It Seems To Me . . .
Arena selections for Poland game give hints of World Cup roster.By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Friday, February 24, 2006) -- United States men's manager Bruce Arena's selections for Wednesday's match against Poland in Kaiserslautern, Germany, is interesting both in who was been called in and who was not.
By way of background, Arena has said he will name his 23-man roster for the 2006 World Cup in Germany some time late in April, well before the May 15 deadline to formally submit the roster to world governing body FIFA. The U.S. has three matches scheduled before then, following the game against Poland with a March 22 visit against Germany in Dortmund, and a newly scheduled April 11 meeting with Jamaica in Cary, N.C.
The encounter with Poland falls on a FIFA-sanctioned international match date, meaning it is built into the league schedules of most European countries. The March 22 and April 11 matches are outside the FIFA calendar and thus club teams are not required to release players for these matches. Therefore, Arena has said the Poland match is the only one he will be calling in most of his European-based players and the only chance he will get to work with them before he names his squad for Germany.
So, although eight Major League Soccer players were named to the roster for Poland, the emphasis in Kaiserslautern will be on the 11 European-based players.
So first, who would seem to be in contention for the final World Cup roster despite not being named to the roster for Poland?
Arena is calling in only two goalkeepers, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard, while Marcus Hahnemann, who is having such a good year with promotion-bound Reading in England League Championship, was not summoned. That makes sense because only one keeper -- Keller -- will play and Arena does not need to take Hahnemann away from Reading to sit on the bench with Howard.
Missing from the list of defenders is Cory Gibbs, who has just resumed playing for the reserve side of his new Dutch team, ADO Den Haag, after missing half a year recovering from knee surgery. Gibbs is not ready for an international match, but it is likely he will be called in to face both Germany and Jamaica in order to prove his fitness.
Also missing from the midfielders are two key players to the U.S. hopes this summer. Claudio Reyna is almost back to almost full speed, training with his club team, Manchester City, but is still at least a couple of weeks away from being able to play. John O'Brien, who still has not recovered from a serious groin injury, is looking more and more doubtful for the World Cup.
Central defender Eddie Pope is also not making the trip to Kaiserslautern. Arena wants to look at his European-based defenders, so there was no need to pull Pope away from Real Salt Lake, his MLS team, just to sit on the bench.
Absent from those called up is a name that has been largely absent from much of the speculation about who will make the final roster -- striker Conor Casey. He also is recovering from knee surgery and has not yet played this year for FSV Mainz 05 in the German Bundesliga, but he too is nearing the point where he is ready to return. He could well still make the final team if he regains fitness and plays to the level he was at before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in last summer's Gold Cup.
There are several interesting inclusions in the roster for Poland. Perhaps, most notable is Leeds United's Eddie Lewis being listed among the six defenders, not as a midfielder where he has always played. This seems to telegraph the fact that Arena now considers Lewis the leading candidate to play the left back position, one of the remaining question marks for the U.S. lineup.
Originally called in for the Poland match was the Los Angeles Galaxy's Todd Dunivant, the only MLS defender on the list and someone who has impressed in the early games this season. However, he suffered a hip pointer Wednesday in training and, while the injury is not considered serious, he will not make the trip.
The inclusion of two MLS defensive midfielders, the Colorado Rapids' Pablo Mastroeni and Kansas City Wizards' Kerry Zavagnin is interesting. If O'Brien is not available, they look to be the top contenders for the defensive midfield role, so it will be instructive to see if one or the other starts against Poland.
Among the five forwards called in, only Brian McBride is based in Europe. The New England Revolution's Pat Noonan was summoned, but hurt his hamstring Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal game against LD Alajuelense of Costa Rica and will be out at least five weeks.
The key here is for Arena to settle on who plays the best with McBride -- Kansas City's Eddie Johnson or Josh Wolff, or New England's Taylor Twellman. In the end, Landon Donovan could wind up as the second striker, even if he is now listed as a midfielder, while Casey must be considered if he regains fitness and sharpness.
For now, the contest for McBride's partner is one of the most interesting in the U.S. camp.
Who will start on Wednesday for the U.S.? If I had to guess now it will be Keller in goal; Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Lewis on the back-line; Mastroeni as the defensive midfielder with DaMarcus Beasley, Donovan and Bobby Convey; with McBride and Twellman up front.
Do I think this will be the final lineup that will face off against the Czech Republic in the opening World Cup match? No. That will depend on who is fit and who is playing well but, against a pretty good Polish side, it will be an interesting test to see who makes an impression, either good or bad.
U.S. men's roster for Wednesday match against Poland (with club teams in parentheses):
Goalkeepers (2): Tim Howard (Manchester United, England), Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach).
Defenders (6): Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus, Germany), Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC, England), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96, Germany), Eddie Lewis (Leeds United, England), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege, Belgium), Jonathan Spector (Charlton Athletic, England).
Midfielders (7): DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Bobby Convey (Reading FC, England), Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution, MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS), Chris Klein (Real Salt Lake, MLS), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids, MLS), Kerry Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards, MLS).
Forwards (4): Eddie Johnson (Kansas City, MLS), Brian McBride (Fulham FC, England), Taylor Twellman (New England, MLS), Josh Wolff (Kansas City, MLS).
Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.
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