TSG Goes Playground: 2010 USMNT vs. 2013 USMNT

Who do YOU want on that wall?! Who do you NEED on that wall? Read on, dear friend...

Who do YOU want on that wall?! Who do you NEED on that wall? Read on, dear friend…

Zack Goldman and Will Parchman go tête-à-tête, foot vs foot, Donovan vs. Donovan in the 3rd TSG UperDuper USMNT Team Draft.

Good morning and welcome to the third USMNT team vs. team draft, this year featuring two new draft competitors and two new team selections.

First, the competitors. He’s a strapping young man getting an education at Oxford and interning at a grassroots English football club. He’s also a codirector of the Pali Blues based in Southern California. He’s Zack Goldman and he’ll be drafting for his uncharitable–he hopes–FC, Tony Danza Supermarine.

His foil? Hailing from Waco, Texas and a student and author on the glorious game of American football is Will Parchman. You may know Parchman from his various and heady pieces here and elsewhere on the USMNT from, “Mind the Gap: You’re USA beats Mexico” retro diary to his recent novella: “The Empty Bucket: How To Look at the US midfield as Half Full featuring Ricardo Clark (foreshadowing).” He’s Will Parchman and he’ll be drafting for his side, Dr. Sweatpants.

Okay, here’s how it works for those that are new to this column. “Sweats” and “Supermarine” will be picking from the 2010 USMNT World Cup roster and the projected 2013 USMNT World Cup qualifying roster. The managers came together first and matched up players from both sides. For example, “Landon Donovan 2010 at RM, RF matches up with Landon 2013 RM, RF.” So if you’re taking “Landon Donovan,” you have to pick the year that you want.

Conversely, and here’s the fun part, your competitor gets assigned the opposite player. So if Sweats takes Donovan 2010, that means that Supermarine gets Donovan 2013. Make sense?

So this means the draft should go according to the biggest gulf in talent. Is Tim Howard 2013 much better or worse than Tim Howard 2010? If not, then a player should use his pick elsewhere.

At the end of this whole runaround, the managers will compile their selections and give you the formation they deploy in. Then you, yes you the fan, get to vote on which team is best.

Here’s the pairings before we get going:

G: Tim Howard 2010 vs. Tim Howard 2013

RB: (Pairing) Steve Cherundolo/Jonathan Spector 2010 vs. Steve Cherundolo/Tim Chandler 2013)

CB: Jay DeMerit 2010 vs. Geoff Cameron 2013

CB: Carlos Bocanegra 2010 vs. Carlos Bocanegra 2013

LB: Jonathan Bornstein 2010 vs. Fabian Johnson 2013

CM: Ricardo Clark 2010 vs. Danny Williams 2013

CM: Michael Bradley 2010 vs. Michael Bradley 2013

CM: Benny Feilhaber 2010 vs. Jermaine Jones 2013

MF/FW: Landon Donovan 2010 vs. Landon Donovan 2013

MF/FW: Clint Dempsey 2010 vs. Clint Dempsey 2013

STR: Jozy Altidore 2010 vs. Jozy Altidore 2013

BENCH: Stu Holden, Maurice Edu, Herculez Gomez 2010 vs. Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Eddie Johnson 2013

WILDCARD: Edson Buddle 2010 vs. Alan Gordon 2013

Let’s go.

Don Garber’s a nice guy and all, but in the spirit of this unique style of draft we go with Clint Mathis presiding over the proceedings.

Onward and maybe upward. Up to the podium strolls Mathis dressed in his finest T-shirt.

With the 1st pick in the 2010-2013 USMNT UberDraft…..

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

1st Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects CM Danny Williams 2013

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned CM Ricardo Clark 2010

Dr. Sweatpants will go ahead and start us off with the first pick, which will be CM Danny Williams (2013) over CM Rico Clark (2010).

Danny Williams, RMF pariah no longer....

Danny Williams, RMF pariah no longer….

Defense: I struggled with the top pick until I took into account the monumental gap between the levels at which these two players played in their respective years.

Rico probably gets too much blame for what transpired against Ghana in 2010, but the facts are plain; he was playing without any confidence and lacked a surety on possession that had all but killed his effectiveness by the time the boys arrived South Africa. The goal giveaway, yellow card and subsequent substitution in the 31st minute against Ghana were merely symptoms of Rico’s disease.

Williams, on the other hand, is the future of the USMNT’s deep-lying mid position, everything Clark is not. He’s smooth, calm, a tremendous passer, an implacable destroyer with boatloads of athleticism and can run the channels if needed. In essence, he is what Jermaine Jones should’ve been, a Jones’ 2.0 model if you will. And, now that Klinsmann’s awful experiment with Williams on the wing is over for good, he anchors what could end up being the best central midfield pairing in USMNT history.

That’s right, I said that.

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That sound you currently hear an ocean away is the collective groan of the Tony Danza Supermarine front office. The last time Rico and I were on speaking terms was when I hurled a string of expletives his way from the second tier in Rustenburg. It was more painful in person.

Hopefully, we can move past this.

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

2nd Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine selects LB Fabian Johnson 2013

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned LB Jonathan Bornstein 2010

With the 2nd pick, Tony Danza Supermarine selects LB Fabian Johnson (2013) over LB Jonathan Bornstein (2010).

Defense: Dr. Sweatpants has duly spotted one of the biggest gulfs in quality on the board — and now Tony Danza Supermarine will exploit the other by selecting Fabian Johnson and sending Johnny B. Bad to the Doctor.

Fab-u-lous...just fabulous...

Fab-u-lous…just fabulous…

In Fabian Johnson, the United States has seemingly secured its left back of the future — and the first world-class, natural option at the position in recent memory. His defensive performance in Genoa was brilliant, as was his work further up the pitch in Ljubljana.

He’s had several other wonderful showings since that demonstrate his attacking quality, commitment to marking, and comfort in possession.

Put simply: Johnson represents everything the US have needed at left back the past few cycles — and his dynamism is perfectly suited to the style of play Klinsmann is hoping to bring to the program. Great vision, great movement, great touch, and some steely defensive quality to boot — he’s been an excellent addition to the squad this cycle.

By contrast, Jonathan Bornstein has seen his foothold in the side crumble rapidly under Koach Klinsmann following his move south of the border. Actually, there was never a foothold once Bob Bradley was shown the door.

His tenure the previous cycle was much like Clark’s — some standout performances (a gritty and suffocating job against Algeria in the World Cup springs to mind) and some great highlights (like his role as Tico dream-stomper and instant Honduran royalty with the “Header Heard Around Tegucigalpa” in RFK) amid some absolute horror shows and general discomfort at left back.

It was a mixed legacy at best, and certainly not good enough on a match-to-match basis to dislodge someone of Johnson’s consistency and quality.

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Oh God. Bornstein. I say his last name with snarling contempt. I will force him to stay after practice every day for latrine duty and to clean jock straps.

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

3rd Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects CM Michael Bradley 2013

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned CM Michael Bradley 2010
With the third pick, Dr. Sweatpants takes Michael Bradley (2013) over Michael Bradley (2010).

Defense: Michael Bradley under his father was a young, tightly-wound midfielder with lofty ideas but without the gravitas or experience to expound upon them.

The kernel of an incredibly influential player was in place, it just hadn’t been in the microwave long enough to pop. Now? Bradley has supplanted Landon Donovan as the unquestioned engine and the team’s most valuable outfield player. He’s flowered as the fulcrum in midfield, and his so-far brief time at Roma has opened up the forward-seeking side of his game. Bradley three years ago was a good, serviceable player. Bradley now is on the cusp of becoming the best midfielder in USMNT history, a true box-to-box warhorse. Linking him up with Danny Williams, my first overall pick, was too delicious a pairing to pass up.

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The thought of two versions of Michael Bradley on the same pitch makes me uncomfortably giddy.

There is no doubt that Bradley has become the engine of this US side over the last few years. As Will has so aptly concluded, Michael — for so long the player who frustratingly let a temper and some daft decisions get in the way of his excellent movement, vision, and technique — has matured in this cycle, stepping up into a leadership role, improving both sides of his game, and wresting the mantel from Landon Donovan as the undeniable focal point of this team going forward. Luckily for me, a pretty decent version of General Chrome Dome (ver. 1.0, dial-up Bradley if you will) has fallen to me.

I still get some of the goods.

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

4th Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine selects FW Landon Donovan 2010

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned FW Landon Donovan 2013

With its 2nd pick (4th overall), Tony Danza Supermarine selects Landon Donovan (2010) over Landon Donovan (2013).

Defense: I want to say that this pick is less about talent than it is about drive. But that’s huge.

As trite as it has become to say these things about Landon Donovan, it’s clear that motivation is a factor — and a big one at that — as LD is still near the prime of his career physically.

Yet, as anyone who has followed US Soccer recently knows, nobody is quite sure if LD has the desire to keep playing at this level.

Is there really that much left for him to prove beyond a successful long-term move abroad? Already the best MLS player of all-time by a country mile (looking forward to someone trying to call me out on this), the USMNT leader in goals and assists, and a veteran of three World Cups (at two of which he shone brightly) — it’s not an easy bet to know what kind of Landon Donovan we see on the pitch — if we do see him — through the next cycle.

For that reason, it seems prudent to bet instead on a hungry Landon Donovan in the Tony Danza Supermarine squad than the uncertain alternative of 2013.

The Donovan of 2010 is a player at the peak of his abilities, coming off of a sterling domestic campaign and excellent set of performances at the Confederations Cup (including THAT run against Brazil), eager to prove to the world that he could lead the United States to success in South Africa after the gut-punch of Germany. And, boy, did he ever. And, boy, oh boy, did it go a long way — both to him and to a set of supporters in this country that, in the minds of many (cough) had, to that point, been unfairly critical of The Redlands Kid.

If the “Euphoria in Pretoria” didn’t make you cry tears of happiness (you have no soul), hopefully the ensuing interview with Jeremy Schapp got the waterworks flowing.

In short, the Landon Donovan of 2010 is the best US Soccer has ever produced at his best and at his most ready and willing to take on the responsibility that comes with such a reputation. And, if you don’t buy that…

I.

Will.

Fight you.

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Well, I’ll have to make do with Landon McBeardovan post-70th MLS Cup title. Maybe he’ll decide to come off the beach in time to kick a soccer ball to Mikey and maybe make a run or two.

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

5th Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects CB Geoff Cameron

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned CB Jay DeMerit
With its next pick, Dr. Sweatpants selects CB Geoff Cameron over CB Jay DeMerit.

Defense: The Dr. Sweatpants brain trust has a method to its madness here, and that’s building sturdily from the back. And employing the statuesque Geoff Cameron in the middle to shoo away tackles sitting behind Danny Williams is the best way to ensure we do that well.

Head of the class now...

Head of the class now…

Cameron has come into his own as a force on the back line and is the future of the position for the USMNT’s hopes in Brazil. His size and versatility (he’s played almost everywhere for Stoke) enhance his ability to aptly organize the back line and keep everyone in place.

The win at the Azteca in 2012 illustrated how incredibly important Cameron will be to the development of the line, and his incredible consistency during a move to the EPL proves his mettle of steel. Even with a defensive midfielder deployed next to him in Edu, Cameron still helmed a defensive line that neutered a dangerous, quick Mexico attack. And Cameron’s history in the midfield makes Cameron possibly the most sure-footed center back the USMNT has ever seen.

By the time the 2010 World Cup rolled around, the stretched limits of DeMerit’s game were plain. He was not a polished defender, he lacked elegance and it was dangerous to allow him to take more than a touch or two. As a utilitarian player, he got as much mileage from his talent level as he could have, and he was a serviceable central defender who deserved his spot and allowed Bob Bradley to forget about the even more wobbly Gooch. But the gulf between Cameron and DeMerit illustrates the gap in what the US defender used to be and what it is becoming.

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We can only hope that “Jay Jay Jay from the USA” gives Tony Danza Supermarine more performances of the Spain variety than, say, the opening moments of Algeria. If anything, though, maybe we’ll be a part of the sequel to “Rise and Shine”…? (#GloryhunterFC)

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

6th Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine selects Clint Dempsey 2013

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned Clint Dempsey 2010

With its 3rd pick (6th overall), Tony Danza Supermarine selects Clint Dempsey (2013) over Clint Dempsey (2010).

Defense: It’s not a tremendous difference in skill level between these two versions of Deuce — but it is in terms of mentality and preparedness to lead from the front. And, in my mind, that makes a huge difference.

Deuce, balanced...

Deuce, balanced…

It seems bizzarre to contemplate the notion that this time last cycle, Clint Dempsey was receiving a fair bit of stick for his play with the US Men’s National Team. If we think back to pre-Confederations Cup, pre-Juventus chip Clint Dempsey, he was an extremely solid player and one of the brightest talents in the pool — but by no means above quite a lot of criticism.

Prior to his electrifying form in the latter half of the Confederations Cup, Deuce was put under the microscope by many pundits and fans alike for a perceived lethargy and lack of effort from his wide role with the Nats.

Nobody voiced that animadversion more prominently than one-time “Captain for Life” (ha) John Harkes through an ESPN microphone during the early stages of the Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Well, we all know how the rest of the story goes down — after Clint’s struggles in the group stage from a wide role in a modified 4-5-1/4-3-3, where he proved relatively ineffectual in possession and lackadaisical in defense, manager Bob Bradley changed the team’s formation for the final group stage match — a decision that paid off in spades.

With Jozy Altidore partnered with Charlie Davies up top, Clint found the space he needed over the next three games to make deep runs into the box, beat his mark in 1v1 situations, and finish. And finish he did… with three goals and a Bronze Ball under his belt, Clint fired back big time at his haters — especially Mr. Harkes:

“He criticized me in [Confederations Cup] for looking tired and said I should be benched, but I was top three in distance covered in the whole tournament . . . It’s funny that he criticized me so much and yet I feel like I’ve done more in my international career than he has. Just compare our national-team stats. I’ve also scored in a World Cup, scored three goals in Confederations Cup, and got the Bronze Ball for third-best player in the whole tournament. Look at what he’s done. I’m 27 and still have a lot of games left in me and he’s finished.”

Yowza. Need some ice for that burn, Harkesy? A fire was lit under Mr. Dempsey and he hasn’t looked back since.

Nevertheless, it is imperative to note how different a player he is now, three and a half years removed from that first summer in South Africa — both in terms of his mentality and how he is deployed tactically .

For my money, the biggest attacking boon to the USMNT this cycle is that it has Clint Dempsey finally playing regular minutes for both club and country in an advanced role that he feels comfortable in and that speaks to his strengths as a player.

Clint Dempsey of 2013 is a better player than he was last cycle because he has been used better and allowed to flourish in a tactical environment that plays to his strengths. Yes, he plays for Tottenham and will be surrounded everyday in training and in matches by a higher calibre player on each side of him — and that’s important. However, the big difference for me goes beyond playing for Spurs. It’s playing as a striker — preferably just off the front man and with the space around him to do what he does best: score.

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Interesting as we get down to a crafty, wizened Clint Dempsey over a more youthful and tempestuous Dempsey gives the Doc its first real attacking threat and a volatile but potent force in the attacking third.

With a mellowed Donovan on the right flank, playing a fiery Dempsey in the forward role will perhaps perk up Lando and coax that youthful verve from his game. Or it might annoy the old winger and shut down our attack. We talkin’ bout practice.

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

7th Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects MF Benny Feilhaber 2010

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned MF Jermaine Jones 2013

With its fourth pick (7th overall), Dr. Sweatpants selects Benny Feilhaber (2010) over Jermaine Jones (2013).

Defense: This pick was as much about what the Doc didn’t need as it was about what it did. Jermaine Jones had a rabid start to his Nats career, but his antics have worn awful thin over the last year.

Jones, inconistent...

Jones, inconistent…

He’s an impetuous midfielder who has struggled to settle into a niche as he’s aged. He’s no longer reliable sitting deep, his once-pinpoint long balls are fluttering farther and farther afield and he’s become even more reckless with his ubiquitously harsh challenges. He’s not quite a defensive midfielder and he’s not close to an attacking midfielder. In short, he had no place on the pitch with us. Godspeed young man, but the Doc don’t want ya.

On the other hand, the silken Feilhaber was at the height of his power in 2010. Bolstered by an incredibly robust run at Aarhus and an influential stint with the USMNT that culminated in a a dominant display against Spain in 2009, Feilhaber’s creative skills were in full flight. Much of his game at its peak is defined by his ability to pick out tight openings and link up the back of the midfield with the attack. I attribute a lot of his yo-yoing in and out of the lineup under Bradley to the unyielding nature of the empty bucket 4-4-2 he employed most of the time. Feilhaber wasn’t utilitarian enough for it, and Bradley wasn’t patient enough. Under my tutelage Feilhaber’s role will be something quite different.

With an in-form Michael Bradley nailed to his back and Danny Williams releasing both to be a bit freer in my 4-2-3-1, Feilhaber will pull the strings with aplomb. It will allow Dempsey to thunder in from his left, Donovan to craftily sneak in from his right and Bradley to steam in from the back for chances to play each one into the box with those trademark grounded passes that unlock defenses so well. Game on, Benny. The Doc has its #10.

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A well-reasoned pick by the Doctor — and, really, a win-win for both sides.

Where my corps lacks a player with Benny’s creativity, it is rewarded with Jones’s bite — something sorely lacking from his fellow defensively-postured central midfield counterpart, Ricardo Clark.

If Rico’s downfall was in many ways his inability to commit to marks and to get stuck into challenges, Jones does both very well — the problem arises in that those challenges are often poorly-timed, reckless, and speak to a mentality of trying to always win the ball when the better option is to contain and build numbers in defense. Between the two, though, Jones represents the better choice for my squad — a defender who you live and die with because of bad decisions and a temper, but who has a hardman quality that this side needs more than attacking flair or better link-up play.

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

8th Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine selects CB Carlos Bocanegra 2010

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned CB Carlos Bocanegra 2013

With its fourth pick (8th overall), Tony Danza Supermarine selects Carlos Bocanegra (2010) over Carlos Bocanegra (2013).

Defense: This pick is less about the best player on the board or the biggest gulf in quality, as much as it is about taking the safest option available. The Carlos Bocanegra of the last cycle is as sure a bet as they come in terms of finding quality at centre-back (provided he’s playing there).

The captain led confidently and competently from the back as a physically imposing centre-half, who also provided an aerial threat in the opposing box. One of his best attributes though — something rarely singled out, I’ve found — is that Bocanegra’s head was always on a swivel. It won’t show up in a box score, but he was remarkable at picking up stray runners in the box and preemptively sweeping up a dangerous mess that may have permeated the cracks in a USMNT backline or central midfield that had consistent issues with defensive frailty and sorting out the marks. He often did a lot more than he was given credit for organizationally and in keeping the backline solid and together — and was duly rewarded with the armband.

Bocanegra is still captain at this point, but the question remains: will he remain first choice through qualifying and into the World Cup? For what it’s worth, I think he stands a decent shot — entering the Hex, I rate Carlos Bocanegra as the best centre-half in the pool; however, it’s not by nearly as clear a margin as it was four years ago.

He has lost a step, the squad has been blessed with the arrival of Geoff Cameron (and the likes of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler may not be far from primetime either), and his club situation is still murky after this year-long loan at Racing Santander. Where there are question marks with ‘Los this time around, Bocanegra of the last cycle was a complete defender in peak condition, who did a heckuva lot of dirty work day-in and day-out. Yes, he had his faults — but, I’m of the mind that the defensive performance of the Nats was massively impacted in quite a few big games by his assured presence at centre-back. I’m eager to place him alongside DeMerit of the last cycle, hoping to get the best out of both of them (as I believe they are far and away each other’s best partners in the heart of defense). It wasn’t always pretty, but look no further than the Spain cupset to see the way the two were able to grind out results when placed side-by-side. Hopefully that continues in the colors of Tony Danza Supermarine (teal and chartreuse, obvi)

Your move, Doc!

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Boca’s an apt, sensible pick there, especially considering his remarkable consistency over the years (and how good he was in 2010).

The spine of my back line has just become the current USMNT preferred setup, which kind of excites me. Cameron is a great pair for Boca, who can afford to be a step slower with the sure-footed Cameron there to sweep up whatever trickles through (which still won’t be much).

I think the main difference in the Boca-then and Boca-now gaps was his versatility then. You could splay him out wide left and not lose anything. He’s less able to do that now (and with THE BORNSTEIN manning my back left flank, that’s not such an exciting prospect).

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

9th Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects RB pairing Steve Cherundolo-Tim Chandler 2013

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned RB pairing Steve Cherundolo-Jonathan Spector 2010

Anyway, with its fifth pick (9th overall), Dr. Sweatpants selects the right back pairing of Steve Cherundolo/Timmy Chandler (2013) over Steve Cherundolo/Jonathan Spector (2010).

Defense: Let’s face facts. The mighty Dolo is not getting any younger. Dolo will be 34 by the time we hit March and 35 by Brazil. The sun of his fantastic USMNT career is setting, and most of his apologists (which should be all of you) are sadly coming to terms with the notion that Dolo may not be game-ready in a year and a half. But here’s the thing about Stevie as we know him right now: age has thus far robbed him of almost nothing.

It’s inevitable that he’ll get a bit slower and break down a bit more easily, but watch Dolo at any point in 2012 and his game was airtight. He still tracks down the right flank with a spryness that defies his age, and you almost never see him make anything resembling a mistake. He’s more reliable at 33 than any of his replacements in the prime of their 20’s. And the guy is an absolute health nut. Playing at or near his peak into his mid-30’s isn’t a tough ask.

But while Dolo might not be the same exact player he was in 2010 (even though he’s pretty damn close), the addition of Timmy Chandler and his ability to take over in a pinch is what won me over here.

Are you really sticking around buddy? That's great news...

Are you really sticking around buddy? That’s great news…

Chandler is a tornado with winger speed and of course the ability to break up attacks on the way down. Quite simply, he’s a complete fullback the likes of which the Nats have never had. He’s not without his imperfections (who isn’t?), but his pairing with Dolo here is a match made in heaven.

While Spector is something of an outlier, inserting Chandler is very much a like-for-like switch.

He’ll routinely push into the opponent’s third and facilitate, but he has the wherewithal and the speed to track back before the attack can peel away and thunder back down his throat. It’s surprising how rarely Chandler is out of position despite his capacity to spend so much time on the other side of the field. And at his age, Dolo’s a perfect tutor. Who better to learn under and learn the ropes of the USMNT? Plus, if need be I can swap out Bornstein with Timmy. What? That’s not in the rules? Can I play a fir tree instead of Bornstein? Surely that’s in the bylaws.

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So mad you even asked about the fir tree option. I thought we agreed to no coniferous left backs! This is worse than the time you tried to play the orange traffic cone instead of Jeff Agoos. I’m onto you, Sweatpants.

In all seriousness, great reasons for the pick — but I’m also very happy with what fell to me. Steve Cherundolo has been excellent thus far in the Klinsmann era and Timmy Chandler is one of the more exciting defensive prospects that I can remember; however, I rate Cherundolo’s performances at the 2010 World Cup the strongest by a United States defender.

10th Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine selects STR Jozy Altidore 2013

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned STR Jozy Altidore 2010

With its fifth pick (10th overall), Tony Danza Supermarine selects striker Jozy Altidore (2013) over Jozy Altidore (2010).

Defense: I dare someone — nay, double-dog dare — someone to claim that Jozy Altidore of 2013 isn’t a more complete, clinical, and hungry striker now than he was four years ago.

We saw flashes of brilliance last cycle — his hat-trick against Trinidad & Tobago in qualifying, his powerful finish past Iker Casillas for the first goal against Spain in the Confederations Cup after ruthlessly tossing fellow Yellow Submariner Joan Capdevila to the turf, and his fine knockdown to Michael Bradley’s feet for the equalizer against Slovenia in the World Cup spring to mind.

Yet, for every impressive action, Jozy often provoked an equal and opposite reaction in the USMNT supporter — one of immense frustration. He was criticized, often rightfully, for a lacking work rate, an inability to find his feet in the box, and a refusal to keep his arms down whilst grappling with his mark. He was talented, but lacked seasoning and confidence — something that can be at least partially chalked up to disastrous loans at Xerez, Hull City, and Bursaspor. He had mixed success for the Nats, but one got the feeling that he could have been even more special with a better club environment and consistent minutes to work out his kinks.

Now, he has those things. Despite an embarrassing omission from a qualifying squad and some other perceived snubs from Klinsmann in the past year when relegated to the bench in favor of Herculez Gomez, Jozy has found his feet for AZ Alkmaar with 25 goals this past calendar year. In the process, he has undoubtedly become a more dynamic and confident forward whose finishing, movement, and, most obviously, the use of his immense physical tools have improved. He may have endured some bumps in the road for the Nats this year, but such tribulation seems likely to be temporary and paltry after capturing the club form that has eluded him so cruelly in the past.

His chances with the National Team will come — and what is important is his consistency and continued progress in the Netherlands. He is not just maintaining his fitness between call-ups anymore, but actively testing himself week-in and week-out in a decent league. The Eredevisie tonic has proved restorative and helpful to the growth of a young American player once again, as Alkmaar seems like it may be for Jozy what Heerenveen was for a younger Michael Bradley.

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Jozy’s strange up-and-down form is a prime example of why he went this late.

He shows flashes of improvement with the Nats (his form with AZ is nice, but his club situation has never translated conveniently to his time on the national team) and then seems to forget all about it over a stretch of games. Just as he did in 2010, he’ll hit on bangers and then forget himself in front of an open net. Part of the ever-shifting sands of the Altidore Desert. Oh well. Something we’ll both have to hammer into him on the training ground.

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

11th pick in the draft:

Dr. Sweatpants selects Bench 2010 (Holden, Edu, Gomez)

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned Bench 2013 (Zusi, Edu, Eddie Johnson)

With its sixth pick (11th overall), Dr. Sweatpants selects the 2010 bench trio of Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu and Herculez Gomez.

Defense: There was a time (and it does seem so very long ago) that Stu Holden was the great hope for the creativity of our central midfield. Instead, with his injury problems in the mix, the USMNT has had to go to a deep-lying striker (Dempsey) instead of a true advanced central midfielder. Aside from Benny, Holden is perhaps the only polished player in this pool that has that capability. Smooth, calm and even-keeled, Holden at his best is endlessly creative and defiantly unflappable.

Mo or less?

Mo or less?

So while I like both Mo Edu (a capable stand-in for either Bradley or Williams, and he’s even proven the ability to sub in for Boca next to Cameron in a pinch) and Herc Gomez (who doesn’t have the athleticism of an EJ, but certainly has the better ball instincts and the more consistent outings), Holden is the prize I sought here. He can rotate in with Benny as a like-for-like switch or flay out wide right if Landon decides he’s taking a sabbatical to a nut farm (or The Nut Farm). It’s not that I don’t like Zusi, it’s just that his skill set is so pigeonholed. With the players I have in my side, we’re pulling the ripcord and flying the down field behind Bradley’s newly-found Roma aesthetic that he’ll be pushing. We’re narrowing the field, creating less opportunity for crosses and more for attractive play through the center of the pitch. Zusi (and EJ, an occasional black hole on possession) doesn’t fit that mold as well.

And without Jonny Evans… well, we’ll just stop there. Don’t want to force out those tears.

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Very much a sensible pick for the Sweatpants bench corps. Again, I’m okay with the consolation prize — but I’ll admit there really is nothing like the promise of Disco Stu prior to the injury nightmare.

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

12th Pick:

Tony Danza Supermarine selects wildcard Edson Buddle 2010.

Dr. Sweatpants is assigned wildcard Alan Gordon 2013

With its sixth pick (12th overall), Tony Danza Supermarine selects the wildcard Edson Buddle (2010) over Alan Gordon (2013).

Defense: This is a bit of a funky selection, TSG faithful. What we have decided to have here is a ‘Wildcard Round,’ where the selection in question is between two players who might be on the outside looking in all the way through qualifying (or seemingly not even in the discussion for a spot on the plane, period)…yet they ultimately somehow make the 23. In terms of the last time around in South Africa, there were a lot of players to choose from — mainly the attacking trio of Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and Herculez Gomez, all of whom had some decent minutes in the tournament despite minimal involvement with the Nats until just prior to the tournament.

We chose to highlight Buddle, who punched his ticket tOR Tambo after an extraordinary start to the 2010 MLS campaign in which he couldn’t miss the target. Not only did he make the World Cup squad, but he played a decent amount of minutes there and was the closest body to Landon as he wheeled away after his goal against Algeria (while we’re here, let me just mention that Edson gets a huge gold star from me for not tackling Landon as he goes to celebrate, thus safeguarding the now-historic slide-to-pileup in the corner. I’d argue it was Buddle’s best decision in a US uniform to date).

So, why am I picking Buddle? Well, the Edson of old was strong, surprisingly accurate when given space in the box, and had a great run of form pre-Ingolstadt. He had an incredible thirst for improving his own game, which goes a long way with this manager. After missing his penalty in the 2009 MLS Cup, Edson didn’t take time off that offseason — and his reward was an improbable World Cup selection just half a year later. It’s a statement of intent that would be impressive for anybody, but especially for Buddle, whose reputation to that point was blighted by a perceived lack of work rate and technical quality. He took his chances with aplomb and put himself on the map. During those first two months of the 2010 MLS season prior to his call-up, Buddle had already put on a handful of dominant performances and was undeniably the league’s in-form striker. But, what impressed me most was that he made those around him better, with solid link-up play (previously a major weakness of his and a major drawback of deploying him alongside Landon Donovan) and excellent off-ball runs. He was a machine — and deserved every last one of those frequent flyer miles on Air Bob One.

The main reason I’m picking Edson, though, is because I’m not sold on the alternative who was selected by the committee, Alan Gordon. I lived in LA for the duration of Gordon’s tenure with both teams who play in Carson… and I still have nightmares from some of the open looks Flash missed over the years. Since then, he’s recaptured his form with Toronto FC and the San Jose Earthquakes, looking like a completely different player in the Buck Shaw sandlot.

This is not your spiky-haired, baby-faced Alan Gordon anymore (though it was an appearance befitting how absurdly nice this dude is off the pitch)… I’m willing to admit that much. But, despite all this and a great cross to EJ in Antigua, I’m not willing to consider this guy a legitimate National Team possibility just yet. I’m not of the mind that AG even fits into the top 10 American strikers at this point and I’m not so sure, given his streakiness, that this run of from continues into next season or beyond.

In terms of wildcards, keep your eyes on Omar Gonzalez, Terrance Boyd, Josh Gatt, MixxDisk, Will Bruin, and all the other guys primed to potentially make the jump to senior status in the next year. Even cast some glances at the U20 boys who are up and coming like Fabian Hürzler (very solid technically from what I’ve seen in real life, but absolutely off-the-chain in Football Manager) and Will Packwood (get better soon, big guy). But, when it comes to Alan Gordon — I’ll need to see a little bit more to be convinced of any international credentials

I hope I’m wrong, but, for now, I’ll take what I know has worked — Buddle. The guy we took to a tournament on a hot streak and who didn’t mess up the most iconic celebration US Men’s National Team history. That’s what I call a wildcard. Who knows, though… a decent March through May 2014 and we may just see Flash make me eat my words.

——————————–

Flash Gordon, with his incredible ability to be really big. The Doc can prop him up in front of goal late in games and let Lando and Dempsey ping through balls into space. Whether Gordo can actually run onto them? Welp, we’ll see. But he’s really big!

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

13th & Final Pick:

Dr. Sweatpants selects Tim Howard 2013

Tony Danza Supermarine is assigned Tim Howard 2010

With its seventh pick (13th overall), Dr. Sweatpants selects Tim Howard (2013) over Tim Howard (2010).

Defense: Well, here we are.

Hard to believe Timmy is our Mr. Irrelevant, but that’s what you get when your career follows the consistency arc of a flatline (a very, very sexy flatline). The goalkeeper position is a beautiful outlier here. It’s the only position on the field that has consistently been world class for most of the post-Caligiuri goal era, and a fine argument can be made that Tim Howard, at his pinnacle, is the finest of any of them. After his false start at Manchester United, Howard’s come into his own on Merseyside and has been unquestionably the most consistently great player for the USMNT since he took the starting job.

So why take Timmy now over the Timmy of South Africa? Let’s lay it plain; it’s neither an easy nor a clear-cut choice. At this point you’re picking nuances and whispers over anything superiorly concrete, but my reasoning here for taking Timmy in his current form is multifold. For one, he’s pairing with an older, wizened Boca on my back line, and leadership like that is invaluable.

It goes beyond numbers and words and exists like one of those beautiful intangibles that guides winning sides through the weeds of inexperience elsewhere. But it goes into Timmy on his own, too. Howard is now 33. He’ll he 34 by the summer and 35 by Brazil. These are important numbers in the life of a keeper, because for the world class ones it means you’ve hit a peak and you’re now sizzling along at top pace. Howard’s been explicit that he probably won’t drag his career into his 40’s like Brad Friedel. Which is okay. Just means he’ll go out on top.

But for now, Howard’s as good as he’s ever been. I harken back to a moment at the Azteca in August to prove a very real point about how Howard has only sharpened his keen reflexes and instinct over the past two years.

Yes, he’s gotten older. But he’s also gotten sturdier. Early in the second half with the game scoreless, Andres Guardado lined up a free kick about 22 yards from Howard’s line. Guardado curled his kick wide, obviously wide, but Howard sprung off his line, reacting like a feline anyway. The replay shot is so hilariously Howard. As Guardado’s slow motion shot flies about two feet wide of Howard’s right post, Howard STILL almost deflects the thing. We’re talking a good foot and a half coverage WIDE of his post. That’s SportScience stuff. That’s wise ‘ol keeper stuff there.

All those things that Howard had in 2010? Still there. Judging by what I’ve seen over the past year (and what we’re likely to see now), all he’s done is add some ripening to the fruit he’s spent the better part of the past decade growing.

Team Conclusions:

Dr. Sweatpants:

Dr. Sweatpants

Dr. Sweatpants

I entered my draft with an open mind as to how I’d deploy my group. I knew it would settle somewhere between a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2, but I planned to play it by ear.

By the time the 2013 versions of both Michael Bradley and Danny Williams fell to me, it was obvious that the 4-2-3-1 was the way to go (I’ve never liked the staleness of the 4-4-2 empty bucket Bob Bradley liked so much).

Those two are my lynchpins, both breaking up attacks and getting forward movements going. I’d expect Bradley to play a bit more advanced to help both Benny Feilhaber create as our #10 and Williams at the back.

Dr. Sweatpants possible deployment

Dr. Sweatpants possible deployment

Much like he did in 2009 against Spain, Jozy will be asked to hold up play, while Dempsey will be split out wide left and asked to pinch inward to create scoring chances. Donovan on the right will do what he’s always done. Hopefully he’ll have enough juice in his legs to stretch defensive lines. It’s an exciting 2013-heavy team with both the ability to drive from deep and to set up shop in an opponent’s half and ping around passes. Having Stuart Holden off the bench to keep both he and Benny fresh will be vital.

As for Bornstein, we’re merely asking him to run in straight lines. Hopefully that’s not asking too much.

Tony Danza Supermarine:

Tony Danza Supermarine

Tony Danza Supermarine

Like Dr. Sweatpants, I entered the draft not knowing what formation would be most apt for my team and waited to see where the chips fell, rather than trying to fit pieces into a pre-determined system. I knew strategically what I wanted out of this group—a blend of what I perceive to be the best parts of Bradley and Klinsmann’s set-ups—and I think I got fairly close. Ultimately, I settled on a 4-4-2 diamond, which can easily morph into a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 depending on if Dempsey moves into the attack, or if Donovan drops level with Dempsey. Either way, it looks something like this:

From the 2010 group, I got a pair of stalwart center backs who combine well together. At its best, the Bocanegra/DeMerit connection is one that is unmatched in terms of physicality and doggedness. They are defined by their clean and tenacious approach to the game—ceaseless in their pursuit to attack dangerous chances and 50/50 balls and clear their lines.

Tony Danza Supermarine possible deployment

Tony Danza Supermarine possible deployment

When it comes to the midfield, things get a bit murkier in terms of the best possible formation—and I had a big decision to make. Ultimately, having Ricardo Clark and Jermaine Jones in the mix means I’m pigeonholed into using them in the only ways they know how to play, as my two least versatile components.

The most obvious formation that this midfield composite yields is a diamond—with Jones playing the holding role, Clark and Bradley sharing the load in the center, and Dempsey playing as a withdrawn striker-turned-attacking midfielder, a role he is gradually figuring out in the same way that Wayne Rooney once had to. Though Clark and Bradley are playing side-by-side in this formation when it is viewed at rest, their roles are extremely different at game-speed. Rico is used as a more advanced, second defensive-minded midfielder. He’s there to track deep runs and sniff out chances before they can materialize further down the pitch, thus lightening Bradley’s load and offering him the creative freedom he needs to spring the counterattack and create noise around the box (think the second half of the Slovenia game).

All in all, it’s not the best midfield I could have assembled, but it’ll do. The propensity for mental lapses (euphemism of the century) from both Jones and Clark makes it a bit scary with no safety net, but you’ve got to trust your corps (… and your center backs to do some serious damage control).

Up top, I’ve got everything I could want. Our Landon is the man who brought you products such as this and this and our Jozy is a guy who seems like he might finally be ready to put it all together.

May the best squad win!

So TSG Audience:

Other UberDrafts:

TSG Goes Playground: ’02 vs. ’10

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by CaliforniaRedskins on 2013/01/22 at 1:21 AM

    One addition that I think would be interesting: Bradley vs Klinsmann. It surely is great sport to talk badly about Bradley, a sport that I have engaged in more than once, but for all of his faults the guy got results. I think I would take Klinsmann, but the fact that I’m not sure about this says a lot, especially given where we were at the time of the changeover.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Mingjai on 2013/01/22 at 2:09 AM

    Hmm… If I’m TD Submarine, I’d be very tempted to play an unbalanced formation to take my chances exploiting Bornstein 10. I’d probably use the formation you illustrated, but push Donovan 10 out wider and then swap Bradley 10 and Clark 10 so Bradley 10’s on the right with Donovan 10. Clark 10 plays left mid a bit wider than in your formation and his job is to defend the left flank.

    Basically, I try to overwhelm Bornstein 10 the way Mexico did when he came on in the 2011 Gold Cup final, and I think Donovan 10, Dempsey 13, Altidore 13, Bradley 10, and Cherundolo 10 would be able to do just that.

    Reply

    • I was very tempted to play a more unbalanced formation (though the Clark-Bradley switch, I have to admit, didn’t really occur to me). I think the best way I can articulate my thought process is as follows:

      1) Don’t get too hung up on where the dots are.

      I’m deploying Donovan here not so much in a firm position as approximating where he fits in the formation North-to-South in comparison to Jozy and Deuce. Like Dempsey, his unique movement within the XI makes it difficult to tell the whole story on a tactics board. If I was trying to define what I’m doing with Landon in the formation, I should really be putting arrows on him, pointing towards the wing.

      A good way of putting it might be that I’m trying to fuse Landon’s roles for club and country, circa 2009 and early 2010: the position he played on the Galaxy with the movement he seemed to embody for the Nats (both formations were 4-4-2s balanced more or less like mine).

      Allow me to explain: Though I have him placed as a withdrawn striker (like he played for the Galaxy most of that stretch), Landon’s role in this formation is more akin to his winger tendencies with the Nats during that stretch (as you allude to). His responsibility is less to run onto the balls that Jozy creates in the space behind him (that’s more Deuce’s territory), but to ‘go hunting’ down the wing (basically, what you said about overwhelming Bornstein). I think it gives the attacking corps a kind of dynamism and isolates their main strengths. So, Landon’s a withdrawn striker here, sure, but he’s also less central than both Deuce and Jozy… and we are, as you point out, most certainly going after Bornstein… to an extent (more on that later).

      2) I didn’t even think of switching Bradley and Clark, and moving Rico out wide, because I think it spreads the defensive set-up pretty thin. I’m not sure I like the idea of Clark having to stay with a mark that’s not in the center of the park – especially one with Donovan’s (2013) wheels. Not only does that prey upon his main defensive issues, but it also gets my squad further away from the ‘plugging’ I’m hoping to do in defensive central midfield – not allowing Benny the space he needs to pull the strings. Your suggestion is certainly an interesting one, but I think it’s one I’m hesitant to take with the name Ricardo Clark attached to it. Still, great note to inject into the discussion… I could talk about this for hours. Thanks.

      3) In my opinion, the recipe for Mexico’s ability to exploit the US that nightmarish day in Pasadena was much more than Johnny B. Yes, he was a big part of it – but, for me, it relied almost as much (if not more) on Goodson, the center backs’ inability to deal with Chicharito, and the tactical misuse of a high defensive line than just our left back. My team is definitely looking to ping balls in behind Bornstein and to overwhelm him, as I’ve pointed out – but I’m not sure it’s nearly as easy or effective to do as it was for Mexico on that day. Allow me to explain:

      The blessing and curse of Giovanni Dos Santos is that he plays a simple game really, really dangerously well. I think that’s why he excelled so much as a youth player and so much in CONCACAF, football atmospheres where it’s possible to have a guy like Gio essentially run in straight lines down the wing and collect long balls into space. And, if you’re playing a high defensive line with a pretty slow set of defenders and getting burned on through balls into the channels (as the US was on that day), Giovanni is about the last person you want to see there as a defender – and, as you point out, Bornstein is about the last person you want flagging in the distance, trying in vain to catch up to him.

      A few problems that separate this scenario from June 2011, though: a) Geoff Cameron is not Clarence Goodson. In many ways, he’s the opposite, physically – and I don’t think our high defensive line is nearly as disorganized or futile if we play Cameron in that game. He lays out for a lot of those passes into space, cuts out more 50/50 balls, and tracks Chicharito much better, which allows the US to shift to defensive problems elsewhere. Let’s explore that last bit…

      b) Part of what made Mexico so deadly in that game was the absurd amount of attention on Chicharito. Bocanegra and Goodson ‘doubled’ him for large chunks of the match – but even when he was turned loose onto one of them, he was often Goodson’s assignment. Where he failed, Cameron succeeded in Estadio Azteca…

      c) Lastly, people remember Dos Santos (and Barrera) running onto those balls and they remember how slippery Chicharito was up top… but, in fairness, they forget how good Torrado and Castro were in basically the exact same roles I’m asking Jones and Clark to play. Torrado and Castro are both defensive-minded midfielders and probably Mexico’s two hardest tacklers (Rafa doesn’t ‘tackle’ as much as he cleats people at random and occasionally gets the ball, so he’s not included in that competition). Nevertheless, they’re also two of El Tri’s best distributors of the ball. They’re unique players who elucidate just how amazing the classic Mexican two-way midfielder can be – the product of a soccer culture that emphasizes technique and flair over pretty much everything (a bit of a generalization perhaps, but it’s hard to get away from when this formula has been so central to the Mexican central midfielder over the last 20 years). By contrast, I don’t have Torrado and Castro – I have Clark and Jones… and I’m not sure the strategy of ‘overwhelming’ Bornstein works nearly as well with their distributional qualities AND the need to keep them fairly rooted to that defensive central midfield area.

      Sorry that was so absurdly long, but I wanted to flesh out my rationale for such a great question.

      Reply

      • Posted by Jeff on 2013/01/22 at 8:06 AM

        How long before Zusi is on for Rico? 5 minutes?

        Reply

      • Posted by Mingjai on 2013/01/22 at 2:01 PM

        Thanks for a detailed response–it’s deserving of its own article.

        As I was making my suggestion regarding exploiting Bornstein, I had similar thoughts to what you tease out in your third point–i.e., that in implementing that strategy it would have to be vastly different than Mexico’s implementation because of the personnel/playing style difference between your team and Mexico 2011.

        Another problem with playing Clark on the left side is that it takes the attacking prowess of Johnson out of the game, forcing him to be more fullback than wingback. Johnson is always most effective when he gets a fair dose of offense with his defending.

        One more thing about Sweatpants’ defensive lineup not touched on yet is that Bornstein 10 is combined with Bocanegra 13 on the left side of the defense. I love wiley veteran Bocanegra, but there are so many ways to break that combination down, that I’d have a hard time not focusing on that part of the field.

        Reply

  3. Posted by Tom Patton on 2013/01/22 at 9:27 AM

    I have but 3 small observations to make:
    1. Donovan is a mystery rapped in enigma as of now. Will the desire return once the the matches mean something?
    2. It is my sincere hope that Holden goes for a long period injury free, recovers as much as the gods will allow, and finds his way back to the team. His (proven) heart is 3 times size of anyone not named Dempsey,Bradley, Stevie C. or Boca of all the field players listed. I want him in my locker room period. When he was hot at Bolton before the calamity NO ONE not named Dempsey has ever played better as a field player in the EPL.
    3. What an excellent, well thought out piece. How can I get in on this? I have the education, the passion and the time.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Kevin O' on 2013/01/23 at 10:22 AM

    The great thing about this exercise (at least on paper) is how much better the 2013 side is compared to 2010. I think the 2013 bench still needs work, but after Camp Cupcake, Klinsi will surely have sorted out more trusted options. Our defense and midfield are really the two areas that are shoring up the best. And we are beginning to see actual depth up top. For me, this is the most shocking development: it’s quite possible we might start one of the youngest and most promising back lines at the WC if Boca and Cherundolo make way. It’s time for Boca to make way. I’d hate to see him bow out in the manner of Agoos in ’02. And who isn’t excited about the 2013 attacking triangle of Deuce, Jozy, and Bradley? Throw in a temperate Landon just as an assist machine with Zusi relieving him, and I like our chances of advancing.

    Reply

  5. Not enough time to get through all of this today, but a thought immediately occurred to me on reading the third picks…do the two Bradley’s cancel each other out? Would hot-head 2010 Bradley actually destroy his 2013 self and be sent off? Maybe not 2010 Bradley, but version 2008/9 might have.

    Reply

    • I think it’s more likely that 2013 JJ and 2010 Bradley would destroy each other.

      Reply

    • Posted by Tom Patton on 2013/01/25 at 1:38 PM

      Bradley grew up ….. lets forget the past. As for Donovan, I think the divorce and pain of it could no longer be masked by football. That’s where I think his head is at. Klinsmann seems to be the kind of coach who will understand this.

      Reply

      • Posted by Nick on 2013/01/25 at 3:59 PM

        I’m not holding anything against Bradley. I thought he was great in the 2007 Gold Cup as the central hub, but he fell off the boil for various reasons and I was one of the more outspoken critics because I didn’t think his play merited his starting role 100% of the time. Now he’s back to his 2007 form albeit with more attacking intent.

        Reply

        • Posted by Tom Patton on 2013/01/25 at 6:26 PM

          What I love about Bradley is he is plying his trade and succeeding NOT IN ENGLAND! Now if we could just get a couple of players regular playing time in Spain and a few more in Italy we would collectively benefit as a national squad.

          Reply

          • Posted by Nick on 2013/01/30 at 10:11 AM

            I whole-heartedly agree that having more guys in Italy, Spain, and Germany can only be a good thing for our national pool – different tactics and styles of play, etc. I think England is the logical choice for both players and clubs given the cultural/language transition is easier to deal with.

            Reply

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