USMNT ’00-’09: TSG’s Squad For All The Marbles

This one is sure to be controversial as we begin ringing in the New Year….and closing the decade.

TSG sat down and asked ourselves the question: “Selves, if you had to put one team out there to win a game for the USMNT, grabbing players only from the decade we are now concluding, who would you select?”

The premise as simple as the criteria:  The player needs to have at least one cap for the USMNT during the 2000’s. That’s it.

It would however be assumed that this player was at their utmost skill level or potential for the game. For example, if Ernie Stewart is/was selected then it would be assumed he was in his tip-top 1996 or so form for the game, not his early 2000’s form.

Additionally the players had to fit together as a plausible team–so we’re not going with, let’s say, Jozy Altidore, Brian McBride, Joe Max-Moore and Eddie Johnson up top at the same time.

Boca: Head and shoulders above on the left flank. You're in the 11, Captain.

With these guidelines in mind, we threw-away our concocted mix of criteria we had originally came up with:

3 parts play for the USMNT team, 2 parts club play. 1 part longevity across both

…and made the selections based 100% on TSG brother discussion over Cooper’s Sparkling Ale from Australia (not a champagne mind you, more of an amber) during the Christmas holiday to avoid discussion with our wives and girlfriends. Shh….oh come now that’s not true.

While Mark and I had the discussion, I’ve created the piece and I’m sure he will no doubt shoots some arrows in this pioneer’s back.

Winning the big one for the natties? Admittedly fandom may have drifted ahead of analysis here, but not by a huge margin.

I think we’ve arrived at a squad very representative of the style, grit, and American personality to take on the best of the international elite.

In your reading remember, the goal is to win one game, not evaluate who is the best by position (through statistical review or other) throughout the course of the decade. That exercise, as we mentioned, might bore all of us.

Here’s who TSG goes to war with in our, cough, 4-3-2-1 formation.

G – Tim Howard

Very Very Close Runner up: Brad Friedel

First let’s discuss the back-up….and get the controversy started in earnest.

The big bald Friedel was in charge of the most celebrated USMNT World Cup run this decade. He’s been the class of American keepers in the EPL for both Blackburn and Aston Villa.

To his resume, who can forget Friedel’s out-of-mind performance against South Korea and Germany in 2002. If not for Oliver Kahn, Friedel might have made the bigger name for himself that year.

However TSG is going with Big T between the pipes and not because we merely have more recent observations. It you were to rate goaltendingness, you’d probably rate Friedel a 95 to Howard’s 93 on years of service and big time saves. But Timmy–as Kasey Keller was to Friedel in 2006–is much more nimble than Villa’s current number one–a crucial skill needed against world-class strikers in World Cups and needed in our “one game for everything.”

Balls played back to Timmy under duress? Dealt with. Coming out on an errant striker? Cake.

Timmy is TSG’s, perhaps inauspicious, selection.

LB – Carlos Bocanegra

It’s hard not to commission Captain Boca as our starting left back and I’m sure most would agree. For club, Boca was a part of the infamous mid-2000’s Fulham Americans that included McBride and Dempsey.

For country, Boca was a critical part of the defense that drew Italy in the best match for the USMNT in WC 2006 and later moved on to captain under Bob Bradley.

Before Eddie Pope protected player salaries, he protected goalkeepers

We are putting Boca’s 2006 form in here, not his 2009 form which will be left to a column coming shortly. Boca had enough quickness in the center of the decade to shut down the pacier wings and can get ahead for crosses as well.

No questions, Boca on our mind on the left….

CB – Eddie Pope, Oguchi Onyewu

Honorable Mention: Jimmy Conrad, Jay DeMerit

The 2006 center defense pairing–who both earned critical fouls–also earns our nod to start the game. (For Pope, it was red in the Italy game, for Gooch the “non-foul” that Ghana collected a penalty kick on.)

The tenacious and constantly-working Pope plays stopper to the hulking presence of Onyewu at the sweeper role. Yes, it’s a 4-across, but Pope is coming up the upfield more in our set-up, while Gooch stays back.

The former’s resume precedes himself. Over 82 caps for the North Carolina native Pope spanning not only the 2002 and 2006 World Cup, but the 1998 Cup as well. Pope started all of those 82 games as well–hard to find another player that has factored similarly for the USMNT.

Always technical and not afraid to come upfield for a challenge, Pope earns the nod.

Covering Pope, is Oguchi Onyewu. As a fan who rarely watched the USMNT’s junior squads until recently, Gooch’s 2005 Gold Cup announced his arrival on the scene like…like…Dan Marino in 1984 or, a more contemporary reference, Tyreke Evans this year. The big man earned all tourney honors in ’05.

Gooch, covering for Pope and Boca

While Gooch might lack the feel for the angles that a Gregg Berhalter has, his presence and athleticism alone more than makes up for it. It’s Gooch who allowed Bob Bradley to employ his bend-don’t-break Confederation Cup 2009 defense as the middle defender won header after header in the box.

RB – Frankie Hedjuk

Very Close Runner-Up: Tony Sanneh

A lot of consideration for this role. Most would probably go with Sanneh or even Stevie Cherundolo. Sanneh was a force defensively and knocked in a goal in World Cup 2002. He’s had a storied career, if only 43 USMNT caps, for the States.

Cherundolo might have been the choice as well having arrived on the States’ nattie scene for the first time in September of ’99. However, while Cherundolo has been consistent in his play on the pitch, largely above average, his history of injuries hurts his chances on our starting team.

Every team needs a player that can freelance a little bit and makes a play and Frankie is our answer at RB for this reason. In his formative days, Hedjuk, who came on the scene in the 1998 World Cup could be counted to simply outwork, nay out-exert, the winger who was trying to break him down one-on-one. Frankie can be comprised and be out of position, but his ability to recover and get back into position is and was second to none.

Additionally, Frankie is good for at least one booming run up the pitch for a cross or to receive a header each game; in short, you’ll get one Frankie Excitement scoring chance. We’ll take that trade, plus Hedjuk’s ability to factor as a midfielder in a pinch, as we evaluate the pedigree of our entire backline.

Finally, the intangible energy and positivity that Hedjuk brings to the pitch and the team epitomizes the type of team TSG is building.

Now for the front six and surely some more jabs and upper cuts in the comments section.

CDM: John O’Brien

Before there was Benny! at TSG, there was Johnny O

Grand larceny!

That’s how I feel about John O’Brien’s USMNT career. Robbed by injuries, O’Brien, who gave up on a comeback about two years ago, saw only 32 games for the States. His full potential remains in two words, tantalizing and unreachable.

For those who saw O’Brien on the field, his play, converse to his attendance on that field, was matter a fact.

O’Brien was an assured tackler, confident in possession, and was extremely proficient at making the pass that was called for from a simple square pass to a risky lead.

He remains, in this writer’s opinion one of the best, if not the best, pure midfielder to grace the USA roster. Probably not hyperbole when you consider, that during qualification for the Cup in 2006, Landon Donovan called O’Brien, “the best American soccer player.”

On one more side note that I must mention here, I loved playing the older FIFA games with the USMNT. John O’Brien would and could tackle anyone and dispossess them every single time–even Ronaldo of Brazil and Ronaldinho. Unreal. Of course those same FIFA versions gave Josh Wolff the ability to score in international competition. Not sure what I’m getting at here….but man O’Brien…he was like Chris Chelios in NHL ’94 when he laid a tackle on someone.

LM: DaMarcus Beasley

I wrestled greatly with this selection…and in conjunction the formation. Beasley was my final selection of the 11.

I had any matters of formations here in this one that either brought in Charlie Davies (yes, CD9) for a highly offensive look and Pablo Mastroeni, for a highly defensive look.

Hop on board DMB! You and Demps are in our 11.

In the end, I decided that the 2002-2006 Beasley could be counted on to play offensively, but also draw in and protect some of the midfield defensively. Of course, he is not a wing fullback, but he’s got the speed to cover when necessary.

Beasley’s nothing short of perfect pass to Clint Dempsey was the lone 2006 USMNT goal and in 2002 he bombed up the pitch with near similar proficiency to Donovan. We’re going to use Beasley here in a more reserved role, to take a shot creating some counter attacks, provide athletic cover over Boca and largely link and play off Donovan.

RM: Clint Dempsey

We are talking about 2006 Clint Dempsey here specifically, maybe with a little 2009 Fulham thrown in. The one the Cottagers looked at and said, wow, that’s exactly the attacker and winger we need in our starting 11. The one that I looked at and said, “Is that the first truly fearless USMNT offensive player beyond Donovan?” we’ve seen.

While Landon and Beasley wowed us in 2002 with their pace and precociousness, Demps 2006 WC, one of the lone lasting positives of the tourney, may have been more impressive.

It’s one thing to sneak up on unsuspecting opponents without the responsibility of winning as LD and Beas did. It’s another thing to face some of the toughest defenses in international play without other threats around you and still fervently attack.

The Deuceman did his best to carry the right flank offensive push on a team that showed the offensive cohesiveness and know-how of a bottom rung MLS squad.

Who can forget Dempsey scissoring his way against Italian and Ghanaian defenders and of course who can a steam-shipping Dempsey latching on to the aforementioned curling-pass of Beasley for the lone 2006 US-manufactured goal.

On a side note here, we don’t see Dempsey game as “trickery”– not sure where that label got put on Demps over the past year. What’s he
tricking? Does Ronaldo have “trickery?” Let’s stick with creativity here–seeing a play, a pass, a move before or as executing. Nobody’s “tricking” anyone, an offensive move is not motivated by tricking opponent, it’s motivated by beating an opponent.

LAM: Landon Donovan

LD: Equal parts 2002 and 2009

I tried desperately to move Donovan up the pitch to striker, but I believe he is just so much more valuable in a wider attacking mid role and coming from deeper on the pitch. As you might surmise, by keeping Donovan in the midfield, I’m going to squeeze out some very talented middies.

In short, perhaps Bob Bradley’s biggest accomplishment is giving the USMNT Landon-on-the-left where he is able to provide some cover in defense, but flat-out ignite counter attacks. This year, 2009, specifically has led to criticism around Donovan “not shooting” melting away and more kudos to his playmaking.

That being said, we’re going with a hybrid 2002 Donovan combined with the wide and more cautious 2009 Donovan. Who can forget McBride, Reyna and O’Brien releasing Donovan into space in 2002 to the surprise of the Portugese and German defenses. Who can forget the Honduran qualifier and the Spain Confed Cup game this year when Donovan generated offense deeper on the pitch. We’re combining the form of the two, sort of like Dr. Evil going back in time to steal Austin Powers mojo. Not really, but somehow that visual popped into our mind.

Donovan’s USMNT resume needs no announcement, 42 goals in 120 appearances, plus a critical member of the Counterattack Heard Around the World. Wow!

RAM: Freddy Adu

Just kidding!

We’re going with Clint Mathis here.

Wait, what’s that you say?

Blasphemy! Didn’t you once step on a pitch with the venerable Claudio Reyna (I did….in street clothes.) Where’s he in our line-up? Yeah, he’s not here. And where’s Ernie Stewart –more on this shortly.

I am selecting Mathis here because his arsenal includes putting the ball in the back of the net. If Mathis, in his early years, had gotten his transfer to Bayern Munich (and had less injuries). I think we’d be talking about him in the same breath of years of sterling service abroad as a Brad Friedel or Brian McBride.

Mathis has more tools to threaten with in our offense. The employment of Mathis also suggests just how much we think of O’Brien’s ability in the destroyer role–moving the very offensive Mathis and Donovan up the pitch together in tandem and leaving the central defense for O’Brien to essentially patrol alone. In fact, O’Brien…Mathis…well that reminds of us South Korea 2002. (see clip)


It also suggests that we are not playing a game of linking pass after pass per se through the middle. Though Mathis is our hold-up guy, he can also do a great job taking it to the hole.

Mathis has the wicked shot, the brashness and the ability to unlock that unforeseen pass that makes him our main playmaker in the middle.

It’s that simple…we’ll discuss Reyna’s omission below….

Striker: Brian McBride.

McEffort, McGentleman, McTeam Player...McBride!

C’mon, who’s arguing with me here.

Heart, soul, and ability to employ the (in hockey terms) neutral zone trap and force the defense further up the pitch. If McBride had just a little bit more size to go with his fearlessness, he’d be the prototypical USMNT target man striker. McB also possesses the stamina to apply the US defensive forechecking strategy something that few strikers have been able to execute on recently at the nattie level.

McBride wins our target man award here.

Bench & Omissions:

G: Brad Friedel

Defensive: Jay DeMerit, Tony Sanneh, Pablo Mastroeni, Chris Armas

Offensive: Ernie Stewart, Benny Feilhaber, Joe Max Moore, Claudio Reyna

Wow, controversial to say the least. Uh, ever hear of a guy named Claudio Reyna. Of course, we have. In our opinion though, Reyna–while capable of the sublime pass from time-to-time–stalled the offense all too often.

An analogy: I remember Patrick Ewing getting a rebound when Don Nelson was the coach of the Knicks. Nelson wanted to run and gun like he did with Run TMC in Golden State a half decade earlier.

Ewing was a post player and wanted his. So Ewing would hold the rebound, allowing the opponent to track back and snuff out the fast break opportunity. Then Ewing would amble up the court and demand the ball in the post.

Claudio Reyna is hardly a selfish player, the analogy doesn’t work in terms of motivation. However Reyna’s style all too often left the USMNT with a possession midfielder in the center of the pitch who too didn’t make the key offensive play. I am certainly sparing Reyna’s play in the World Cup post-group stage games in 2002 when his passing was on fire and on target. However, his play was discounted thereafter and Mathis is our man.

So no Claudio Reyna. (Update: TSG contributors ChrisR and AmericanSoccerHooligan make valid points. Reyna is getting the nod in the 18….reserving the rights on the 11 above for now.)

No Kasey Keller. No Chris Armas either who is the most capped player I believe never to make a World Cup. I wanted to put Armas in there for Mastroeni on the bench, but in the end I accept Mastroeni’s defensive prowess with his reckless red card streak since that defensive was just superior to Armas’s. I need Mastroeni for end of game shut down as Mathis gives way, plus the dimunitive midfielder can also play the wingfull in a pinch.

Update: As I go to publish this, I’m flip-flopping. We’re bringing in Armas! He deserves a big game for the USMNT and the fear of a Mastroeni foul that compromises us is just too high.

And you knew Benny! was going in there.


The decade team we’ve built here is centered around a few simple beliefs: 1) That John O’Brien will be a beast in the middle, 2) That both Mathis and Donovan can continue to put pressure on the opponent and unlock their defense and that 3) Dempsey and Beasley can get ahead on the attack, but also track back and maintain shape in defense.

That 3rd point also highlights our biggest weakness. We employed Dempsey as our winger over Hedjuk–both players while active and athletic are not the most technical defenders. So, in our pre-game, we’ll be sure to alert O’Brien to his need to watch that flank and concurrently for Beasley to skirt in from the left to help provide some central coverage. We’ve also got the technical Pope instead of Gooch keeping an eye out.

In fact the backline plays out nicely as it reads, from right to left, athleticism-technical ability-athleticism-technical ability, in the form of Hedjuk-Pope-Onyewu-Boca.

Above that we’ve got the 2002-2006 version of Beasley on the left causing havoc on speedy rushes with Donovan, both overlapping and hitching inside in concert with the Galaxy superstar.

On the right we’ve got Mathis drawing in laying the ball off to a surging Dempsey down the line or to Donovan making a run on the left.

McBride finds his spots above and floats–he’s smart enough to know where to go.

Game on.

Let the second, third, and even more guessing begin!

44 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ryan R. on 2009/12/28 at 6:59 PM

    I love it, but Frankie needs to make way for Sanneh. Watch the US/Germany match from ’02 and you see arguably the best performance ever by a US outside back. He was outstanding and his play throughout that entire Cup was sublime. Once Sanneh steps in for Frankie, I agree with this XI.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/28 at 7:01 PM


      I could have predicted (outside of Reyna) that Sanneh or Friedel would be one of the first bones of contention.

      Unless I’m mistaken–while Sanneh did do a phenomenal job in that game–didn’t he get beat inside by Ballack for the goal.

      If not, it was Pope and my choices come under further criticism. :>


      • Posted by Ryan R. on 2009/12/28 at 8:29 PM

        It was Sanneh who was beaten, but I’ve never really held him responsible for it because he is in the proper position, but is being held down by Ballack’s right arm on that goal. It’s not enough to merit a foul, but makes it nearly impossible for Sanneh to get up and head that one away. Even if you would like to blame that one on him, he was a menace all match long, covering centrally and pushing forward. His stretch of play from late 2001 through the end of 2002 was the best spell of outside back play the US has ever had.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/28 at 9:49 PM

          Agreed…maybe the years have not been kind to my memories of Sanneh…he definitely was one of the best.

          On the header, I was merely pointing it out. Ballack was at the time probably at the very top of his game–the 2002 tourney clearly “made him.”


  2. Posted by ChrisR on 2009/12/28 at 7:08 PM

    Claudio Reyna – seriously? Not in your 11 and not on the bench?

    The dude was nails in mid-field. Maybe not as flashy as O’brien (loved that guy and wish he could have stayed healthy) and clearly did not have the haircut of Mathis but wow. I want him in the side – he is a must; the guy made the all tourney team after the ’02 WC and while I know nothing about how that team was picked, it must count for something.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/28 at 7:12 PM

      I know, I know….sure to be controversy on Reyna.

      Here’s my (perhaps paltry) defense.

      Reyna doesn’t fit my style. He’s not super fast and O’Brien cover my midfield. If I play Reyna, then I am going to a 4-4-2 with Donovan on the left and another striker (Max-Moore) up top or 4-4-1-1 with Mathis at the attacking forward role.

      But again, the issue is more the strategy and tactics I’m using. Reyna just didn’t get ahead quickly enough.

      Like I mentioned his passing was on fire in 2002, but that was when teams didn’t expect Donovan or Beas to get those passes.

      I’d put him on the bench (maybe instead of Benny!), but that’s where the fan in me came out. But also Reyna is not a reliever.

      I know…I might take a lot of guff here and have to issue a major apology.


      • Posted by Ryan R. on 2009/12/28 at 8:03 PM

        I think you can draw comparisons from Reyna in your team to Torres in the current US team. Not comparing Torres to Reyna, but in the sense that they really don’t fit the style. I would argue Torres is a better player than he is made out to be with the US, but he doesn’t fit the style and his strengths often go unused with the Nats. I think Reyna would meet the same fate in your team.


  3. While I don’t know that the 2010 will be less talented overall than the 2006 team, I don’t know that there will be a player on the field that could make that pass to Mathis. Maybe Donovan, but he probably gets it wrong 4 times out of 5.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/28 at 7:59 PM

      @Jason Davis

      Gosh time flies…that was way back in 2002!

      Unfortunately 2006 will best be remembered by the following:

      Tomas Rosiscky smacking it…twice
      Pablo red card
      Convey miss
      McBride inches offsides….
      Reyna turnover and injury
      Clint’s goal
      Gooch’s phantom foul…

      ….okay I need to stop this.


  4. FRANKIE!!!!!! Yes! Great choice. I think so with our massive personal bias.

    I’ll back you up on the Reyna argument, too. Even though Reyna was awesome in 2002 and a great USMNTer I too thought the style of control and hold is not something that the USMNT should be proud of. We need flow and speed on our squad and not wait and see.

    The “Counter-attack heard ’round the world”? Not on Reyna’s watch.


  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/28 at 7:55 PM

    Not to contradict Dan/FreeBeer.

    I think Reyna is an excellent player — the USMNT just doesn’t play his style of game.

    The US right now needs a hybrid of Mike Bradley and Reyna…someone who can play defense, but also possess and move the ball quickly.

    And yes Frankie squeaked it out, but TSG is going to take a lot of guff on Sanneh.


  6. Reyna was a great servant to the national team. Though, Captain America would have to supplant John O’Brien in the center of the park, and I think an in-form O’Brien trumps Reyna any day of the week. Reyna’s best attribute that he brought to the USMNT was his leadership, and with McBride, Bocanegra, and ‘Cakes wearing armbands for club and/or country from time to time, and Cpt. Free Beer has some unsung leadership qualities; I think there’s plenty of leadership to go around.

    It’s hard to disagree with your choices, but I’ll do some thinking over lunch and see what comes of it.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 9:02 AM


      Hope you had a nice holiday. Looking forward to your thoughts…I see the coming in the way of maybe Friedel and Sanneh as well….


      • Thanks for the holiday wishes, I wish a safe an happy new year to the both of you. My wife and I hosted both sets of parents for Christmas, and I survived, that’s about all I’ll say.

        As for the Friedel/Sanneh comment how’d you know I wear the 2002 Sanneh jersey everytime I golf? Man he was awesome in that tournament. The Frankie or Sanneh conundrum was tough, but Frankie’s intangibles (Heart, Soul, Pride, and Loyalty like none other as I stated below) bring more to the table in a one and done situation. Plus the Starting XI you proposed, which I agree with, is missing that spark-plug of a player. Deuce and Cletus are both mercurial talents capable of conjuring something from nothing, but they don’t necessarily fire up everyone else around them.

        Friedel vs. Timmy is tough. Friedel has been consistently good for a long time, in the best league in the world no less. However, Timmy does have better natural shot stopping reflexes, the thing that I wrestle with is whether Friedel (at his peak) would’ve been able to perform the way Howard did in the win against Spain (not necessarily Timmy!’s finest performance of all time, but damn good), or would Friedel’s positioning sense and arguably better leadership over his defense made that whole game play out differently. In the end, the backline that has been chosen has played more in front of Howard than Friedel so THo gets the nod.


  7. Posted by Jim from NC on 2009/12/29 at 9:02 AM

    You missed a huge player for centerback.

    Marcelo Balboa

    At a quick glance he fits your criteria to a tee playing in a friendly January 16, 2000. I don’t know if you put him in as a starter (I probably would put him ahead of Gooch), but he sure beats out Conrad and DeMerit on the bench


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 9:04 AM

      I agree — I thought about Balboa as well…and in my book much better than Conrad who can be considered the “Interior Frankie Hedjuk” in a way.

      I did notice he fit the criteria….he just made the cut so I kind of let him slide…but you’re right…he qualifies and certainly has the hair.


      • Posted by Jim from NC on 2009/12/29 at 10:18 AM

        I really enjoyed this topic and am having fun with it with my brother. We often talk about your blogs. Others that also make the cut as did Balboa would be Harkes and Wynalda. I am not sure if Waldo would actually make the team, it is hard to argue with a John Harkes in his prime being included somewhere either in the starting 11 or on the bench. He could be in your midfield or even an outside back. I would also play Ernie Stewart over Mathis and Sanneh over Frankie. I don’t think Sanneh gets enough credit for how well he played especially in the later years of his career.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 10:25 AM

          Thanks kindly.

          Wow, Harkes had a cap in the 2000s…did I miss that?! Good catch.

          As for Wynalda, I’m too biased towards him now to include him…I’ll just say he’ll disrupt the chemistry. :>

          Bit of a cop-out I know.

          Sanneh over Frankie is very very viable as others have pointed out.

          As for Stewart, he was my 5th midfielder (before, gulp again, Reyna), but to me he is more like a Donovan than a Mathis and I like the different looks those two upfront give the starters.

          Maybe I am rating Mathis too high; I was just so impressed with his arsenal. He was definitely more Joe Cole than say Cesc Fabregas (lunchpail to grace, perhaps)…but man did he have a wide range of talents….

          Thanks for reading.


  8. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 9:05 AM

    @Jim, others.

    You know what’s interesting….not a lot of folks that *didn’t* play in 2006 or 2002 and are on this list….is that a good, bad thing?

    I mean Bradley and Rico don’t come close….Stuie and Altidore are not there yet….what does that forebode–does it?–for 2010?


    • Posted by Jim from NC on 2009/12/29 at 11:59 AM

      @ Matthew
      I also found that interesting and my guess for that has a couple of reasons.

      First of all is that the World Cups are events that stand out in everyone’s mind. It is the event that is on the world stage and even the diehard soccer fan remembers these events more so than others. I for one can remember a lot more about the 2002 World Cup than I can the 2007 Gold Cup (and the US one that one). Since the World Cup stands out in our minds so do the players of those teams. We remember fondly the successes from the 2002 team and some players from that team, in our mind, get better with age.

      My second reason is that the 2002 team was a rebuilding team from the 1994/1998 era and the 2006 also seemed to be a continuation of the 2002 era. The 2010 has the look of another era separate from 2002 (look at how many players from that team are even in the pool; Donovan, Cherundolo, Beasley Hedjuk??, Mastroeni???). Many of this new generation of players have yet to really build a body of work that can be recognized as top notch and like it or not, the large body of work enabled some players to be recognized.

      Also, the site that I was looking up players from the ealry 2000’s was
      It was a fun walk down memory lane looking at the game reports.


  9. Seriously? No Claudio Reyna? Not even on the team? I think my opinion of your blog and overall outlook on the USMNT just dropped about 10 notches. His performances in 2002 are arguably the best by any American EVER. He is the only American player to ever start at Central mid in multiple top leagues in Europe. This is just blasphemy if you ask me, and really makes your whole article seem like a joke. Sorry for the harsh critisism, but I think it is certainly warranted here.

    And since when do you not want someone in the middle of the pitch who can possess the ball? That is the problem right now with the US, is that Bradley does not have that abilitiy at all. Every team needs a guy that they can get the ball to that can control it and distribute. Reyna did this better than anyone. Sorry man, but this is not good. Not good at all.


    • I’m calling shenanigans on this one. Johnny O and Claudio fill the same role – holding/possession midfielders who sit in front of the back 4 and dictate the pace of the game and the offensive transitions.

      I will agree that 2002-2005 Claudio is a hell of a player, but he doesn’t compare to O’Brien at the height of his prowess, just ask LannyCakes.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 10:13 AM


      First, harsh criticism is not only welcome it’s encouraged–especially when bound by evidence–as you rightfully have. You were critical of the article and that was inpersonal–splendidly fine.

      I’m not sure you can discount our whole publication (we don’t really consider ourselves) a blog….one because we have a pretty solid body of work and 2) because I am pretty certain my brother Mark does not share my sentiment.

      Having said that I’ll address my omission of Reyna…and rightfully, I might need to make him part of the 18 after all the arguements.

      On possession, I really like the combination off offensive third possession (Mathis), transition possession (Donovan) and defensive possession (O’Brien) in the team above. The 2010 team lacks in possession, but with both Mathis and O’Brien able to possess. I have enough.

      My thinking on Reyna is that the interplay between O’Brien and Mathis is better. In my opinion I cant play Reyna in a CAM role — just not his suit and I can’t play him in the defensive — O’Brien is my pick (as a fan and analyst). I don’t want to go to a 5-person midfield or a 3-person defense. I’ve seen plenty of “teams of the decade” that suggest a 3-person defense….only Chile will be playing the 3-5-2 in RSA and I’m not sure it’s going to work.

      So if I bring in Reyna I’m going to the 4-4-2…that ships Donovan outwide and leaves Beasley on the bench. I like the look of the 4-3-2-1 much better–especially in that it allows a myraid of different attacking options. I go to the 4-4-2 and I’ve McBride partnering likely Max-Moore up top….I like my offensive with Mathis and Donovan aggressively given the freedom to attack what the defense gives them.

      My other option is the 4-4-1-1 with Mathis above of Reyna and that is probably my next best bet to my line-up above.

      I’m going to add Reyna into my 18 — taking out the beloved Benny!…that should even things a bit…but perhaps another column on Reyna.

      He’s a great player…and maybe if that US had Xavi and Iniesta, Reyna would sit behind them in CDM…but I still like my squad above.

      All this being said…thanks for the comments and the criticism…it’s what makes this community so great.


  10. Posted by Dylan on 2009/12/29 at 10:43 AM

    I’m just wondering and not in any way inferring anything but did Charlie Davies ever come into the conversation. And if not was in because there is just not enough to judge him on? Also with any of the young guys. Also I’m glad Beasley made the list, he deserves it, and I wouldn’t be suprised to see him making some of those runs this summer.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 11:06 AM

      You know Dylan — per the comments under the Beasley section — I really had two alternate line-ups…one featuring a Bob Bradley-esque 4-4-2 where Pablo paired JO in the middle and another that had Davies up top.

      I wish I had saved my argument on Davies — I just looked for it and I guess I deleted it.

      My rationale on Davies — and only maybe Earnie Stewart comes close — is that Davies was perhaps the only true striker of the decade whose game was predicated on speed.

      You can add in Cunningham there, but he never really has done it at the USMNT level. You can add in the flashes of Eddie Johnson when he came on the scene.

      I had Davies in there because I’m building that left side of the line-up around Donovan.

      In the end, I decided the threat of Mathis and different options he gave combined with Mathis’s and McBride’s ability to play off Donovan AND with Beasley overlapping some speed on the left that there would be enough complementary options around Donovan to make him a weapon.

      Ernie Stewart is probably the next sort of fastest guy…but he’s really more of a midfielder…that’s why we’ve got him on the squad. In a pinch…we can play him up top as well.


  11. @ Nick, how dare you declare shenanigans on me! Didn’t Reyna and O’Brien both play center mid in 2002? I am pretty sure that worked out ok.

    @matthewsf, your explanation is long and I guess in some way you can make it work. But the question is, put your best 11 out on the field to win one game. If you ask me that, I put Claudio Reyna in the middle of the field, and I work around him. Done and done. And for posterity, here is my 11….

    Sanneh Pope Onyewu Boca

    Lewis O’Brien Reyna Donovan



    For subs, I like Mathis, Beasley and maybe Hedjuk, all circa 2002 as subs (if I am losing). And in the words of Iceman, “Brad Friedel can be my keeper any day.”


    • The shenanigans comment was more directed at you devaluing the publication due to not selecting Reyna. It’s obvious you have different formation ideas, and for your formation I would agree that Reyna should be included in the 18, if not the 11.

      As for having one game to win, we’ll have to agree to disagree that the 4-3-2-1 sans Cpt. America is the way to go. I think the formation and exclusion of Reyna has merit, you don’t. As has been said you are correct that the 2002 pairing of O’Brien and Reyna worked well, but it’s debatable whether that had more to do with Donovan and Beasley taking everyone by surprise.


  12. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 11:16 AM


    I was going to ask you your 11.

    Can’t really argue all that much. I liked Lewis a lot on the USMNT team, but I’m pretty sure while he can enter the discussion for “Best Picks” that I wouldn’t use his left foot on the right wing…it’s not like he is darting inside.

    Similarly, O’Brien as a lefty on the right as well…not sure I agree there. You’re putting two lefties on the right and the pace-deficient Reyna in paring with Donovan on the left.

    Dempsey is not my best hold-up guy either…but that is debatable as well.

    Where you and I disagree ASH is where and who to build around and I think the pairing of CAM Mathis and CDM O’Brien is the tandem I’m building off of….as oppose to CRM Reyna and CLM O’Brien.

    I might add that in 2002…the speedsters of Beasley and Landon opened up a ton of field and took teams by surprise.

    While this may be reserved for another article…and there are many other factors to weigh as well…when teams were expecting Beasley, Donovan and Reyna (*not at top fitness we know) in 2006 the US couldn’t muster any offense.

    In 2006, the USMNT partnered Mastroeni (after a cameo by O’Brien against Czech) and Reyna in the middle and it was curtains for our offense.

    What was different for the USMNT in 2006:

    * inability to for Donovan and company to sneak up on opponents
    * O’Brien not fit and not covering for Reyna
    * No Mathis…
    * And of course Bobby Convey…but I digress….

    Good debate….we will definitely continue it.

    Also, please don’t hold my brother Mark in contempt. :>


  13. Posted by ChrisR on 2009/12/29 at 11:31 AM

    Nice Matt, Claudio in the 18, that’s a start. Here’s my pitch for getting him in the starting 11.

    Mathis out – Reyna in.

    1. Move LD to the right where he can use his speed to blaze up and down the flanks.
    2. Move Clint up to play the second striker – maybe he can avoid his ‘over-dribbling in the mid-field’ fiasco’s and with luck knock in a couple goals a la the 2009 Confed Cup when he moved up top late in games.
    3. O’Brien and Reyna play central and figure out a way to make it happen.


  14. I agree with the 4-3-2-1 formation for this grouping of players, and in fact would like to have seen it in more games prior to the Hex starting. I am in complete agreement with the starting eleven(I picked Hejduk over Sanneh even though I’m a huge Tony Sanneh, circa 2002, fan. I think Frankie brings a little more to the table in terms of “intangibles”. His energy and passion are contagious and no one else that’s been up for debate has a level anywhere near Cpt. Free Beer), but would make some changes on the bench. Given the choice my bench would look like this: Friedel, Sanneh, Demerit, Reyna, Altidore, Stewart, and Eddie Lewis.

    If I’m ahead and need to protect the lead, drop back into a 4-4-2 with Reyna and O’Brien breaking things up and maintaining possession. If I’m behind, I throw Jozy on in the 75th minute for McBride and Stewart for Mathis. Push Donovan up top to give Jozy someone quick to work off of, and put Stewart on the right, moving Dempsey into a roaming central midfield-ish position.

    I think Altidore when he’s been on form in 2009 gives the US a completely different dimension at the forward position than McBride, Mathis, Donovan, or Dempsey. Eddie Lewis’s inclusion is down to his crossing and ability to play LB of LM if needed.

    If I had to pick 23 for a tournament:
    GKs – Howard, Friedel
    D – Bocanegra, Onyewu, Demerit, Hejduk, Sanneh, Pope, Gibbs, Lewis
    M – O’Brien, Beasley, Reyna, Harkes, Armas, Bradley (from the 2007 Gold Cup where he was box-to-box and distributing like an old pro)
    F/A – Donovan, Depsey, Mathis, McBride, Altidore, Stewart, Max-Moore


    • Boys I think it might be time to give Nick admin status on TSG… he’s got some good stuff here.

      Glad you all stuck by Frankie. He may not be pretty on the field all the time, but few bring more heart, hard work, and hair to the team.


  15. […] TSG Glossary « USMNT ‘00-’09: TSG’s Squad For All The Marbles […]


  16. Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/29 at 6:47 PM

    Who manages/coaches this team? your thoughts everyone.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/29 at 8:40 PM

      Shaun, why did you have to throw that wrench in there?

      Same guidelines? Can I choose Petr Novak or Wilmer Cabrera or other non-senior team coaches?

      Do I need to select a coach who actually coached the team?

      Way to spoil this for me…. :>


      • Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/30 at 12:18 AM

        Bruce or Bob…Personally i believe that both coaches exceeded expectations at their collective heights during this decade. To be brutally honest the USMNT is a decent team but became a good and respected team due to these coaches…Neither coach is a tactical genius BUT they both got the very very very best and then some from a solid squad. This i believe is the toughest choice of all…(piece on how important a manager is coming soon)


      • If we’re going with a coach who has coached the Sr. National Team this decade, I think I have to go with Bruce Arena, from 2002 not arrogant asshat Bruce from 2006.

        Though his tactical acumen may not be the greatest, he showed us in 2002 that he wasn’t afraid to let the kids play, which is what the 4-3-2-1 formation needs. Someone who’ll give them some guidance and then sit back and let it happen.

        Sweatpants seems to be a bit to reserved for this formation. If we’re going with an Italian style 4-4-2 with Reyna and Johnny O in the middle, then Bobbo is your man (side bar: maybe he should go coach in Italy after the WC…). But, I think we all would rather see the USMNT of the Decade go down in a blaze of glory than sit back, and for that we need DaBruce.

        If we’re allowed to pick other coaches from the US system, I say Tomas Rongen….kidding of course.


      • Not to stray towards irrelevance here….But what if we’re not even sticking with soccer coaches, or even coaches from this decade. With one game on the line and our formation already set, the most important thing left is motivation. I’d like to see a Lombardi type get these guys fired up. Can you imagine Frankie Haircut after a Lombardi pep-talk, he might just throw Gooch and Jozy aside to score a goal. And, I don’t think Dempsey would mope around at all out of sheer fear of getting his ass kicked by someone 3 times his age.

        Though his tactical acumen would be lacking he’d have Asst. Coaches Sweatpants and Asshat telling him who should go where.


  17. Posted by Rich on 2009/12/30 at 8:17 PM

    Love the debate. I would go with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The question here is who will play the CAM position or what might be better referred to as Zidane’s position. I am not sure the US has had a guy who can fill this position, but I think other than that, this is our best formation.

    Beasley, Donovan, Dempsey
    O’Brien, Renya
    Bocanegra, Onyewu, Pope, Sanneh

    Depending on what we need, we can sub in Stewart, Benny, Mathis, or Altidore.

    I also think the team would be suited to a Brazilian style 4-2-2-2 as long as the backs attack.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/31 at 3:35 PM


      I like this team — it allows you to get both Reyna and O’Brien into the came while pushing Demps and Beasley forward.

      Good selections — my only is Landon in the center of the pitch — I would create two options here (imo):

      – Flip Dempsey inside — he’s more of a hold-up guy and as well less of a crosser
      – Move Donovan to the left and add in Mathis (who everyone knows I favor) — it removes Beasley

      All of this is predictated, by my belief that Donovan is best served attacking from the wing.

      Nice work.


  18. […] likely doesn’t need a further introduction our publication. TSG built their “Team for All the Marbles” so to speak around him. His passing prowess, his assured tackling, his vision all robbed by […]


  19. […] Clint Mathis makes TSG’s Decade Team For All The Marbles […]


  20. […] ♦ Member of TSG’s All-Decade Team. […]


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