Friday, June 23, 2006

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Part 2: US National Team Player Pool Development

Bruce Arena has been credited as doing an outstanding job in creating a vast pool of players to draw from for international matches. He began the development of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Bobby Convey and Oguchi Onyewu just to name a few players who are currently in the center of the US team. What might be required is for that pool to not just be expanded, but give them meaningful international match time in between World Cups. I feel that they can do this by having a different approach to CONCACAF play, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America.

Let’s be honest here, the only two teams in CONCACAF that should really be giving us any problems are Mexico and Costa Rica. When we play Jamaica, Panama, Guatemala, we really shouldn’t lose, but we always find ways to do that. Playing in Panama against their national team is a test that Germany would find difficult. Even as that might be a difficult task, we have done it and come away with victories.

As we are in this region, we should play the other teams in our region, as we will need to keep up with how they are doing in regards to CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying. However, I do think that there can and should be a very fine line of playing the lesser regional nations and only playing them. When we use an international match day to play Panama in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium, we really do not gain anything from that match. A match like that would be beneficial for an all MLS squad, or one where we have some of the lesser known and used US internationals from Europe in the squad, like Jonathan Spector, Michael Bradley, Ryan Coiner or Jay DeMerit. Bringing any of these European based US players into these types of matches would allow them to get a taste of the international game, as well as continue to widen the player pool. These types of matches should be scheduled on non-international match days, ones that correspond with open dates in league seasons. If we want DeMerit and Spector to come over for a match, try and schedule it during an FA Cup weekend in England, if their two clubs are already out of the competition.

Matches against CONCACAF teams, (excluding Mexico and Costa Rica) should be considered 2nd option matches, especially on FIFA International match days. We should honestly look at matches against the lesser CONCACAF nations as MLS player development matches, or introductory matches for European based Americans who have not been brought into the player pool or haven’t made many appearances. They will give use the ability to keep tabs on their strength, as well as develop our newer pool players.

As we are a member of CONCACAF, one of our primary objectives every year that a Gold Cup is held is to win it. I am not saying that the US Soccer Federation has sent a team with the idea of placing second or the feeling that getting out of our group is ok. What I am saying is that when the tournament is held before a Confederations Cup, we should send our First Team. When the Gold Cup is held in the off years, like it was in 2005, this would be the best chance of getting the pool players in to mix with some of the other veterans or those players trying to come back from injury.

The US Soccer Federation should start its preparations now for the 2007 tournament, which will be held in the US between June 6th and June 24th. This gives the US just under a year to get new players into the fold and get them ready for this event. Assuming that the US team uses 10 players from MLS, which will be in season during June, and that they US goes to the final, the MLS players would most likely miss about 4 ½ weeks of play for their club teams. As the US automatically qualifies for the Gold Cup, along with Mexico and Canada, they should schedule competitive matches for the build up of the Gold Cup.

Copa America
Every 2 years, CONMEBOL hosts their regional tournament, the Copa America. Every year since 1995, CONMEBOL has invited Mexico and the United States to take part in the tournament. The US accepted and took part in 1995, placing 4th. Mexico has made the finals once and rumor has it, will actually host the tournament in 2009. Ever since the 1995 tournament, the US has declined the invitation, due to the fact that the MLS regular season is in full swing during the tournament’s schedule, which seems to usually take place in July.

I feel that this tournament would be the perfect environment for the US to “cut the teeth” of its younger players, pretty much just like how the CONMEBOL nations use it now. Granted that the 2007 tournament, if held in July, would start about 2 weeks after the Gold Cup, it would be a lot of away time for some players. That is why using two groups of player for these two tournaments would be advisable. Have our first team play in the Gold Cup, and then have a second team, using a line up something like this –


Marcus Hahnemann – Reading, England
Zach Wells – Houston Dynamo, USA


Gregg Berhalter – 1860 Munich, Germany
Frankie Simek – Sheffied Wednesday, England
Jay DeMerit – Watford, England
Todd Dunivant – LA Galaxy, USA
Jimmy Conrad – Kansas City Wizards, USA
Bobby Boswell – DC United, USA
Jonathan Spector – Charlton Athletic, England


Michael Bradley – Heerenveen, the Netherlands
Ryan Caugherty – Bordens BK, Sweden
Kerry Zavagine – Kansas City Wizards, USA
Freddy Adu – DC United, USA
DeMarcus Beasely – PSV Eindhoven, the Netherlands
Justin Mapp – Chicago Fire, USA
Kyle Martino – LA Galaxy, USA


Nate Jaqua – Chicago Fire, USA
Conor Casey – Mainz 05, Germany
Kenny Cooper – FC Dallas, USA
Edson Buddle – Red Bull New York,USA

I think that this would be a good chance to get some of the European players into the US fold, get them used to playing with the MLS guys as well as operate in a tournament structure, where you need to be alert and awake the whole time. In a situation playing against South American teams that will test the players, this is a win-win situation. However, the US Soccer federation should take the approach that this tournament is not one that they must win. Every player who steps on the field should go out there and give 110% and go for victories, but the federation should not rate the success of the US team based on if it wins the tournament or makes the semi-finals. They should understand that the US team they send is for international tournament experience only.

As the USA is going to begin losing a lot of the old guard players (Reyna, McBride, Keller, Pope, Lewis, Hejduk, Olsen, Noonan, Ralston, Armas, Wolff, just to name a few), the player pool will be thinned out. Those players that had been the old reliable call ups for qualifying matches will now begin to no longer be available. Using an approach such as one I have suggested as above, that player pool could regain its depth.

Monday - Part 3: MLS involvement in US Soccer future.


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