This is a guest post by frequent contributor Brian Mechanick.
It’s actually a piece that I wanted to write, but couldn’t give it the attention it deserved. Thanks Brian for your efforts.
A comparison of Bruce Arena’s 2006 squad versus their counterparts in Bob Bradley’s army. Oh, and I asked Brian to choose his own starting line-up. So no guffaw there.
2006 vs. 2010
As a young USMNT fan that came of age during the 2002 World Cup, the 2006 tournament was a bitter pill to swallow. ’06 was supposed to be our year, building upon our quarterfinal appearance to reach untouched heights.
The USA has seen many highs and lows in the four years since 2006: the highs of the 2007 Gold Cup & ’09 Confederations Cup and the lows of the 2008 Olympics and Charlie Davies’ accident. But less than a month away, the question is: how much better is this 2010 squad than the ’06 edition, scoring on the patented B-Mac scale which takes into account things like the player’s prime, experience, form, etc.
Goalkeeper: 2006- Kasey Keller 2010- Tim Howard
Kasey entered 2006 doing some of the best goalkeeping of his career, starting all but one games for Borussia Monchengladbach as he led the formerly relegation-battling team to a mid-table finish. Keller was always a phenomenal shot-stopper, and cannot wholly be faulted him directly for any of the goals he allowed in ’06. However, the difference between the USA’s defense in ’02 vs. ’06 was organization, not class, so there was plenty of evidence that Kasey did not organize the back-line as well as the likes of Brad Friedel.
Tim Howard’s form has been strong this season, helping a subpar and injured backline push for Europe. Howard has the blend of athleticism and quick instinct that leads him to be one of the world’s top shot-stoppers. The only faults ever really assessed to Howard were doubts on his judgments on balls played into the box. After watching last year’s Confederations Cup though, there is little doubt that Howard is not only a world-class talent, but also the general of the defense, yelling out orders like a young Vince Lombardi.
Score: 2006: 80/100 2010: 87/100
Center Backs: 2006- Oguchi Onyewu & Eddie Pope 2010- Onyewu & Jay DeMerit
Eddie Pope was a stalwart for the U.S., starting every game in the ’02 cup, providing his skill and quickness to break up play before it got started. In ’06 though, Pope had lost his legs, getting abused by Jan Koller and Tomas Rosicky before getting a red card against Italy to end his tournament.
Oguchi Onyewu demonstrated his athleticism and strength in Germany, but his greenness led to some mis-positioning and foul on Ghana to give the Black Stars their game-winning penalty. The last four years have given Gooch the mental game to finally match-up with his immense physical talents.
Jay DeMerit is a completely different player than the man he is replacing in Pope. DeMerit is a bulldog defensively, hard-tackling and physical, whose biggest deficiency is his passing. Center-halves are ultimately judged on how well they work as a pair. The ’06 edition allowed 6 goals in 3 games, the 2010 pair shutout a Spain team with David Villa and Fernando Torres at forward.
Score: 2006: 73 2010: 82
Right Back: 2006- Steve Cherundolo 2010- Jonathan Spector
The ’06 edition of Steve Cherundolo was in his athletic prime, but hardly played his best. Dolo was always known for his pace and marking, with the criticism always coming at his 5’6” frame. The last four years has worn down his pace as he has declined over the period, leading him to be surpassed by Jonathan Spector. The ’06 Dolo vs. 2010 Spector debate is interesting, as Cherundolo gave you more pace going forward, better marking and awareness, while Spector is stronger, bigger, and plays a much better ball. I give the slightest of edge to Spector.
Score: 2006: 74 2010: 75
Left Back: 2006 & 2010- Carlos Bocanegra
Not too much to say here, as Captain Boca has held down the position for the last four years. Boca has the same skills, more experience, and has lost some of his legs. For as well as Carlos has held up, the 2006 edition had the pace to give any winger problems.
Score: 2006: 78 2010: 76
Center Midfield: 2006- Claudio Reyna 2010- Michael Bradley
Claudio Reyna brought a level of skill no American before him had. We’ve yet to see another U.S. player who can match his possession in the center of the field, distributing the ball and dictating the offense. Yet for all his strengths Reyna also had his faults: not being a goal scorer, being slow, and not defending enough. The 2006 edition was a strong player, but missing just a bit of Reyna’s class, as his costly turnover versus Ghana proved.
While Reyna was a prototype possession midfielder, his replacement in Michael Bradley is much more of a box-to-box mid, with a strong shot, pace, and defensive aggression Reyna lacked. Still, Reyna’s ability to hold possession and pass were so far ahead of Bradley’s that it’s hard not to give Captain America the edge.
Score: 2006: 81 2010: 79
Defensive Midfield: 2006- Pablo Mastroeni/John O’Brien 2010: Ricardo Clark/Maurice Edu
John O’Brien made a brief appearance in ’06, but the integral member from four years previous succumbed to the injuries that eventually robbed his career. In his place was Pablo Mastroeni, whose play was poor in Germany, getting a red card that invalidated the USA’s man-advantage versus Italy and letting Tomáš Rosický run wild in the midfield versus the Czechs. Mastroeni had been an important player for the USA in Germany, starting against Portugal, Mexico, and Germany, and played the defensive midfielder role with some offensive vision. Fighting to replace him are Edu and Clark. Both have some similarities, highly athletic players who can play box-to-box. Edu is more confident attacking and versatile, while Clark is a more experienced and disciplined player. Regardless, I’ll take the young, dynamic players over Mastroeni’s experience.
Score: 2006: 72 2010: 74
Left Wing: 2006- Bobby Convey 2010: Landon Donovan
Bobby Convey came into 2006 with a lot of hype after helping lead Reading to the Premiership, but came up small in Germany. Convey was always able to play a good ball, but the ’06 cup showed that he lacked the pace, ball control, and strength to be dominant on the international level.
Replacing him on the left wing in South Africa will be Landon Donovan, who has locked down the position since moving from attacking mid. I won’t blabber too much about the skills of the greatest American player ever produced, but it is his speed, vision, instincts and passing that he has proved in L.A., Everton, and the USMNT. A massive upgrade over Convey.
Score: 2006: 74 2010: 88
Right Wing: 2006- Clint Dempsey/DaMarcus Beasley 2010: Stuart Holden
Perhaps the brightest set of players from 2006, Beasley and Dempsey were impact players in ’06. Dempsey is more of a finisher, while Beasley has the vision and passing ability, as both evidenced in their DaMarcus to Clint goal against Ghana.
It’s very possible that Clint will reprise his role on the right side in 2010, but right now I’m tipping him to move to forward to replace Charlie Davies. In his stead will be Stuart Holden, who built off a strong 2009 Gold Cup to get into the starting XI picture. After a transfer to Bolton, Holden began to prove his class stayed on the highest level. Stu is blessed with a wonderful cross and the vision to boot, but lacks the physical power and finishing of Dempsey and pace of Beasley. A solid player, but not sure he’s up to snuff with his predecessors of ’06.
Score: 2006: 78 2010: 75
Forwards: 2006- Brian McBride and Landon Donovan 2010: Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey
It’s saddens me dearly that Brian McBride had to age. I wish that we could forever have the 2002 vintage, causing havoc and heading in goals ever game. The 2006 version wasn’t too shabby though, demonstrating his typical ability to hold possession and weaken defenses. In support of him was Landon Donovan, playing as the number 10 for the USA. While he might not have been the trequartista that Francesco Totti was for the eventual champion Italy, LD was still strong in both creating and attacking, although Bob Bradley and I agree he is better on the wing.
The 2010 unit has been gravely injured by the loss of Charlie Davies. Jozy Altidore (and possibly Clint Dempsey if Bradley chooses to utilize him in the position) now stand alone atop the US striker tree, with a host of others like Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, Brian Ching, and Robbie Findley fighting to join him in South Africa. Jozy brings a physical presence to the forward spot never before seen, but he seems to lack the experience in weakening a defense that McBride had. His goal scoring record is unspectacular, but it is hard to forget his effort on his crucial goal versus Spain a year ago. Hopefully Dempsey can put his clinical finishing to work at striker for the U.S. if he is put in the position, but it’s still hard to imagine that the USA has improved at forward in 2010.
Score: 2006: 80 2010- 76