(My brother told me referencing a printing press for invites is a stretch…so we’ve thrown out the old title, “Dust Off the Gutenberg: Camp Cupcake Invites?” and now have a new one….)
No better time to start pontificating on who should be present in the customary January 2009 camp….an invitation is the ultimate stocking stuffer.
Last year, the camp was essentially MLS pre-season with more than 80% of the players under contract in America’s soccer league. With the Scandinavian leagues the only other major leagues out of session, expect 95% of the players to come from nordic lands or America proper. Note, the Mexican league is in training so potential midfielder invitees JFT and Edgar Castillo are out. (You like how I keep hyping Castillo as a halfback….)
Given Bradley’s latest friendly roster selections, specifically MLSers Dax McCarty and Jeff Cunningham, it’s easily confirmed through selection that Bradley has an affinity players where he’s either run them out on the pitch before or coached against them on multiple occasions. There are exceptions of course, Charlie of Hammerby making the journey overseas last year–though remember CD9 barely factored until the Confederation Cup.
One odd note from Cupcake 2009, the Chicago Fire had a host of invitees last year (John Thorrington, Chris Rolfe, Jon Busch), but none of that crew got any run after 2009’s first trimester. Who will be this year’s MLS team du jour? RSL? Galaxy?
So with the camp less than one month away, let’s just break down the elementary questions:
• What’s BB’s mix? Last year, Coach USA brough a mix of veterans and rooks; expect just a slightly different tweak on that from Bradley.
There is no reason to look beyond 2010 at this point. The USMNT number one priority is to compete in the 2010 World Cup as of qualification this past October. Coach B will use the camp to solidify the two or three remaining roster spots up in the air for a trip to South Africa if possible. Expect to see two types of player vying for those roles–those with the resume to suggest they belong (Beckerman, even Dax) and those that contribute a wrinkle to the roster complexion, be it oustanding pace, service or ability to knock a header on goal (Tracy, Findley, etc.)
Lastly, the presence of a Jimmy Conrad, Frankie Hedjuk and Brian Ching (and all will probably be in training), does not necessarily signify they are making the roster next year so much as Bradley relying on veterans to provide stability and know-how in camp to set the tone for the youngsters. There is good chance that Conrad in particular is purely serving as mentor as he’s active in the MLS labor situation and likely for that to be his primary focus.
• Striker! Striker! Striker! Yes, CD9 replacement. Yes, Conor Casey’s chops are being highly questioned. Last year we saw a mix of Brian Ching, Kenny Cooper, Chuck Deezer and Chris Rolfe? All of those later saw USMNT senior team pitch time, with only Rolfe, due to injury and play, falling off the map. Will we see even more strikers added this year as it is clearly a position of deficiency?
° Here are some possible invites: Jeff Cunningham, Chris Pontius, Marcus Tracy, Robbie Findley, Nate Jaqua, Conor Casey, Brian Ching
° Here are some unlikely candidates: Chris Rolfe, (Kenny Cooper-not coming), Mike Grella, Eddie Johnson
Chris Rolfe will be interesting. Rolfe goes overseas on transfer to Danishland. He’s most likely out as he makes that move, but there is probably a 5% or so shot he gets a call.
Kenny Cooper, who didn’t get any more calls after the Gold Cup and is nursing an injury is likely not in play–not now and not next year until he gets back to his goal scoring ways in Germany. It’s not hard to see Coops is not invited to Coach Bradley’s card games either.
Brian Ching? Ching should be there. Is this a big moment for the Ching-Casey battle for the target man role? Has Ching already lost it? Has Casey already won it?.
Speaking of target man, can we give Nate Jaqua a shot. With the Big Aloha aging and Conor Casey really not showing much over in Friendlyville, should Coach B be at least snooping around some other options for the holdup role? Jaqua, in particular, provides height, has a decent amount of speed and can play more than one position–we know Coach USA likes versatility. The 6’0′ Chris Pontius also fits the versatile, target man role and he’s more attack minded to boot. TSG is willing to wager that Pontius is in camp; Jaqua, not.
Marcus Tracy, another question, as recent form dictates an invite, but oddly he’s never been in the national team system–will Tracy’s move to the starting rotation at Aalborg and his Wake Forest pedigree be enough to get him to California? Yup.
EJ and Grella are still committed for the winter term to overseas club in session and won’t be released–no matter how little playing time they are currently seeing.
Shh….he didn’t mention it above, but an outside chance puts Brek Shea in camp. TSG is not in that corner.
• Midfield: If there is any place that has an abundance of senior team talent all around the same level, it’s the USMNT midfield. We learned that during the WCQ trials after learning it in the Gold Cup as well. Gold Cup alumni (and camp vets from 2008) Stu Holden and Robbie Rogers graduated from the Gold Cup rosters to the qualifiers’ rosters. So what is the USMNT looking for in the midfield? My guess is that Bob Bradley will really test out the wing positions as only Stu Holden, Clint and obviously Landon are shoo-ins for RSA still and their back-ups have not been set.
° Here are some possible invites: Dax McCarty, Sam Cronin, Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Rogers, Sacha Kljestan, Kyle Beckerman, Benny Feilhaber
° Here are some unlikely candidates: Ricardo Clark, Stu Holden, Jose Francisco Torres
Coach B will want to have a little bit of experience in camp. Last year’s camp found the quadrumvirate of Kljestan, Holden, Rogers and Clark. Kljestan lives in the area and will be in the fold, though Clark is probably brushing up on his Italian with the rumored move to Serie A side Livorno still in the offing; he’ll be absent. Rogers is there.
Will Coach USA be able to capture a little Charlie-In-A-Bottle with Bedoya? For those not familiar with Bedoya, here’s the best available clip on him. The two-time Hermann trophy MVP candidate missed a shot at the Beijing Olympics and promptly headed overseas to Swedish top division club Örebro SK where he netted twice in 13 games in 2009.
We originally had our man Benny Exclamation off the list, but given it appears Coach B is trying him out at a few pitch locations, might Benny make the 230 hour journey from Denmark?
Stu Holden might be wearing a kilt before the new year to go along with a new contract overseas. The TSG fave we think is out though there are rumblings that the MLS is trying desperately to keep him at the Dynamo.
• Defense: In the summer of this year, TSG would have said Coach Sweatpants looks to the future here as the World Cup roster has been crystalized, but with injuries galore along the backline, the VIP list here is all over the board.
° Here are some possible invites: Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall (assuming he’s fully fit), Heath Pearce, Kevin Alston, Jonathan Bornstein, Jimmy Conrad, Frankie Hedjuk
° Here are some unlikely candidates: Chris Wingert, Eric Lichaj
° On the fence in the far corner of the ranch: Marvell Wynne, Patrick Ianni
TSG will go on the record and say watch out for MLS 2008 Rookie of the Year Sean Franklin who’s a little bit like Cherundolo…with increased speed at the wingfull. An injury robbed Franklin of most of his 2009 MLS campaign, but in our mind the youngster–who started to come on for the Galaxy at the end of the year–should be back for his second camp.
Can we please get this Lichaj guy a shot? I’ve never seen him play but the Interwebs are alive with songs of his praise. Alas, he’s committed for January.
We’re putting Geoff Cameron in defense, but he could easily move up the pitch. Watch to see where he plays in camp, it might tell you a lot about Bob’s first team and second team thinking on the left and right back roles.
Alston and Gonzales, both are green and both should be looking comfortably at a shot at the roster….in 2014.
Heath Pearce’s last stand? Frankie trying to sing another Redemption Song?
After an injury plagued 2009, any chance that Coach USA gives speedy Marvell Wynne another shot? Is he even close to fit enough? Not likely. Similarly, there a chance 24-year-old Seattle Sounder Patrick Ianni gets a phoner from Bradley? Again a near definite no, but TSG wanted to throw his name out there.
• Goalie: Not much to add here. Big T mans the pipes with Guz backing him up and Hanhneman likely earning the 3rd nod as he picks it up for Wolverhampton (MH shutout Tottenham on Saturday). That’s as stone as it gets.
° Here are some possible invites: Troy Perkins, Jon Busch, Luis Robles, Will Hesmer, Matt Pickens
° Here are some unlikely guaranteed non-candidates: Marcus Hahnemann
Hahnemann is starting to play now at Woverhampton. No plane ticket, invite for him obviously.
Not much else to add here, I’d wager on any other keeps coming from the MLS. Maybe Nick Rimando gets a reward for his MLS Cup play?
Who’d we miss? Who’s the next Charlie-In-A-Bottle? Our best shot at getting in Bob Bradley’s head?: (Note, we’ve moved up Geoff Cameron to midfield and slotted Pontius back into it and are aware that Frankie Excitement can play there in scrimmages)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Troy Perkins, Luis Robles, Will Hesmer
DEFENDERS (9): Jonathan Bornstein, Sean Franklin, Chad Marshall, Jimmy Conrad, Clarence Goodson, Frankie Hedjuk, Omar Gonzalez, Heath Pearce, Kevin Alston
MIDFIELDERS (8): Geoff Cameron, Kyle Beckerman, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Rogers, Chris Pontius, Benny Feilhaber
FORWARDS (5): Brian Ching, Conor Casey, Marcus Tracy, Jeff Cunningham, Robbie Findley