Sunday, October 18, 2009

U.S. Qualifies for the World Cup; What Next for the Nats?

I had the pleasure of attending the crazy emotional 2-2 draw between the U.S. and Costa Rica this past Wednesday at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. As a member of the American Outlaws DC Chapter, it was great to see so many USMNT fans come in from all parts of the country for a game that sealed the U.S.’s place atop the CONCACAF Hexagonal table and was a worldly sendoff for a team that qualified for the World Cup for the 6th consecutive time (’90, ’94, ’98, ’02, ’06, ’10). However, the game came at a price, as the U.S. finish the Hexagonal with several injuries to many stars.

First, the tragic car accident that left forward Charlie Davies in a hospital with a broken femur and broken tibia in his right leg, a fractured left elbow, a lacerated bladder, facial fractures and other internal injuries was a shocking blow to U.S. fans everywhere. The man that we call Chuck Deezy, Davies had a breakout summer and was poised to be inked in as one of our starting strikers in South Africa. However, his injuries in the October 13th crash, which claimed the life of another passenger in the car with Davies, has dashed his South Africa 2010 hopes and leaves his career in doubt, with it being minimum 8-12 months before we see him back on the pitch. The news got worse during the game as Oguchi Onyewu went down with a torn patellar tendon in the 83rd minute of the Costa Rica game. He’s gone for 3-4 months. Jay DeMerit had surgery to repair his cornea after scratching it with his contact lens…he is out for two months. Finally, we are still waiting for Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey to return from various injuries.

In their absence, the U.S. has had many players step up in big moments. Stu Holden, with his play this summer in the Gold Cup and during the last few World Cup qualifiers, may have solidified his place on the plane to South Africa next summer. Connor Casey and Kenny Cooper can vie to be the extra striker that the U.S. take as well. Edgar Castillo and Jermaine Jones, newly registered as American players, will have a chance to work their way into the talk for the final team. Finally, will we see players like Sacha Kljestan or Freddy Adu or DaMarcus Beasley play their way back onto the team of 23? The next few months will be for coach Bob Bradley to figure out his final team sheet of players that he wants to represent the United States on the world’s biggest stage.

In the meantime, while other teams around the world enter playoffs to decide the final World Cup spots, the U.S. will have a chance to schedule some friendlies to keep their team sharp and to test out new players. Already, the U.S. have scheduled a friendly against Denmark on November 18th in Aarhus. There is talk of another friendly before the one in Denmark, with the U.S. possibly playing Switzerland. Finally, the U.S. plan on playing the Netherlands in Eindhoven next March.

I would like to see the U.S. play a plethora of competition between now and the World Cup. In 2006, the U.S. played 10 friendlies between January 1st and their opening World Cup match against the Czech Republic. I think a similar schedule is in order, but these matches should be against teams that they could see at the World Cup as well as teams that have different playing styles. Finally, teams that would be big draws in the U.S. or high profile matches would be great to see. A list of teams I would love to see us schedule friendlies against, besides the already mentioned Denmark, Switzerland and Netherlands, include Scotland, Croatia, Australia, Ivory Coast, Chile, and one of the huge teams like England, Germany, Spain or Portugal. A game against an Irish team that possibly goes to the World Cup (depending on how they fare in the UEFA qualification playoffs next month) would also be a great addition to the friendly schedule.

The U.S. have qualified, but there is still lots of work to do. It’s a long time between now and June, so it will be interesting to see how individual players develop, how the team as a whole plays against some top-notch competition, and how the year shapes up for the USMNT. One thing is for sure: I hope you like vuvuzelas, because we’re going to be hearing a lot of them next summer. U-S-A.

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