Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Golden Thoughts

So much going on this morning... I'm trying to get my thoughts together for my Press-Enterprise column so this kind of a rough draft for that...

I was originally going to focus on the Gold Cup but there's a lot to get to so I think I'll have my expanded Gold Cup thoughts right here since I've gotta get them out somewhere and Twitter's 140-character limit isn't quite enough.

First, the roster:

GK: Howard, Hahnemann, Rimando
D: Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Ream, Spector, Bornstein, Goodson, Lichaj
M: Donovan, Dempsey, Edu, Bradley, Jones, Feilhaber, Rogers, Kljestan, Adu
F: Agudelo, Altidore, Wondolowski

Some off-the-cusp thoughts...

Surprise, Surprise: Freddy Adu is of course the biggest surprise name here. If anyone would have said... really at any point this year... that Freddy Adu would be part of the Gold Cup roster, you'd have laughed that off. It's a testament to Adu on one hand that he re-discovered himself mentally and physically after falling off the face of the Earth. He was all but written off but at age 21 he opted to search for a better opportunity and when it came in 2nd Division Turkey, he didn't pass it up.

On the other hand, though, it seems a bit disappointing that there aren't better options at that position. You never want to give up on a 21-year-old player with talent and ability, but for a tournament of this stature - and with the depth the U.S. has assembled in the midfield - the best thing to do is to have players who can potentially start a match and perform. I don't know that I would feel comfortable with Adu pulling the strings from the start of a match at any given point during the Gold Cup.

Still, that's not what U.S. coach Bob Bradley has in mind, of course. Adu will likely be used as a late-game substitute in case the U.S. needs some offense but also he has Adu in mind for World Cup qualifying, I'm guessing, and this would also serve as a good springboard for that.

No matter how he's used, Adu has returned and he's not the butt of jokes anymore.

Where's The D? The backline could quickly become a liability. Oguchi Onyewu has to show something soon in order to quell such fears. Tim Ream is a great prospect but he's had just a few games to show what he can do at this level, and none of them have been in a tournament setting. Clarence Goodson looked solid before the World Cup a year ago but never got into a game. Yet if Onyewu's health becomes an issue, a Ream-Goodson pairing is what the U.S. will have to go with (unless Bocanegra finds his way back int the middle). If the U.S. plays, say Honduras in the semifinals or Mexico in the final, is Ream-Goodson solid enough to keep opposing forwards from finding the back of the net?

Good On Ya', MLS: In years past, I wondered how serviceable MLS was in terms of feeding into the national team. For instance, I've felt Chad Marshall has been one of the top defenders in MLS for several years now (and given his two MLS Defender of the Year awards, I'm not the only one who thinks that). Yet, when the time comes for the U.S. to fill out the roster, such standout league talents are nowhere to be found. Finally, though, hard work in MLS is paying off with national team appearances. A year ago, Edson Buddle was on a red-hot tear in MLS and worked his way onto the World Cup team. Now, Chris Wondolowski has similarly played his way onto the U.S. team. Wondolowski led MLS in goals a year ago with 18 (!) and he has proven that his goal-scoring total was no fluke. He's got five in 10 games this season, and as San Jose has scored just 12 goals overall, that's a strong amount. MLS is strong enough now - in some parts anyway - that meaningful performances and success in the league can translate into a chance with the national team. Didn't work for Marshall who sadly was left off the squad but Wondolowski beat out foreign-based talents such as Buddle and Herculez Gomez as well as MLS players such as Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies, neither of whom has been in good of form as Wondolowski this season.

Roster Strength: Overall, this isn't a bad team. There has been a lot of criticism over the roster - nothing new, really,the Bornstein critics are out again, and selecting Robbie Rogers and Adu over players like Alejandro Bedoya and Mixx Diskerud, and also leaving out Timothy Chandler - have all drawn the ire of U.S. fans. But this roster is good. In fact, with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in their prime (at the tail end of it for both of them) this will be the strongest team the U.S. will be able to field for several years. With players like Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard at Bradley's disposal, this team enters the tournament as the favorites, if not to win the whole thing then at least to reach the June 25 final at the Rose Bowl.

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