2014: USMNT Player Watch Part I – Central Defenders

July 18, 2010

With South Africa and the 2010 cycle now behind them the United States national team will now be focusing on earning their way to Brazil and the 2014 World Cup.  While the United States benefits from being a relatively young team in numerous key positions and logically they should have many players that were involved in this cycle play a major part in the years to come, there will be several new faces that emerge over the years.

As an example of the changes that occur during a cycle,  four years ago Freddy Adu, Bobby Convey and Michael Parkhurst felt like dead certain selections for the 2010 squad. Four years is a long time and the US team will evolve regardless of the manager.

So what players could emerge from just role-players or unknowns and make themselves known on the international stage? Let’s take a look at some names that could play a part in getting the team to Brazil or could even make the plane. In the first of a series of posts on the topic let’s look at central defenders.

Early favorites

Clarence Goodson – 28 and will be 32 by the time the next World Cup takes place. He was a late-bloomer who’s career took off when he left American soil and began his career in Europe where he eventually earned his way onto the plane to South Africa. Big and makes an impact in both boxes with his head, he will at the very least play a role early in the 2014 cycle.

Chad Marshall – Marshall is still only 25 years old. A product of the famed Bradenten Academy it seems that Marshall has been around for much longer than his age leads one to believe. He scored his first goal(and only) for the national team in 2005 against Columbia and since then has become one of the MLS’ premier defenders. He’s a two time MLS Defenders of the Year, has the won the MLS Cup, and in his roughly five years with the Crew they’ve won the Supporters Shield three times. Marshall and Goodson were two of the few players that came away from the 2009 Gold Cup with positive impressions. He also made the 30-man squad for South Africa, but not the 23.

The Forgotten

Michael Orozco Fiscal – His last national team appearance came in the 2008 Olympics where he was sent off. Even after the send-off he was involved in a few qualifier camps but still only has one cap to his name. After a stint in the Mexico he’s been loaned to MLS club Philadelphia Union and was immediately a regular in their first eleven. Just yesterday he scored with an excellent header in the Union’s 2-1 victory over Toronto.

Geoff Cameron – Cameron’s first two seasons in the MLS saw his stock rise and eventually earned him a few call-ups to national team camps. There’s still a debate whether his best place is in the backline or as a midfielder, but if he’s going to break into the national team it’ll most likely going to be as the former. A ruptured PCL earlier in the MLS season has ruled him out for the entire year, but if he can make a successful comeback Cameron should factor into a few camps and potentially add a few  caps.

Zak Whitbread – Whitbread is probably the most well-known to US fans in the forgotten category, though he may be the biggest long shot on the list. He was in the Liverpool development system for a number of years though he was unable to break into the first team. After his departure from Liverpool in 2006 he became a regular for Milwall despite battling injuries. He joined Norwich in January 2010 but has failed to establish himself due to yet another injury.

New Kids on the Block

Omar Gonzalez – Gonzalez won the MLS’ 2009 Rookie of the Year award in a year where many other rookies shined. It would surprise many people if he’s not in or around the USMNT squad in the next couple years. A plus is that he wants to play for the USA over Mexico, but it’s important for the USSF to cement his favoritism before the situation gets messy.

Ike Opara – Opara  does not quite have the height of the other names listed so far, but he’s hardly short a 6’2 and his athleticism has led to him being recognized as a player with massive potential. He was drafted 3rd in this year’s MLS draft, and has already scored three goals as a defender in his rookie season.

Tim Ream – Ream was drafted 18th in the same draft as Opara, and has quickly become a name passed around by many American fans as a potential national team member for 2014. What has drawn most fans to Ream has been his ability on the ball as well as off. He isn’t afraid to be on the ball, and has a very calm play-style that many 22 year-old rookies do not possess. He has the potential to be one of the most complete defenders the US has seen in a long time.

And for every player that is hyped now there’s no accounting for the names that will pop up mid-cycle like Bedoya, Davies, and so on that appeared during the run-up to South Africa. Much like the game itself national teams are fluid and constantly changing. Unknown young players seem to be appearing all the time in the MLS and that is a great sign for the future.

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Shame on US Soccer

July 13, 2010

The World Cup is now over, and the buzz over our national team effectively ended when Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan rocket in extra time sank the Americans.  The United States Soccer Federation was intent on trying to parlay the World Cup buzz into something more here in the U.S., and what better way to bring in football’s most famed national team, Brazil.  On August 10th, at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the U.S. will face “The Samba Kings”, in our first game post-World Cup.

Sounds like a great idea, right?

From a marketing perspective, there is no denying this was a great move by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.  In fact, PRIOR to the World Cup there were already over 30,000 seats sold for the event.  It’s a safe assumption that those numbers have little to do with Ricardo Clark’s “triumphant” return to the NYC area, in which his professional career started.  That might have changed post-World Cup given the amount of U.S. fans who would now like to heckle the bum into oblivion.

But, with the likes of Clark preparing for their club seasons in Europe, it will be most interesting to see who Bob Bradley, Jurgen Klinnsman (fingers crossed), or whomever might be at the helm will have at their disposal.  And just as important, who will be out there for the Brazilian side?  We don’t know, and won’t know until that time comes.  It’s a safe assumption that these players who make their trade in Europe, particularly those in England (EPL starts four days later) will not be there August 10th.  These factors, combined with outrageous ticket prices definitely sour this contest.

Face value ticket prices for the public are as expensive as $375, for a friendly.  Ticket prices for official supporters are jacked up from the norm, and they cost $70.  This is hardly a reward for fans who have traveled the country to support this team, and help will the squad reach South Africa.  Supporters tickets for World Cup qualifiers and competitions like the Gold Cup are typically $25.  These are competitive, all-important games, but a friendly with no guarantee of stars will cost supporters three times as much (not to mention the all-encompassing expense of traveling to NYC). 

Frankly, it’s an injustice. 

 The sad truth about the event is that a vast majority of the fans there will be there only for the Brazilian product, which carries massive weight everywhere (even in the U.S.).  Essentially, fans here are willing to pay outrageous prices to see a meaningless game, but won’t pay rather pedestrian prices for games that truly matter for the U.S. 

I realize Gulati is trying to expand the product, and reach new fans.  The idea, once again, is great from a marketing perspective both financially and for potential new fans.  That’s fine, but the very least the USSF could have done would be to reward the loyal fans.  $70 a ticket, to see a squad that will likely be MLS-exclusive because of our better players European interests, is not exactly enticing.

I’m all for the expansion of the game here, but not at the expense of the loyal fans.