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Arena enjoys luxury of unprecedented depth as U.S, prepares for Cup, World Cup qualifying.By Robert Wagman
HERNDON, Va. (Thursday, June 1, 2000) -- United States men's coach Bruce Arena has a problem not faced by his predecessors -- depth.
In the coming weeks, as World Cup qualifying begins, Arena is going to have to make some hard decisions about who will make the squad and who will play. His choices will be debated in the press and in chat rooms. It is the kind of problem faced by national team coaches almost everywhere. But in the U.S., it's kind of new phenomenon.
Four players are missing from Arena's training camp for the upcoming Nike U.S. Cup. Striker Joe-Max Moore of Everton in England and Major League Soccer defenders Eddie Pope of D.C. United, and Robin Fraser of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and defender Steve Cherundolo of Hannover in Germany all figure to be part of the squad for the U.S. in qualifying for World Cup 2002.
Pope's injury is not serious, and in fact he looked good practicing with the national team which is training at D.C. United's training facility in suburban Virginia. Fraser is expected back soon. The word from Florida is that Moore is responding to treatment on his injured knee and hopefully will be ready for qualifying in July. Cherundolo is recovering from major knee surgery and will likely not see action until next spring.
But even without the four in camp, Arena could pretty much field two full squads that, while not absolutely even in overall ability, could acquit themselves well at the international level.
In practice and scrimmages this week, both goalkeepers, Kasey Keller (Rayo Vallecano, Spain) and Brad Friedel (Liverpool, England), have looked strong, making stunning saves. Friedel has looked especially sharp. Keller may get the nod as the number one, but Friedel, at worst, is 1A.
The U.S. has developed unexpected depth on the back line. With Pope, Fraser and Cherundolo out, and Gregg Berhalter from the Netherlands not arriving in camp until last night, Arena has been using Tony Sanneh of Hertha Berlin (Germany) at right back, pushing him forward at every opportunity in a four-back set.
He has also used David Regis, and the D.C. United duo of Jeff Agoos and Carlos Llamosa as the other three backs in the four-across set. It would not be a surprise to see the latter four start on Saturday against South Africa at RFK Stadium.
This would leave Berhalter, the MLS pair of the Los Angeles Galaxy's Greg Vanney -- who has had a strong training camp -- and Chicago Fire's C.J. Brown, as well as Frankie Hejduk of Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen as possible defenders who could play next week.
When the injured return, Arena will have to choose from among seven or eight defenders, all of whom can play.
In the midfield, two players who seem set in their positions are defensive midfielder Chris Armas (Chicago Fire) in the center with Claudio Reyna of Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers in front of him. But Armas is clearly being pushed by young John O'Brien who arrived late in camp after playing in China with his Dutch team Ajax.
Reyna has looked good so far this week. He scored the only U.S. goal in a hard-fought scrimmage against D.C. United. On the play, United defenders expected him to pass and instead he made a quick run up the middle and scored easily. (United's Raul Diaz Arce also scored in the 1-1 scrimmage.)
The player who tends to get overlooked is Netherlands-based Earnie Stewart. He has had a terrific year in Holland helping his team to promotion to the Dutch Honor Division. He has only been in U.S. camp for two days but looks fit and could end up being a key player for the U.S.
"I'm going to play Earnie at midfield," Arena said. "He can play wing forward and I might use him in a three-attacker set sometime, but for now I will use him in the midfield."
As an attacking midfielder, Stewart is competing with Jovan Kirovski for a starting spot. Kirovski is completely healed from a broken foot suffered in the Gold Cup in March and has played well this week. Also in the mix is D.C. United's Ben Olsen who has had a good week and who can play on either the right or the left side of midfield.
Then too, when the defensive corps is healthy, both Sanneh and Hedjuk move into the midfield.
On the left side of midfield, Eddie Lewis of Fulham in England seems the clear choice. But another sometimes forgotten player, Steve Ralston of the Tampa Bay Mutiny in MLS, has shown he can play, and probably will get a start in one of the Cup games.
Then Arena must choose between two pairs of forwards. Brian McBride of MLS’s Columbus Crew and the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Cobi Jones have the international experience and seem the starting choices at forward. But both Jason Kreis of the Dallas Burn in MLS and the Chicago Fire’s Ante Razov are having great years in MLS and have looked good in practice.
Arena could easily start one pair against South Africa and the other duo against Ireland Tuesday at Foxboro Stadium near Boston.
The question up front is who can score. That has been the one weakness for the U.S. team over the past year -- scoring in general and especially from the forwards.
Based on his year in England, Moore, when healthy, would seem to have one of the forward spots as his to lose. That might well push Jones back into the midfield where he will become part of the Stewart-Kirovski competition.
These are all nice problems for Arena to have. It will be interesting to see how some of these competitions for spots resolve themselves first over the three U.S. Cup matches, and then as Arena prepares for his July road trips for World Cup qualifying.
D.C. United general manager Kevin Payne said I misunderstood something he told me regarding the special dispersal draft that sent Clint Mathis to the MetroStars and Joey Franchino to New England, and, as a result, misquoted him in a previous column.
I understood Payne to say, that as a member of the MLS competition committee, he had voted for the dispersal process when it was adopted last year. In fact, he did. But when he recently talked to me about "voting," he meant specifically voting to approve allocating Mathis and Franchino via a dispersal draft in which teams choose in inverse order of their record over the past 12 months and not a regular waiver draft, which uses the current standings.
What Payne meant was he approved the process that sent Mathis to the MetroStars, and not to D.C. United which would have gotten the first choice in a waiver draft.
Sorry, Kevin, for any confusion.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com..