of the big questions left to decide is formation, at least according to the article. It raises it in relation to where Eddie Lewis will play. Specifically, will he be the left-back?:
It appears more and more likely that the U.S. team will field a 3-5-2 formation come June 12 against the Czechs and such a formation would not include Lewis in the back, especially considering the Czechs boast Karel Poborsky on the right flank. However, if Arena goes with a 4-4-2 formation, he is supremely confident Lewis can hold his own. This week should allow us to see how well Lewis can adjust to switching from left midfield to left back.
First of all, I can't state how much I hate the idea of a 3-5-2 for the US. Our defense will be young and physically talented. But I don't trust any of those guys out on Islands on their own. I'd rather see a 4-4-2 with Thomas Dooley sweeping then see a 3-5-2. Gibbs, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, all these guys can play some decent ball, and even great ball. But I either want them all out there together, or 3 of them, and then an experienced field marshall sweeping (Eddie Pope?). There were organizational issues in the back all throughout qualifying. I don't have an awful time with Lewis in the back left, but I think I have a better idea. Let him play left midfield. Let DeMarcus play right midfield, and then let DeMarcus wander wherever the hell he wants. Let him create the chaos in the midfield, and let Lewis do what he does best, hang back on the wing, and serve wicked crosses into the mixer. It ain't Total Football, but it is about the best the US could do to screw up the defensive scheming of those dirty Italians, and stinky Czechs, and just purely evil Ghanians. Also, I think the Czechs and the Italians are far too talented for the US to rely on controlling the midfield. Play 4 back, Bruce!