From TSG Comments: Vintage or Ancient? On USMNT Player Age

This piece ably researched by David Moscow, Phil Lavanco, Clay Sauerteig, & Brandon Miller. Thanks.

So the following comment in our USA vs. Antigua & Barbuda preview–by schweeb–got our mind percolating. Republishing: [edited]

Whatever man, I’ve been doing this since before Bruce Arena…

So if Klinsmann were to use the team’s current roster now–and this is without counting the goalkeeper–the US would have 10 guys or so at 30 or over at World Cup qualifying.

With that being said, is he using this time now to test these guys and see if they can keep up a World Cup type play where they are constantly playing or is he testing younger guys mainly Michael Bradley, Jose Torres that are going to be around 26-or-so to build the team around them?

The following are the ages that the various USMNT pool players will be at World Cup 2014 in Brazil:

DEF: Carlos Bocanegra, 35; Steve Cherundolo, 35; Clarence Goodson 32; Oguchi Onyewu, 32; Michael Parkhurst, 30; Edgar Castillo, 27; Eric Lichaj, 25; Geoff Cameron, 28, Omar Gonzalez 26

MID: Kyle Beckerman, 32; Jermaine Jones, 32; Michael Bradley, 26; Maurice Edu, 28; Jose Francisco Torres, 26; Alfredo Morales, 24; Danny Williams 25

FWD: Jozy Altidore: 24, Terrence Boyd: 22, Clint Dempsey 30, Landon Donovan 31, Herculez Gomez, 31

—–

With this question in mind, it prompted a review of some positional age averages for the Euro 2012 festivities that start today.

Seeing as it how it is difficult to sometimes approximate the top of a formation and comparatively analyze a false nine with say an attacking mid, the exam was confined to the following positions of most interest: Fullback, Centerback and Central Midfield.

Eye-opening results.

[Note*: Give a pass on the US starters if they’re not etched in stone, a means of review more than a statement on who starts.]

Fullback:

Just right…

United States starters: Steve Cherundolo 33 (35 at WC), Fabian Johnson 24 (26 at World Cup)

US pecking order: Eric Lichaj 23 (25 at WC), Edgar Castillo 25 (27 at WC), Josh Gatt 20 (22 at WC)

Average age, Euro 2012 expected starters: [26.7]

Of note: Ashely Cole/England (31), Patrice Evra/France (31), Lars Jacobsen/Denmark (32)

Conclusions: Very interesting.

First, great data point that Evra and Cole are the same age two years younger than Cherundolo–so reviewing their effectiveness and longevity over the coming two years in parallel with Cherundolo should provide some interesting data points.

What might be slightly different is that Jurgen Klinsmann’s current system favors bum rushing the fullbacks up the pitch to create width. Not so the system’s of England (Cole) and France (Evra) quite as much–Cole does slither forward quite a bit.

It’s noted that Johnson–professed by some to be one of the best fullbacks currently in the Bundesliga–seems like he will be–based upon these numbers alone–right in the sweet spot, age-wise come Brazil 2014, if it’s accepted that the Euros are a good proxy.

Comparable to Fab, might be another “Fab”….Fabio Coentrao of Portugal (24 years old) and Jordi Alba (a nifty little player, 23 years old) of Spain.

That said, you can see with the trend to use CMs more to cover over backs and really the modern game showing that fullback width is the hallmark of dominant teams (Lahm for Germany, Alves or Maicon for Brazil, Van Der Weil for Holland) that the ideal age of such players who probably cover more ground in most systems than those center mids is on the younger side.

Centerback

United States starters: Clarence Goodson 30 (32 at WC), Carlos Bocanegra 33 (35 at World Cup)

How can a guy named “Good, Son” not be a youthful enough starter?

US Pecking order: Geoff Cameron 26 (28 at WC), Tim Ream 24 (26 at WC), Oguchi Onyewu 30 (32 at WC)

Average age, Euro 2012 expected starters: [28]

Of note: Kjaer/Denmark (23),  Ramos/Spain (26)

Conclusions: Maybe not what you think here; didn’t seem intuitive at all.

For those that fondly remember the defensive steel curtain of the Azzurri at World Cup 2006 with the symbiotic pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro–30 and 32-years-old respectively in Germany that Cup-lifting year, the notion that centerbacks were more cagey, experienced, cerebral vets seemed to have been affirmed.

However, looking at the Euros here, it’s not the case. In fact, some of the stronger pairings: Italy (Chiellini & Bonucci) or Denmark (Kjaer & Agger) skew even younger in average age.

Is this perhaps a developing trend with the advent of more players forward (the adoption of the 4-3-3) or is it due to playing a higher line? (Seems more the former if anything)

This is perhaps where the States will be “outside spec” the furthest if a pairing of Goodson and Bocanegra (an average age of 33.5 at World Cup 2014) progress.

It is worth noting that two favorites–Germany and Holland–are both accused of having suspect centerback pairings. Germany falls below the mean age while Holland falls above.

Central Midfield

This duo may just due….age-wise.

United States starters*: Michael Bradley 24 (26 at WC), Jermaine Jones 30 (32 at World Cup)

US Pecking order: Beckerman 30 (32 at WC), Edu 26 (28 at WC), Torres 24 (26 at WC)

Average age, Euro 2012 expected starters: [28.8]

Of note: Steven Gerrard (32), Scotty Parker (30), Xavi (32), Xavi Alonso (30), Anders Svensson (35), Mark Van Bommell (35)

Conclusions: Not, perhaps, what you’d think here. The average of CMs is an elder 28.8 years old. A tad at least surprising.

“Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about. My boarding school wasn’t like that at all.”

More astounding? All but three clubs (Denmark, Germany, Portugal) feature at least one starter who is at least 30 years of age.

Most teams pair a mid-20’s-year old with a 30-year old.

But there are further anomalies, the Greeks–long more a defensive side–will play at a more frenetic pace than previous Euros and World Cups but have Giorgos Karagounis (35) and Kostas Katsouranis (32) in their midfield. As well, the Ukrainians like to press up the pitch (a la Klinsmann’s desired system) and feature 33-year-old Anatoliy Tymoshcuk of Bayern an Serhiy Nazarenko of Tavriya in the center of the pitch.

The Abstract:

From the cursory review above and from the long witnessed bossing of US centerbacks in international play (Gyan, Ghana 2010; Dos Santos/Mexico vs. at Gold Cup 2011) and many more examples, it only reaffirms the notion that the central components of the back line need the most care and tweaking in the 2014 run-up. Not a surprise.

Ready?

What must be considered further is if the US starting centerback rotation is physically challenged now–given that it is currently north of the average age of Euro 2012 centerbacks–can be expected that “more of the same” will lead to improvement? Is that the only option?

That said, what’s next? Geoff Cameron seems to have the chops, but he’s 26 and desperately needs to be tested week-in and week-out against better competition to improve his game. Tim Ream is promising, but more on the attacking side of the ball currently.

The U-23 crops saw their back line spine continually ravaged in Olympic qualifying. Perry Kitchen (22 at World Cup 2014) and Ike Opara (25 years old) were either overmatched and playing out of position–the former–or lacking experience and fortitude–the latter.

Is it asking too much of Hertha’s John Anthony Brooks–forecasted club reps unknown–too much to be ready at 21 for World Cup 2014? Absolutely. Should…should Eric Lichaj perhaps slide inward given his size and strength and penchant to foul in pursuit?

Maybe Bob Bradley playing Maurice Edu at centerback wasn’t such a bad idea?

Mama, tell your kids to grow up to be centerbacks.

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32 responses to this post.

  1. So, you’re leaving out two potential members of the US center back pool, Omar Gonzalez (who’s 24 now) and Danny Williams (who’s 22 now). I know Williams is listed as a midfielder, but the kid can play on the back line (he did for Hoffenheim n>0 times, right?). So it’s not totally bleak there.
    I wonder whether a Williams/Cameron back line wouldn’t be interesting to see…Williams is obviously a freakish athlete and Cameron’s pretty quick, so I imagine it’d allow awesome Marcelo Bielsa-style pressing. Or at least, more pressing from the back line without the fear of continually getting burned over the top.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/07 at 11:20 PM

      Danny Williams is listed above.

      Nobody is leaving out anybody. The above–as quoted–are “various” players in the pool.

      This–in my opinion–should not be a review of *who* starts–more what other nations put on the field from an age complexion percentage.

      Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/07 at 11:24 PM

      Note — didn’t mean to seem harsh…just didn’t want the post to become about the US depth chart instead of looking at ages.

      Reply

      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2012/06/08 at 7:38 AM

        Matt- I’m seeing the Jermaine Jones edge creeping into your replies))). Get Nasty! ))

        Reply

  2. Posted by Kay20 on 2012/06/07 at 11:22 PM

    What a great analysis. Really enjoyed this as it shed some actual reference light to the question of age and how it matters. Central midfield didn’t surprise me but it’s fascinating and makes a ton of sense.

    Is there any way to continue this analysis into the rest of the line-up? I would suspect forwards and wingers to be younger, and GKers older, but maybe I’m wrong?

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/07 at 11:23 PM

      Maybe we can get to that. Happy to take helpers. :>

      Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2012/06/08 at 6:44 AM

      GKer age will be lower this time around than in the past probably because of Hart (25), Neuer (26), Szczesny (22), Akinfeev (26), Rui Patricio (24) and Lloris (25). Even Cech is only 30. I don’t know enough about the other teams to figure out who their starters would be.

      Reply

  3. Posted by WatertownMA on 2012/06/08 at 3:47 AM

    Excellent post and reference points to compare ages by position. I am looking forward to continued analysis and debate on this topic. Indeed, schweeb’s posts on USMNT age (which I tend to agree with) inspired me to look at U.S. roster starters’ ages during their most successful World Cup run (2002). This is a bit tangent to the above post. Nonetheless, USMNT ages for starters ** not by position was 28.1 during group stage. For knockout stages against Germany and Mexico, avg was 27.6. I plan to apply the same metric for 1998, 2006, 2010, and 2014 projected starters to see what is discovered… and attempt to compare to top flight teams unless someone beats me to it. Or, maybe I can apply this positionally as well, so that it’s closer in line to the article above.

    ** For group stage, only players that started 2 or 3 games made it into my data, as I was trying to measure regular starters versus just a one-off start for a game. I did not apply the same methodology to knockout.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Gregorio on 2012/06/08 at 5:13 AM

    Great analysis, it builds a strong case but I would also like to consider the confounding variables( I’m trying to sound like I know all this research stuff to build credibility!) The point I’m meandering too, like Oneywu in the backfield pushing a rock, is that although age does have its merit, the games leading up to the tournament/season also must be looked at. Some player have played consistently since their teen years so their mileage is high, hence a propensity to break down, lose a step, etc.. But there are some who for various reasons, miss a chunk of time before bug tourneys, (usually due to injury,or suspension,etc) who are fresh & rejuvenated despite their advance in years. To further the car mileage analogy , there are some that are built to handle the road & wear & tear and there are others that don’t handle well with age with due maintaince. Its the beautiful game of intangibles, ( I cried when I had to get rid of my 98 corolla, that 4 cyclinder sucker never died)
    Anyway the point I’m making is that age can be overated or overutilized, its about recovery time, the older you get, the more recovery time you need, so in quick turn around tournaments, the older payers with high mileage on them need more time to recover hence they appear slow & gassed in the latter stages. This is where team selection & rotation is critical. In a one shot game, the older payers will perform at their peaks but in the longer haul they will lose effectiveness for the most part due to short time available to recover and recuperate.
    I think the point that players over 30 are done is a bad misconception and narrative that defines & limits players in this category. They see a decline in performance as due to age which is a factor but its probably more about recovery time; sleep, nutrition, habits, etc… anyway this is my morning coffee ramble and per my usual discliamer “what the eff do I know!”

    Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2012/06/08 at 6:53 AM

      The car mileage analogy is a good one for athletes in sports where there are different season lengths based on the route a player took to the top. I don’t have the breakdowns on soccer players but the breakdown has been done for basketball players based on guys that went to college and those that went direct to NBA from high school so you would compare Kobe to someone who was about 2 years older than Kobe actually is based on minutes played.

      It would be similar to comparing 30 year old Donovan to 29 year old Dempsey. Donovan was playing much more regularly as a teenager (full seasons in MLS starting at 19) and into his early 20’s than Dempsey (first year in MLS at 21) who went to college just based on the different lengths of season and the substitution rules in college soccer. Throw in Donovan’s added games while on loan and it would be fair to say that he’s an additional 2 years “soccer age” than Dempsey.

      Reply

    • Posted by corky on 2012/06/08 at 7:01 AM

      That’s a really interesting point. For the US players who went to college, I’ll maintain they generally will play young for their age since college is not as intense as a professional environment.

      It’ll be interesting in the future as soccer becomes more analytical if there’s a stronger correlation between a player breaking down and his age or number of games played. From what I’ve read from baseball and American football, it appears that usage has more of an effect than age.

      Anyway, great post — interesting stuff.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Matt on 2012/06/08 at 5:39 AM

    Alves, as in Dani Alves who is Brazilian, which disqualifies him from being a fullback fro Spain as you have him listed above. Come on, everyone knows Dani Alves is Brazilian.

    Reply

  6. Posted by ZiggyG2000@gmail.com on 2012/06/08 at 5:59 AM

    This is a brilliant analysis. Thanks for doing this.

    It’s interesting that Klinsi seems to think Goodson has something to offer still — he may very well be right, but I assumed after seeing the guy get worked so hard on a few occasions these past few years (particularly in the post-World Cup Bradley era — most notably, of course, in the Mexico game), that he would transition his focus elsewhere once WC Qualifying started.

    Obviously, though, we are still looking at Goodson as our next-best option after Boca. I can’t help but think we have much better raw material to work with that would be much more successfully integrated in Klinsi’s system if given two years to grow into the center-back mould, but, then again, maybe we don’t. Maybe Geoff Cameron is really the only alternative and, as you say, there are a lot of barriers to him locking up that spot long-term.

    Only time will tell, but I’d like to remind everyone how quickly Gooch’s ascendancy to the position was (newcomer in the Panama game, clear starter and star by the Mexico qualifier in Columbus). You never know who will crawl out of the woodwork during World Cup Qualifying — and I have a strong feeling we may have not yet seen all the faces that will be on the plane to Brazil. We’ll see.

    All I can think about right now is how much Neven Subotic would benefit this lineup hugely. :/

    Anywho, love it. Great work. Thank you. Also, Lars Jacobsen is Danish, not Swedish.

    Reply

    • Posted by narkid on 2012/06/08 at 6:56 AM

      no offense ziggy, but maybe you should be thinking about AandB and not some player who never played for the full national side. and maybe also, maybe we should qualify before we think about who is going to be playing in brasil two years from now.

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/08 at 8:12 AM

        Last warning dikranovich. You’re wasting all the TSG staff time with policing.

        Reply

        • Posted by narkid on 2012/06/08 at 12:20 PM

          dude, maybe if i could post as dikranovich, it would be easier for you. arent you busy looking for an editor anyway.

          Reply

      • Posted by Ziggy on 2012/06/08 at 8:15 AM

        None taken. I feel ya — was just throwing it out there.

        Reply

    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2012/06/08 at 7:07 AM

      Good insight and although much of the age discussion is a bit specious (as player quality and fitness are difficult to quantify) the quaility and depth of analysis in this makes it an interesting read. Bravo to you guys for continuing to find nuggets to mine from this beautiful game.
      I think Goodson and Cameron are not bad options given the time between now and WC.

      Reply

  7. Posted by narkid on 2012/06/08 at 6:49 AM

    age is just a state of mind. that said, old legs make tired legs.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Nick on 2012/06/08 at 8:45 AM

    Interesting that [elite-ish] Centerback pairings are trending towards the younger players, though the car mileage analogy may make them older than their calendar age. I believe it was a (very spot-on) TSG comment from a few years ago about how coaches tend to utilize their more experienced (read: aged) players farther back in the field to protect the goal; their wit, williness, and veteran nous being of extreme importance in the rear guard.

    It appears that the trend now is to put the guile and veteran nous in the center of the midfield protecting the defense or pulling the creative strings.

    Reply

  9. Posted by scweeb on 2012/06/08 at 9:14 AM

    Sweet action on the article. Just another question to go with all this. Is after this run of wq qualifiers is there going to be some games were we can maybe look at bringing in some younger athletes to see if they can fit it the JK system. Just so we have some indemnification as to a couple back up options. Cause if i remember right the last world cup we had brought in JJ and he only had a couple of games with the states before WQ.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2012/06/08 at 9:21 AM

      Hopefully the US will do the business early in this stage of qualifiers and the next so that the last few games are meaningless. That way the fringe players can get some time. Other than that I think the time during the Confed Cup next summer would be available for friendlies but I’m not sure if MLS would be very happy with that.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Alex on 2012/06/08 at 9:32 AM

    I could see Lichaj pulling a Ramos and sliding inside if needed. I mean, he’s only about an inch shorter than Boca and he’s a tank as well. With plenty of pace

    Reply

  11. Posted by lukesandblom on 2012/06/08 at 10:11 AM

    I’m sorry but cherundolo and boca are both currently 33 so they will be 35 at the world cup ………

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/08 at 12:14 PM

      My word…one name will be removed from above! Thank you!

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/08 at 12:29 PM

        I have corrected Goodson, Cherundolo, Bocanegra and Gooch. Thank you for the catch; apologies for the proof-reading.

        Reply

  12. Posted by CJ on 2012/06/08 at 10:13 AM

    I’ll play CB. I just have to work on my pace, endurance, touch, heading, tracking and marking. Oh, and my offsides trap ;] heh

    Reply

  13. […] comparisons of the average age of Euro 2012 starters to USMNT current projected starters here. Check it […]

    Reply

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