Sunday, June 27, 2010

USA 2014 World Cup Squad: Never too early to start dreaming

With the USA ousted from the World Cup by Ghana for the second straight cycle, it's time we start making that long slow march toward the next big thing for US Soccer.

Unfortunately for the CONCACAF teams there's not a whole lot to look forward to after a World Cup. Sure, we'll have the Gold Cup next year and the winner of that biannual tournament will then compete in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup (the tournament where, last year, the USA famously defeated the indomitable and mighty Spain to reach the final against Brazil). Apart from our regional championship, we'll have nothing but friendlies to watch until our next WC qualifying cycle begins probably sometime in Spring 2012.

There will of course be various youth tournaments including the U-17 World Cup hosted by Mexico and the U-20 WC in Columbia both held in 2011. We still have to wait and see if the US teams qualify for those events. And there's the 2012 Olympics fielding U-23 teams.

But I always like to start looking ahead to the next World Cup cycle after our inevitably disappointing ouster from the tournament still in progress. Only in 2002 was I satisfied with our results, having lost to Germany in the quarterfinal in a match that most people agree we were the better team on the day.

So let's see who from this squad might still be around in 4 years to lead us to glory.

First, the guys we likely won't see in 4 years:

More than likely, defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo (both 31) will announce their retirement from international play or at least will not figure in any serious matches in the next year. Although I say that well aware that Frankie Hejduk was still called up at age 35.

Defender Jay DeMerit is 30 and was a stalwart center back in this WC, but it's unlikely we'll see him make much more impact. Perhaps we'll have his help for a couple of qualifiers in two years time, but I doubt he'll be back in 4 years.

Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu spent 7 months before the World Cup out with a knee injury and looked very shaky in his first match back, a friendly against Czech Republic. He looked stronger against Turkey and then Australia. He had a decent game against England, but not the best against Slovenia. He didn't figure in our final two matches. At 28 years old, his time with the national team is likely finished, except for some possibly qualifying appearances in 2 years.

Clarence Goodson, at age 28, was one of only 2 outfield players who didn't get capped in this WC. He's unlikely to figure heavily in the future.

Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann is 37 and served as our number 3 keeper for two World Cups. He won't be back.

DaMarcus Beasley (28) is not the player he was 8 years ago when he fired up the team with great speed and agility. He got in the Algeria game as a sub. I can imagine he may figure in some qualifiers down the road, but we won't see him on a tournament squad again.

Forward Edson Buddle was a bold selection by Bradley. He's the current leading MLS goalscorer this season (and he's been away from the league for a month). He started in the per-tournament friendly against Australia, scoring 2 goals in the first half and came on as a sub against Algeria, but was largely ineffective. At 29 years old it's unlikely he'll have much impact on the national team from here on.

Foward Robbie Findley is only 24 so in theory could play a big part in the future of American soccer, including the next World Cup. But he was basically useless this time around. Starting with missing an open net in the Australia friendly, I don't understand why he was in Bradley's starting lineup. He did nothing in his first two starting games. He was then suspended for the Algeria match and our attack was much stronger, in my opinion. Then he was back starting the Round of 16 match against Ghana. He was subbed out at the start of the second half, Bradley realizing his error. Unless he improves remarkably, I hope he won't be back.

Herculez Gomez disappointed me in this tournament. I expected great things from him. He came on as a late sub against Slovenia, but didn't do much. He started against Algeria due to Findley's suspension and had a few good chances early, but was mostly absent for the remainder of the first half. He's 28 so it's unlikely he'll still be in top form in 4 years.

Here are the maybes:

Ricardo Clark is young enough that he could still make the next WC squad, but he had a disappointing tournament. He was okay against England, but a big mistake in midfield cost us an early goal against Ghana. He somehow managed a 3-year deal with Frankfurt in the Bundesliga after only 3 appearances this year before going out with an injury. Maybe he can improve his game playing in a top league. As it stands, I wouldn't expect to see him again in 4 years, but you never know.

Stuart Holden is still young at 24. He's also quite inexperienced at the international level - really outside MLS. He's with Premier League's Bolton Wanderers now and has shown great attacking midfield talent. We'll have to see how he progresses over the next season in England. He could be an important midfielder for us in the future, but it's hard to say now as his only WC appearance was coming on as a sub in the second half against England.

Jonathan Spector became a regular in Gooch's defense position while he was out with an injury. It's hard to say why he didn't make an appearance at this WC, especially after Gooch was benched in the third match. He'll likely play a part in the next few years, but the World Cup in Brazil is hard to say.

Jonathan Bornstein has not been one of our best defenders, but he did well in both his starts in South Africa - first against Algeria and then against Ghana. If he doesn't get out of MLS he shouldn't play a major role with the national team.

Clint Dempsey will be 31 for the next WC. If he stays in top form in the Premiership and keeps scoring goals then he could still be on the squad in four years. It's hard to see him maintaining the speed he has now into his early thirties. He plays hard and takes hard tackles sometimes. He may get too worn out.

The guys who have the best chance in four years (and who I'd really like to see return):

Benny Feilhaber was great coming on as a sub in every match. He created chances and changed the play of the game. He is a strong attacking midfielder for us. In four years he'll be 29 and should be in prime fitness.

Tim Howard will be 35 for Brazil 2014 and should still be our number 1 keeper with Brad Guzan continuing to back him up.

Maurice Edu should have started the Ghana match instead of Clark. Like Feilhaber, he was a great presence in our midfield. I hope he continues to improve.

Landon Donovan will be a mature 32 in four years and I really hope he stays in top form to come back for his fourth World Cup. I see now reason at the moment that we won't still have him then. I just hope he gets out of MLS soon to play permanently in England.

Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Jose Torres are the future of American soccer.

Bradley is only 22 and was easily our best player in the tournament. He's a voracious attacking midfielder who can also get back and make great defensive tackles. He scored the tying goal against Slovenia. He chases down every ball as if it's going to get his team the win right then and there. He is the energy our team needs. He tends to be a card magnet, but managed to avoid getting a single caution in our 4 tournament matches.

Altidore didn't score a goal in this World Cup. That's unfortunate considering that's what forwards are supposed to do. But he had some great chances. He is fast, able to sprint around defenders and he's great on the ball. He also uses his size to great advantage, muscling defenders out of the way to get a shot off. He's only 20 years old and I imagine he'll be an important part of our attack for the next 4 years. I just hope he gets settled at a decent club. Signed with Villareal in Spain, he's been loaned out first to Jerez and then to Hull City in England where he managed only 1 goal in 28 appearances. That doesn't bode well for his chances.

Torres is 22 and a calm controlling midfielder. He got a start against Slovenia but was subbed out after the first half. Against Turkey he demonstrated great ability to pass the ball and control the tempo of the game from the midfield when he came on in the second half. He looks like the next Claudio Reyna.

Finally, the outside chances. These are guys who didn't make this squad, but could figure in the next:

Eddie Johnson made the squad in 2006 and should have been on this squad instead of Findley. He's unlikely to make our 2014 squad unless he proves himself to be a volatile striker at age 30, but you never know.

Charlie Davies would have been on this squad had it not been for an unfortunate auto wreck back in October that left him with several broken bones and months of rehab. Assuming he comes back to full form, we should see him paired up front with Altidore like they were against Spain in the Confed Cup last year. I'm hopeful we'll see him back with the national team soon.

Freddy Adu is someone I thought should have been selected 4 years ago and this year, but wasn't. He could have played for his birth country of Ghana, but chose the USA instead. As a result he's had to watch on television as the USA was knocked out of two straight World Cups by Ghana. He'll still be a youthful 25 when Brazil 2014 rolls around and hopefully he gets some playing time in a serious league very soon and starts scoring goals. At age 17 he was looking like someone we definitely wanted to herald American soccer into the world. Now he's all but disappeared.

As far as other young guys who could be coming up through the ranks, it's hard to follow what's going on with them. Not being in the US I don't follow MLS, where most of the youngest guys currently play. And the U-20 national team doesn't get a lot of exposure in the media, so I have little idea of who's looking promising. It will still be another 2 years before we start getting a clearer picture of who's going to make up our Brazil 2014 squad.

In the meantime I will try to squeeze out what enjoyment I can from a tournament that no longer has my team. Other than that, for me life is time spent between World Cups.

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