No, this is not going to be all about Landon Donovan, folks. There is plenty of "Huh?" to go around. Right off the top, before we even get to players, let's talk about the timing of this announcement.
"The whole group knows where they stand and know they're a part of it. We felt it was time to decide"- @J_Klinsmann pic.twitter.com/ExBtpKeDz3
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) May 23, 2014
Hmm. Either he is foggy on the definition of 'whole' (unlikely) or something is quite amiss 'roundhya. Of course, for a couple years now I have been pointing out that Klinsmann says a lot of things and even means a few of them. Camp began with the provisional 30 on May 14th, with the coach talking about competitions and a reference to them lasting about three weeks. Nine days later and just four before the first tune-up friendly, we had a final 23-man roster.
Wait... what now? Look, I'm all for an international boss playing some bluffs in the lead-up to World Cup, but not about administrative stuff like this. Not to the players. This is cuckoo-times to me. Maybe it is only me. But even more than any player pick or snub, this was my initial shock wave. And I am not even slightly kidding about that. Not. Cool. Jurgen.
(deep cleansing breath)
Let's just move on, before I pop an eye vessel over that mess. The keeper choices brought no surprise, but then there is the back line. Eight guys, none of whom is Clarence Goodson, to me the best USMNT defender of this World Cup cycle by a fair margin. Resurgent two-time World Cup participant and Confederations Cup hero Oguchi Onyewu didn't even reach prep camp.
As such, this will be by far the greenest defensive unit seen in a US World Cup side in modern times. Check out the sum of competitive caps in the newbie edition (which counts DaMarcus Beasley as the most seasoned player with 13 "real" matches at the station currently expected when the tourney starts).
Expected starters: 15
The full stable: 33
Expected starters: 6
The full stable: 20
In 2010, three starters were on their second World Cup. The 2006 defense played two pretty darn good games led by 80-cap man Pope, with support from Confederations Cup veterans Berhalter, Bocanegra and Cherundolo. The scrapping 2002 side had Steady Eddie has deputy to versatile 127-cap lefty Agoos, and again some CC on the CV.
You get the idea, it continues like this, only with more experience in the two Cups before these. The entire 2014 stable, however, has exactly zero games of experience with tourney matches outside CONCACAF. Yeah. Let that marinate for a moment.
Then, you have Cameron apparently sliding into a central position he's played all of four times for club and country in the last year. The toughest competitive CB assignment he's ever had was at Spurs, and it was not a good day. Oh, and did I mention that the competent Premier League right back has only played one US game in a central tandem with Besler?
Okay, enough freaking you out with that. Let's talk midfield. Though it is also plenty of green at this level once you get past Bradley and Jones, but there really is not much at issue - until you get to the left side.
I think everyone knows my view of Donovan's importance; he is an ink starter on my clipboard. And quoth the Red Hot Chili Peppers: If you need to ask, you'll never know. Instead of some involved side rant, I will simply turn it over to Mr. Hudson.
Yup. Pretty much. Instead, we have the firm of Davis and Green for the left flank. Setting aside the seemingly slim possibility we will see a sprinkle of Beasley or Johnson there, this is a bit unnerving. As delighted as I am that fellow St. Louisian Davis gets the privilege of going to a World Cup, I fear his impact may be limited to a spicy sub role where he gets to lay on a bunch of nasty restarts. And I'd be cool with that.
Problem is, the other guy has three career minutes of first team club ball and a brief friendly cap to his credit so far. Long story short, we have two potential bench gems up for a starting spot. And the thought gets scarier if Klinsi actually makes this sudden switch to a 4-4-2 diamond (another terrifically bad idea to discuss another day) that pushes Bradley forward.
Who knows? Perhaps Bedoya or Dempsey ends up sliding wide left (or in Deuce's case, vaguely left-ish-esque on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays) and we can drop the DEFCON rating a little. Which brings us right into the attack, which will need to possess and produce to aid the defense (especially if they are left with just Jones to mind the gate).
Everybody knows what I will about the forwards, too. There is no air bomber to "pinch-hit" late in the game and Wondo(w) is not exactly the type you'd immediately think to put up in a do-or-die game against, say, Hummels and Mertesacker. I mean, maybe that is the trick here, but I'm not one for magical thinking just like I'm so very not for going so very green at a World Cup.
Da Bruce once said the tourney is a young man's game, but that is a Mr. Incredible stretch. Both finalists last time were laden with key veterans 28 or older. Same as 2006 and 2002 and 1998 and so on. Yes, young players can take part in splashing, but a good balance is always in evidence with the deep Cup runners. This US squad, barring injury replacements, will have three core field players of that age. Dempsey, Jones and Cameron.
There are still other tactical gripes to be had. If Davis is not a starter, then who is taking our set pieces? This is a severely important part of finding success in short tournaments. It definitely should not be Bradley, we want him in the area. And on restart defense, pushing Cameron inside gives us one less big body in the box. While we're asking questions, who is now going to do all the pressure valve work of Donovan?
I could go on targeting such things, including match-up problems, and probably will at another time. But it is too stressful to think about this for too long at one sitting. As is, I find myself reaching for some milk chocolate bar dipped straight into the peanut butter jar, otherwise known as nature's Xanax.
So... anybody else getting at all concerned we will need a sizable miracle even if the Ghana jinx is snapped with a win in the group opener? I swear, if the signed-through-2018 coach says one word about the future during this likely three-and-out, it's gonna get all Augustus Gloop up in herrrre.
- Greg Seltzer