Single-Digit Soccer: “Messi would never have made it in the USA”

The U.S. youth soccer system is often criticized as too Anglo. Too athletic. Too focused on big brawny suburbanites, too resistant to Hispanic players and their magical ball skills.

And so the argument goes that if Lionel Messi had been raised in the USA, he wouldn’t have made it.

To which I say: B&*$%@!

As evidence, allow to present a quick peek at the most hyped U.S. player in history:

If you saw Freddy Adu play over the years, you know he was never a dominant physical specimen. He could be explosive with the ball, but he’s not the fastest guy in the world. And he’s not a big guy.

If anything, Messi is more physically imposing than Adu. Messi can score goals with defenders draped on him. Adu is more likely to be muscled off the ball.

Maybe the Ghanaian pickup games in which Adu learned his trade were better for development than American U8 games. Fine. But it’s a fallacy to think a 10-year-old Messi would be overlooked by U.S. teams.

Then we would ruin his career.

Philadelphia Union: The latest team to mishandle Freddy Adu

Start here:

“Candid” is one thing. Another is “telling everyone we have this high-priced player we’re desperate to unload, and if we can’t unload him, we’ll just be eating his salary rather than playing him, but please don’t make us do that.”

Source: “Dear Season Ticket Holders”.

An SB Nation commenter put it well: ” I’m fine with Adu leaving for nothing if it means the Union get his salary off the books, but as it stands, unless Hackworth gets a bidding war going, no team has an incentive not to lowball.”

Another item in that letter that should make the River End shudder:

And I think it’s time to clear up another misconception…
I know that the draft board described him as a forward, but we did not pick Don Anding as one. We picked him because he was literally one of the most athletic players available in the draft and in fact, the fastest player at the Combine.

Via another SB Nation/Brotherly Game post, we get this scouting report: “Technically a little choppy at times but makes up for it with his speed … As a winger he may not have the soccer IQ to man the position.”

It’s 2013, and American soccer teams are still drafting players based on speed and athleticism? Do we need Claudio Reyna to travel down I-95 and whack someone with a copy of the U.S. Soccer curriculum?

No wonder they couldn’t make much use of Freddy Adu.

Where are they now: Bradenton, Spring 2003

Following my last post on Bradenton, doing the relatively easy online research to figure out where the class of 1999 had gone, I asked if  I should turn my attention to another class. A voice emerged from the crowd: “Play Salieri.”

Or, in reality: “Do Memo Gonzalez’s class.”

By the time the future Galaxy roster member played in Bradenton, the program was bigger. Some players were spending multiple years. So the list below is broken down by graduation date and the number of semesters they spent in residency. It also includes many players who didn’t play in a U17 World Cup.

That 2003 U17 World Cup, held in Finland, was the one in which 14-year-old Freddy Adu shredded South Korea. The USA also beat Sierra Leone before falling 2-0 to Spain, which got a goal from someone named Cesc Fabregas. He turned out pretty well. That led to a quarterfinal appearance against Brazil and a forgettable finish. Nineteen of the 20 players on that team were in Bradenton; goalkeeper Quentin Westberg was based in France. The players on that team are marked with *

And wouldn’t you know it — someone from ESPN/Soccernet looked at this team as well back in 2009. It’s worth a read for the recollection of the South Korea game alone.

So I’ll be updating and expanding. Here goes …

Graduated in Spring 2003 after two semesters in Bradenton:

Adrian Chevannes*: Went to Clemson but transferred to SMU, sat out the 2005 season and finished up in 2007. Drafted in 2008 by Colorado, but he told Soccernet he had suffered a few injuries in college that made a pro career unlikely. Said something in that piece about grad school. Beyond that, I found nothing. Anyone?

Steve Curfman*:Went to Wake Forest. Drafted by Real Salt Lake but wound up back in North Carolina, first with the Carolina Railhawks, then the Wilmington Hammerheads, then the PDL’s CASL Elite. Listed as a coach at Carolina Soccer Club.

Chris Germani*: Several injuries at North Carolina and Penn State, and he finally sat out his senior year. Now an investment operations manager with Northwestern Mutual.

Brian Mascarenhas: Coincidentally, India has a player by the same name. The American Brian Mascarenhas went to Vanderbilt, only to see the program disband. Then he went to Georgetown for a year. Then Penn. Along the way, he interned for U.S. senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) but embarked on an apolitical career, working for Cox Media Group and coaching at his old Atlanta youth club, Concorde Fire.

Brandon Oot: Transferred from St. John’s to LeMoyne. Then I’ll give a classic “What I know / what I don’t”: There is a Brandon Oot and Associates listed in Newburgh, N.Y., there’s a Brandon Oot “business owner / professional training and coaching” listing for Newburgh, there’s a Brandon Oot listing with a Syracuse hometown and current location of Newburgh, and the soccer player named Brandon Oot is from Lafayette, N.Y., just outside Syracuse. What that proves other than my love of run-on sentences, I’m not sure.

Jacob Peterson*: This one’s a little easier — went to Indiana and won a couple of NCAA titles, then bounced around MLS: Colorado, Toronto, San Jose, Kansas City. Tied his career high for goals in 2012 with four.

Eric Vogl: Started his college career at Furman, transferred to Charlotte (formerly UNC Charlotte) and then stopped playing. Has a really impressive business resume, though.

Jamie Watson*: Played a couple of years at North Carolina before going pro through Generation Adidas. Couldn’t get regular time at Real Salt Lake and took a journey through the lower divisions. Spend 2012 on loan to Minnesota but plans to return to Orlando in 2013.

After three semesters:

Jose “Trini” Gomez: Started at UCLA but transferred to Loyola Marymount, where his GPA was impressive. Beyond that, he’s hard to find. Not exactly a unique name, even among U.S. soccer players — another Jose Gomez is projected as an early pick in the 2013 MLS draft. He also goes by “Trini,” short for his middle name “Trinidad,” but that also doesn’t help.

Drew Harrison: Went to Virginia. Then it gets interesting. To summarize his colorful bio: He went into stock trading, watched the markets crash, went to Central America, then came back to Charleston (S.C.) to promote sustainable urban agriculture. He was named one of Charleston’s “40 Under 40” and said his goals were to expand his Green Heart Project and see the U.S. win a World Cup. (Men, we’re guessing, since they haven’t won one yet, though it’s been a while for the women as well.) And yes, he coaches a bit.

Kyle Helton*: The Soccernet roundup tracked him from Duke to New England to Sweden to Atlanta to Austin. He’s in Norway now with Mjøndalen, which has narrowly missed out on promotion to the top division.

Jonathan Spector*: Maybe other players were more heralded, but he’s the one who signed with Manchester United straight out of Bradenton. He made a couple of appearances for the EPL giants but went on loan to Charlton, then transferred to West Ham, where he had a few productive years. He has since moved on to Birmingham City. He has been in and out of the U.S. team, but he was “in” for the glorious 2009 Confederations Cup.

Chase Wileman: Played at SMU, then stayed in Texas with FC Dallas, where his current bio says he was reserve team MVP in 2008. He has since gone into coaching, first locally in Texas and now at Dartmouth.

After four semesters:

Corey Ashe*: From North Carolina to the Houston Dynamo, the left-sided player has been a strong cog on a lot of winning teams.

John DiRaimondo*: Went to St. Louis, then played mostly in Colorado’s reserves. Passed through D.C. United, Harrisburg City and Richmond in 2009. He returned to St. Louis to get an MBA and work with the soccer team, then joined Ernst and Young.

Eddie Gaven*: Overhyped! Underrated! Overhyped! Underrated! Three seasons with the MetroStars, seven seasons with Columbus, and people still don’t know what to make of him. He’s pretty good. Really.

Guillermo “Memo” Gonzalez*: A can’t-miss prospect who missed. Maybe Dan Loney or someone else from the Galaxy fan base can explain how things went down in Los Angeles. But the bottom line is that he played a total of 12 games in MLS, all with the Galaxy, and no one picked him up. He has been an assistant women’s coach at Cerritos College, among other coaching gigs, for several years.

Brian Grazier*: Like DiRaimondo, Grazier went to St. Louis, then to Colorado, then back to St. Louis to do graduate work and help out with the soccer team. Now on the coaching staff at Rutgers.

Michael Harrington*: Went to North Carolina and was picked early in the draft, then spent six good seasons with Kansas City. Traded earlier this month to Portland.

Phil Marfuggi*: Goalkeeper played at Clemson, was picked in the MLS Supplemental Draft, wound up with the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds and went on to a successful football career. Oh, not that football. Or that one. He moved to the Arena Football League as a placekicker. Funny thing — he has more tackles than field goals.

Tomiwa Ogunsola: Played at Clemson and James Madison, starting 21 games in four years. Popped up at German lower-division club VfR Horst, then Cleveland City Stars. Turned up at a pro combine in 2011, getting good marks for speed and strength. Then he turned up on a list of coaches at Northern Virginia Soccer Club … hey, did I coach against him at All-Stars?

Brandon Owens*: Brandon is his middle name, so you may see him listed as Dwight Owens. Played at UCLA, taking a redshirt season to recuperate from a knee injury. The Soccernet roundup in 2009 saw him passing up one of the old-school (or old-CBA) $13K developmental contracts with D.C. United. Instead, he went into coaching and banking, with a few stops in the PDL (Thunder Bay, Orange County) along the way.

Continued on in the program (with one exception, players had been in Bradenton for two semesters and
continued for another two):

Freddy Adu*: This was the third of his five semesters in Bradenton. Has had an enigmatic and erratic career since then, starring at every level of age-group soccer (U17, U20, Olympic) but struggling to find a long-term pro home.

Michael Bradley: Didn’t play in a U17 World Cup but seemed to do pretty well for himself. He was a bit of a mystery when he signed with MLS at age 16 and had to wait until the fourth round — unusual for a teen signee — until his father’s team, the MetroStars picked him up.  His father, Bob, also coached him on the national team. It’s taken a few years and a few stints with five European teams, but the “nepotism” charges should be officially dead now. American Soccer Now’s panel of experts ranks him as the No. 1 U.S. player at the moment.

Christian Jimenez: Six minutes. That’s the MLS playing career of Christian Jimenez, who left South Florida after one season and was drafted 14th overall by Chivas USA in 2005. He never played for the Rojiblancos and moved to Real Salt Lake in 2006. At RSL, he played in one game — for six minutes. He moved into coaching.

Marcus Rein: Goalkeeper transferred from Wake Forest to Central Florida, then dropped off the roster just in time for a young freshman named Sean Johnson to come in. Then he moved to California and started a fitness company.

Steve Sandbo*: Played at SMU and declined an invitation to the MLS combine to go into investment banking. Still doing financial stuff.

Danny Szetela*: Once upon a time, he wasn’t far behind Adu in the pantheon of youth stars. He went into the MLS lottery and played a couple of underwhelming seasons with Columbus, but he was still enough of a star (and a success at the U20 World Cup in 2007) to sign with Racing Santander in La Liga. Then he was loaned to Brescia in Italy’s Serie B. Came back to MLS and was a little less successful than Adu, playing a handful of games for D.C. United and getting the axe. Arrested in a 2011 bar brawl. After that, the trail goes a little cold. He is certainly not the “Daniel Szetela” on LinkedIn. I don’t see him on Facebook, either.

Julian Valentin*: Had a good run at Wake Forest but spent most of his MLS career on loan from Los Angeles to somewhere else — Hollywood United Hitmen, Cleveland City Stars, etc. Moved on to Tampa Bay in Division 2 and was named team captain in 2010. Then he retired to be an assistant editor with the Colorado Rockies. Maintains a fun Twitter feed:

Tim Ward: Last but not least, the defender went to St. Louis and left early to join MLS, playing with the MetroStars, Columbus, Colorado (reserves only), Chicago and San Jose. Unclaimed in recent re-entry draft, so he’s now a free agent.

So overall … a lot of murky careers, a lot of injuries (playing too much?), a lot of college transfers, a lot of guys landing on their feet.


Style points: Why everything you think about the present or future U.S. soccer mentality is wrong

Soccer America’s Best of American Soccer 2010 has a terrific profile of FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman, whose breakout year in 2010 is just a small part of his compelling story.

His background is one reason why I’ve found the stereotypes of U.S. soccer in this otherwise interesting BigSoccer thread, which popped up in response to my ESPN piece on Claudio Reyna’s quest to overhaul U.S. youth development, so frustrating. The stereotypes say U.S. coaches are all about finding athletic players and aren’t interested in having decent touch on the ball or other soccer skills. If players have creative flair, it’s coached out of them.

Sure, you could find plenty of examples in which that’s true. But you can also find plenty of counterexamples.

In the 1990s, before and just after MLS launched, the most influential coaches in the USA were college coaches. And if you look at that group, you see so many exceptions that you start to wonder about the rule.

Start with Hyndman (SMU 1984-2008), who came to this country from China via Macau. He is a martial arts master who applies that discipline and focus (but not its kicks and punches) to the possession style he learned on a long sojourn to Brazil.

Then you have Argentina-bred George Tarantini (N.C. State 1985-2010), who recruited playmakers such as Tab Ramos but surrounded him with bruisers who were masters at off-the-ball, away-from-ref’s-eyes physicality. (Tarantini also coached a Cuban refugee named Albertin Montoya, who is also featured in the Soccer America year in review after coaching FC Gold Pride to fleeting glory.)

U.S. coach Bob Bradley (Princeton 1984-95) works far harder at building ties within his team than he does at winning over fans with bravado on the field or in press conferences. That gives him a reputation of being a prototypical overcontrolling U.S. coach. Yet he’s sensitive to overcoaching — check this funny anecdote from Time magazine (HT: Stan Collins) in which Bradley suggests to his daughter’s coach that he tone down the yelling, and the coach smacks him down because he’s just a “parent.”

We haven’t even mentioned yet that two of the most successful MLS coaches are Bruce Arena (Virginia 1978-95) and Sigi Schmid (UCLA 1980-99), neither of whom fits the mold. And their thoughts on soccer aren’t similar to those of Steve Sampson (Santa Clara 1986-93), who unleashed the 3-6-1 on the World Cup in 1998 for better or for worse.

Not all of these coaches are popular among the hard-core fans who want to see the USA play like Spain. Some of them have used negative tactics from time to time. But they’re hardly a group that can be painted with one brush.

Neither are the players they’ve developed. For all the talk of U.S. coaches focusing on big galoots, the prototype for ball-winning defensive midfielders was Richie Williams, who is roughly 10 inches tall.

Perry Kitchen was a highly sought-after prospect from Akron, where Caleb Porter is the latest “it” guy in the college ranks whose team plays the “right” way, and yet he walked straight from the MLS draft podium to a grilling from Paul Gardner over how often he fouls. Which mold does he fit?

The U.S. player who drew the most attention over the past 10 years has been Freddy Adu. He’s not big. He’s not even fast, though Cobi Jones memorably suggested that he try to use his speed rather than tricks.

Some people claim Adu was never that good, though everyone from Ray Hudson to European clubs to the U-17 defenses he shredded may differ. Some say Peter Nowak, not exactly a “U.S. coach” at that point in his career, coached his improvisational flair out of him and undermined his confidence.

Not I’m surprised to see BigSoccer conventional wisdom contradict itself. Despite evidence to the contrary, BigSoccer posters are convinced U.S. coaches prefer the big brutes. Another BigSoccer meme suggests the U.S. would be much better if it could convince its athletes to choose soccer over football and basketball. Most of those “athletes” are considerably bigger than the typical soccer team.

The overriding point is this: The USA is a large, diverse country. Its coaches and players come from different backgrounds and offer different talents.

That explains Arena’s skepticism in the most pointed quote in my ESPN story. He says this country is simply too big and too diverse to develop one particular style that fits all.

And so it surely must be folly to suggest that the USA already has one particular mindset without even trying to impose one. Right?

Midweek Myriad: Fretting over Freddy, winter winners, soccer challenge

Time for another Midweek Myriad, also known as “stuff that happened while I was at Disney World.” I’ve saved the most serious item for the end, which is either “building suspense” or “burying the lead.”

SOCCER: Americans move at transfer deadline, with only 1 of 4 going in the “right” direction

U.S. fans longing for more Americans to succeed in Europe are thrilled that Michael Bradley is leaving Bundesliga bottom-dweller Borussia Moenchengladbach on loan to mid-table Premier League club Aston Villa, though playing time is far from assured.

More worrisome are the players making what ambitious folks would consider something less than a “lateral” move. At ESPN, Jeff Carlisle worries that Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson are following the same career path of loans without upward progress. Carlisle doesn’t even mention Freddy Adu, who is mentioned in a similarly downcast piece by Soccer America‘s Paul Kennedy.

Altidore’s move isn’t bad, really. He’s not seeing time at Villarreal, and he gets to hop into a title race in Turkey with Bursaspor. The snag is that the club also signed Scottish striker Kenny Miller.

Johnson is a few years older and settling into Championship-level soccer. Nothing really wrong with that, and no one’s looking to him as the future at forward for the U.S. national team these days. He’s on loan from Fulham to Preston North End trying to save the club from relegation.

The stunner is Freddy Adu, who quietly went on loan to Rizespor in Turkey’s second division. Even Adu’s harshest critics would’ve had a hard time predicting that he’d be so low on the European club ladder at age 21. I’d say Freddy has to set the Turkish second division on fire to put his career back on track, but in Turkey, the fans usually set the fires.

What’s strange is that no one can really tell us why Adu’s career has taken such turns in the past couple of years. For a while, his European misadventures were easily explained — he couldn’t break into the lineup at Benfica, and he was in a terrible situation in Monaco with an American-education club chairman who brought him in without seeing if the coaching staff had any interest. But we don’t know why Greece’s Aris lost interest in him or why he couldn’t latch on anywhere else in this transfer window.

And this just in (HT to Grant Wahl): Robbie Findley, newly transferred to Nottingham Forest, may be out three months.

SOCCER: NASL, fans damn the torpedoes

The NASL is undaunted (see Brian Straus story) over an initial rejection of second-division sanctioning and the need to start a Carolina team from scratch after previous owner Selby Wellman, a leading figure in the NASL breakaway, was unable to find a a supplemental or replacement investor. The RailHawks trademark sold on eBay for $14,999.

NASL fans also are undaunted, releasing a letter to U.S. Soccer complaining about the lack of D2 status. Kenn Tomasch calmly shredded the letter, mostly by reminding NASL fans that you have to play a few seasons, or at least a few games, before boldly proclaiming yourself a model of stability.

TRACK AND FIELD: Millrose Games surprises

– Ethiopia’s Deresse Mekonnen ended Bernard Lagat’s domination of the mile.

– Jamaican sprinters were a step ahead of the Americans in the men’s and women’s 60.

– The USA shot put train keeps rolling: Youngster Ryan Whiting upset Christian Cantwell, Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson.

Recaps from the New York Times and Universal Sports, plus full results. (Big round of applause for the Millrose site for putting its results on one easy-to-read page rather than making us click for every event. Take note, track and swimming organizers.)

In less entertaining indoor track and field, some U.S. athletes went overseas after sleeping on the floor at JFK and lost to other international “teams” at the Aviva International in Glasgow. The biggest upset was a repeat from last year, with Britain’s Jessica Ennis beating Lolo Jones in the 60-meter hurdles.


Winter X Games: Shaun White, Lindsey Jacobellis and Kelly Clark are still really, really good at snowboarding. The only surprise in that trio: Clark landed a 1080. Nick Baumgartner upset Seth Holland in the men’s snowboardcross.

Soccer: Ridge Mahoney points to a major issue that could derail the Cosmos-to-MLS train: the league’s lucrative adidas deal. (Update: Grant Wahl, who has done the most extensive interview on the Cosmos to date, says the club has prepared to go adidas if it gets into MLS. Ridge’s piece is still worth reading as a reminder of how much power adidas wields.

Handball: Olympic champion France keeps rolling, winning another men’s world title with an extra-time win over Denmark. Spain edged host Sweden for third, and Croatia beat my buddies from Iceland for fifth. All close games in the world championship of the sport that have the highest popularity-to-English-language-coverage ratio in the world. (AP)

Figure skating: The highlight of the U.S. Championships in my beloved former hometown of Greensboro was Alissa Czisny’s remarkable comeback from afterthought status to win a battle of three former national champions. Christine Brennan, who has stuck with the sport through thick and thin, has the analysis.

Ski jumping: Not sure what to make of the fact that Sarah Hendrickson has been at the forefront of a strong U.S. showing in international competition this year but managed only 18th in the World Junior Championships.

Luge: No stunning world championship for the USA’s Erin Hamlin this year. She finished 14th. (AP)

Freestyle skiing: Hannah Kearney’s World Cup moguls win streak stands at five heading into the World Championships in Park City.

Cyclo-cross: Katie Compton took second in the World Championships. Holding this event in cold mud just seems especially cruel.

– Wrestling: Olympic champion turned Biggest Loser competitor Rulon Gardner is still hawking a 1 1/2-pound sandwich and challenging people to eat it with fries and a massive drink in 20 minutes. Maybe Rulon’s hoping to match legendary competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi, who is still skinny. (AP)

Last and not least …

At BigSoccer, Bill Archer has annoyed a lot of Canadian fans, and they have the prerogative not to be Bill’s buddies.

But aside from my own “Bill’s a good guy once you get to know him” story, I can say this — if you care about the sport, you should be reading Bill’s blog. I’ve yet to see anyone else in the Americas, from basement bloggers to professional journalists, do as much work in compiling disparate reports on the issues of FIFA, CONCACAF and other international soccer bodies. I would say to my fellow journalists — Bill is doing what we should be doing.

This piece on the utter travesty of Qatar’s Asian Cup final is a prime example.

If someone can offer valid reasons why organizers locked the gates before kickoff, separated families and brought out the riot police, fine. Let’s hear from them. But let’s not act as if this isn’t news.

We the American soccer media/blogosphere shouldn’t be moving on so quickly from FIFA’s extraordinary World Cup decisions to an exclusive focus on the MLS preseason or slobbering all over the latest EPL transfers. My challenge to all of us: Keep watching FIFA and Qatar. If Qatar is an absolutely unsuitable host for the Cup and FIFA is an unsuitable guardian for the game, these things can be and must be changed. Silence won’t get it done. If Al Jazeera can talk, so can we.

There is no “try” — Adu or not Adu

Anyone made that pun yet? I think we’re all racing now to make the last possible pun on Freddy Adu’s name.

The young American’s status is up in the air again after a trial with Switzerland’s FC Sion didn’t pan out. (Aside to headline writers: “Not signing” and “failed to impress” or not the same thing.)

Now we have a report that Adu is “close to signing” with the Los Angeles Galaxy. My background doesn’t give me much faith in anonymous reports — which works out well, because no one ever tells me anything — but World Soccer Reader has shown itself to be more sincere and reliable in its reporting than most. And it’s interesting that the mainstreamers who could easily throw cold water on such reports have not done so.

“Close to signing,” of course, is a nebulous term, and many things can derail a deal that seems close to happening. This isn’t the NBA, where teams are basically bidding against each other for free agents, and players are weighing only a couple of factors. This is international soccer and MLS, where the multiple parties must agree on transfer terms, contract terms, compensation for the team holding allocation rights, salary cap impact, etc., etc.

So while we wait to see if this deal comes to fruition, we can ask: Should Freddy Adu come back to MLS?

I say no. Here’s why:

Adu is the classic example of how the old media “build up, tear down” celebrity cycle has been accelerated and magnified in the Internet Age. Some people thought he was never that good. Some people legitimately bought the “new Pele” line, though no one in a position of authority was actually calling him that. Some people thought he was several years older than he said.

Let’s destroy all three of those arguments, in reverse order:

Continue reading There is no “try” — Adu or not Adu

The World Cup 30

ESPNewsreallyquicklygavethe30-manpreliminaryUSroster for the World Cup and talked to U.S. coach Bob Bradley about it.

It’ll be cut to 23. If someone’s injured, the roster can yet be changed.


– No fourth goalkeeper. Not really a risk in terms of injuries, since Bradley could always grab an MLS keeper if needed. But still a slight risk. What if Brad Guzan, who hasn’t played much recently, comes into camp and isn’t in top form?

– No Charlie Davies. Bob Bradley said he was not given a “full medical clearance” from his club. Second opinion from American doctor wouldn’t hurt, but Bradley might know more than we do. On the flip side, Bradley said Milan has been including Oguchi Onyewu in preliminary squads and has given indications that he’s ready.

– Eddie Johnson gets a spot from his form with Aris in Greece. Freddy Adu does not. I’d love to hear Bradley’s reasoning on this.

– DaMarcus Beasley gets a shot in camp to show his fitness and form.

– Aside from Beasley, World Cup veterans didn’t get a break. Not Frankie Hejduk, who had some terrific performances in qualifying early last year but had a drop in form. Not Jimmy Conrad.

Updating my list from yesterday:

LOCKS for final 23
Tim Howard, GK
Brad Guzan, GK
Marcus Hahnemann, GK
Carlos Bocanegra, D
Michael Bradley, M
Maurice Edu, M
Landon Donovan, M/F
Clint Dempsey, M/F
Jozy Altidore, F

NEAR-LOCKS for final 23 (fitness questions)
Oguchi Onyewu, D
Jay DeMerit, D
Stuart Holden, M
Charlie Davies, F

NEAR-LOCKS for final 23 (form questions)
Jonathan Spector, D
Steve Cherundolo, D
Jonathan Bornstein, D – Chang omits
Ricardo Clark, M
Benny Feilhaber, M
Jose Francisco Torres, M

That’s 19 18 who are likely bound for South Africa unless their fitness or form fails them in camp.

THE BUBBLE – listed with writers backing them for final 23
Frankie Hejduk, D – Wahl
Clarence Goodson, D – Wahl, Davis
Edgar Castillo, D – Mravic,
Chad Marshall, D – Mravic
Heath Pearce, D/M
Alejandro Bedoya, M – on 4 of 5 SI picks for final 23
Sacha Kljestan, M – Davis
DaMarcus Beasley, M – Dohrmann
Robbie Rogers, M – Dohrmann
Bobby Convey, M
Brian Ching, F – Wahl, Mravic, Chang
Herculez Gomez, F – Wahl, Chang
Edson Buddle, F – Davis, Mravic
Eddie Johnson, F – Davis
Brian McBride, F – Davis, despite his retirement from international play
Robbie Findley, F
Nick Rimando, GK


  • Jimmy Conrad, D
  • Freddy Adu, M/F

Alejandro Bedoya, stealth marketing and the U.S. World Cup roster

Let’s do a blind test. Which player would you think was most likely to be named tomorrow (2 p.m. ET, ESPNews) to the 30-man preliminary U.S. roster for the World Cup?

– Player A: Excelled for U-17s, U-20s and Olympic team. Had productive MLS career, twice named to All-Star team. Sold to European team but struggled for a couple of years to find place with club team. Has rare attacking skill and vision on the field. Has come on strong in recent games by most reports. 15 U.S. caps.

– Player B: Didn’t make U.S. youth teams, though he was considered. After good college career, opted to try his luck in Scandinavia. Currently leads his club team with four yellow cards. 2 U.S. caps, both in friendlies.

You’ve probably guessed it. Player A is Freddy Adu. Player B is Alejandro Bedoya. Those in the know think Bedoya will be on the roster and Adu won’t. If you bet on that four years ago, call someone for help setting up a charitable foundation you can surely afford to start now.

So has Bedoya benefited from being under the radar?

He shouldn’t, of course. It’s one thing to become the hip pick among the cognoscenti, even though no one has a chance to see him play outside of a couple of late appearances in friendlies. It’s another to impress Bob Bradley and the U.S. staff. U.S. Soccer is past the days in which a rumor of a left-footed player with an American citizenship claim somewhere in the Oberliga would start a stampede.

But what helps Bedoya is that no one has been paying attention long enough to see him fail. That sets him apart from Adu, Bobby Convey, Eddie Gaven, Edson Buddle, etc. Bedoya brings no baggage and no reason for a hue and cry among the fans and media. As far as the coaching staff is concerned, he’s an intriguing prospect. They may feel at this point that they know what Adu brings to the table. Bedoya is likely worth a closer look.

Still, there’s a downside to bringing in someone at this stage who didn’t go through the Central America grind. Late additions to the team usually help a bit more when they have some elite-level experience. DaMarcus Beasley and Tony Sanneh emerged late in the 2002 World Cup cycle, but Sanneh was a Bundesliga veteran and Beasley had been a U-17 / U-20 star.

And Bradley’s team-building philosophy is to build a wall around the squad. There’s an “inside” and “outside.” (See Filip Bondy’s new book, Chasing the Game.) It’s not so much a mean-spirited exclusionary tactic as it is a means of keeping distractions to a minimum.

Bedoya’s not a complete stranger, having been in the national team camp a couple of times already. So if he is indeed picked for this camp, Bradley must not view him as a risk.

Who else gets the call? Here are the locks and the bubble picks …

Continue reading Alejandro Bedoya, stealth marketing and the U.S. World Cup roster

The perils of predicting prospects’ futures

He was a young American phenom, joining a pro team in high school. He was compared to the best players of his generation. After signing in Portugal, things started to go wrong.

Freddy Adu? Nope. Jovan Kirovski, subject of a compelling profile by the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Mark Ziegler.

Kirovski came of age in the days before the breathless hype machine we know today. He left California for Manchester United’s youth academy at age 16. By the time he was 19, everyone wanted him to be on United’s first team, where he was expected to be an impact player. Everyone except the work-permit overlords in England, who must have been especially grumpy the day Kirovski’s permit application crossed their desks.

Sports Illustrated noticed his plight, and he was the subject of rumor and wishful thinking among the community of soccer fans taking root on the relatively new World Wide Web. But in those pre-Fox Soccer Channel, pre-Champions League multicast days, few fans could see him play.

Kirovski did indeed play in the Champions League — on a championship team, no less. He made two appearances on Europe’s grandest stage as Germany’s Borussia Dortmund claimed the 1996-97 title.

The next few years: Some mildly productive stints at various clubs through a series of transfers and loans. More U.S. national team appearances but no World Cup games.

If anyone really knew why Kirovski didn’t become the USA’s Wayne Rooney, he or she would be wealthy. Every club in the world would love to know the answers.

So what’s different about Freddy Adu, whose last few detours are well-chronicled in another SI piece, a recent Grant Wahl story? The biggest difference is the attention Adu received in an era of media proliferation and globalization. European clubs noticed him around age 12. Then he, unlike Kirovski, excelled in every international youth tournament, even when he was two or more years younger than the rest of the players.

Not that excelling in a U-17 or U-20 tournament is a perfect indicator of eventual success. Check Kirovski’s peers from the U-17 level, and you’ll find only one person — John O’Brien — who had any sort of impact on the national team. It’s not just the USA — scan the other rosters, and you’ll see only a handful of recognizable names.

That reality hasn’t stopped the American soccer community from loading up expectations higher and higher with each crop of youngsters. The 1999 U-17 team that was unlucky to finish no higher than fourth provided something akin to a Golden Generation. Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Bobby Convey and Kyle Beckerman have gone on to productive careers, though most of that group inspires constant debate over whether they’re living up to their “potential.” Others from that team had short MLS careers.

Going to “Europe” has proved to be no sure-fire solution. Kirovski never had the expected breakthrough. Claudio Reyna did, though his career also refutes the notion that college soccer ruins players.

That missing link between 16-year-old success and international glory is almost as elusive as Step 2 of the Underpants Gnomes’ scheme. Those who say otherwise are probably selling something that isn’t worth buying.

But the good news for players is that there are many paths to relative success. Ziegler’s story on Kirovski is a terrific read, and the Galaxy player seems to be at peace with himself, enjoying the late stages of a wild ride. Plenty of reasons to congratulate him for getting to that point.