ITALY FRIENDLY REPORT CARD: WORLD CUP ROSTER
by Jeff Dieffenbach
With the friendly against Italy behind them, it’s time for the
latest U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup report card. With 23
roster spots on the line, exactly 23 players have seen time in the
last two matches. Only two of these have been goaltenders, though,
and FIFA rules require three, so at least one among the 23 is odd
From the back:
Brad Friedel (goalkeeper) – A: Like Costa Rica
against Kasey Keller in the Gold Cup final, the Italians tested
Friedel only infrequently. Alessandro Del Piero blasted a 51st
minute shot that Friedel parried nicely to his left. Nine minutes
later, Del Piero netted the match’s only goal against a blameless
Friedel after his defense could not recover from referee Joseph
Attard’s dubious officiating (Gianluca Zambrotta’s push on David
Regis) and Italy’s opportunistic offense (Zambrotta’s subsequent
feed to a streaking Massimo Marazzina, drawing Friedel left before
crossing to Del Piero in front of an open goal).
With his performance, including a commanding presence on high
balls into the box as well as several strong runs off his line,
Friedel countered Keller’s similar Gold Cup effort, leaving coach
Bruce Arena without an obvious choice for the starting spot in South
Korea. The decision may well come down to the play of whoever starts
in last preparation match against The Netherlands on May 19.
Regardless, barring injury, both are certain to make the 23 man
World Cup roster
Jeff Agoos (defender) – A-: Agoos is a lock to
gain a starting spot on the World Cup roster after another solid
outing. With a bit more speed, he might have been able to close on
Marazzina to thwart his cross on the Italy goal, but the fault was
not Agoos’. Overall, his play was characterized by the usual smart
positioning and hard tackling that makes him a favorite of
Greg Berhalter (defender) – A: Berhalter
faltered only once, allowing the always dangerous Christian Vieri to
get his head to a second half Italian cross, but the effort went
wide. Otherwise, he repeatedly shut the physical Vieri and others
down with strong headers, solid tackles, and well-placed tactical
fouls. Berhalter should join Agoos to start in central defense.
Tony Sanneh (defender) – B-: Sanneh will likely
make the World Cup roster, but only in spite of his effort against
Italy. His play from the right back position was spotty, leading to
several fine Italian chances. He was not able to get forward as
effectively as his left side counterpart, David Regis. Sanneh may
find himself challenged for a starting position by the likes of
Steve Cherundolo or perhaps Pablo Mastroeni.
David Regis (defender) – A-: Regis turned in an
outstanding offensive performance from his left back position,
offering creative services short and long. Working particularly well
with midfielder John O’Brien, Regis continually stretched the
Italian defense. While he could perhaps be faulted for crumbling a
bit too easily on the Zambrotta push that led to Italy’s goal, his
effort puts him in the starting eleven for the U.S. World Cup opener
against Portugal on June 5th. Regis was not let down by his lack of
speed that has often left him suspect in the eyes of this reviewer
Frankie Hejduk (midfielder) – C: Hejduk had
little impact after coming on for Sanneh in the 60th minute. His
game is speed and hustle, neither of which he had the opportunity to
display in abundance. Perhaps more than any other player, Hejduk is
on the bubble for South Korea, but this reviewer has him on the
outside looking in.
Chris Armas (midfielder) – B+: Despite taking
Man of the Match honors, Armas’ effort was not up to his normal high
level. Another certain starter in South Korea, he defended expertly
but was too loose with his passing game, hindering on several
occasions U.S. advances out of the back.
Claudio Reyna (midfielder) – A-: Reyna doesn’t
dazzle at the attacking midfield spot the way legends Marcos
Etcheverry and Carlos Valderrama do, but he provides a controlling
and sometimes creative influence that is most noticeable when he is
absent from the pitch. Sure to start in the World Cup, Reyna was the
key point in the U.S. domination of Italy in the first half, but
vanished at times in the second before leaving for Eddie Lewis in
the 80th minute.
Earnie Stewart (midfielder) – B-: Where was
Earnie? If Armas was a questionable Man of the Match (John O’Brien,
anyone?), then Stewart was a sure-fire Invisible Man of the Match.
He’ll make the traveling list for South Korea, and probably start,
but only if he returns his play to its normal fast and inventive
John O’Brien (midfielder) – A: O’Brien provided
an offensive spark throughout the match, and will carry that spark
to a starting spot on the World Cup squad. Reyna’s heir apparent,
can play both offensively and defensively with a versatility that
belies his relative youth.
Eddie Lewis (midfielder) – C: This can be said
of Lewis—he came on for Reyna in the 80th minute. Another bubble
player, he likely gets a ticket to South Korea, but only if he makes
more of his opportunities on the field.
Joe-Max Moore (forward) – B: A contender for
Stewart’s Invisible Man award, Moore (replaced by Jovan Kirovski in
the 79th minute) spent the match absorbing Italian fouls with his
slight frame. World Cup bound, he, like Donovan and Josh Wolff,
requires a larger counterpart up front, most likely to come in the
form of Brian McBride.
Landon Donovan (forward) – A-: Donovan had the
chance of the match for the U.S. in the 8th minute, capitalizing on
a slip by Marco Materazzi to intercept a back pass and go in
one-on-one with goalkeeper Francesco Toldo. Despite defensive
pressure, Donovan slotted a shot to Toldo’s right, but unfortunately
for the forward enjoying his last month as a teenager, off of
Toldo’s post and wide. A few minutes later, Donovan made a nice move
in the box to get free and launch a blast just high and wide left.
Relieved by Josh Wolff in the 65th minute, Donovan again pressed
(and in this reviewer’s opinion, made) his case for World Cup
Josh Wolff (forward) – C: In twenty
five minutes of play, Wolff had almost no impact as he was unable to
apply his trademark speed. Wolff is likely on his way to South
Korea, but needs to return his play to a higher level to ensure a
Jovan Kirovski (forward) – C: Italy’s
four halftime substitutions elevated their play to the point that
the controlled the second half. Conversely, the four changes that
Arena made had almost no effect. Kirovski, entering in the 79th
minute, was no exception. Likely to make the roster for his
(relative) size and power (he’s no Mamadou Diallo!), his play is
often not up to Arena’s apparent opinion of him.
So, who starts, who sits, and who stays:
Goalkeepers (3): The starting nod will go to Friedel or
Keller--simply too close to call at this point—with Tony Meola to
fill the third spot.
Defenders (7): Agoos and Berhalter will start in the middle,
flanked by Regis on the left side and a question mark on the right.
Cherundolo, Carlos Llamosa, Pope, and Sanneh will fill out the
projected seven spots.
Midfielders (8): Armas (defensive) and Reyna (attacking) will
start in the middle, with O’Brien and Stewart on the wings. Donovan,
Cobi Jones, Lewis, and Clint Mathis will provide able support off
Forwards (5): With a need for size, Brian McBride will start up
top, but whom he will be paired with remains an open question.
Kirovski, Moore, Ante Razov, and Josh Wolff fill out the complement
Outside looking in: Carlos Bocanegra, Hejduk, Tim Howard, Brian
Maisonneuve, Pablo Mastroeni, Ben Olsen, Brian West, Richie
Williams, and Zach Thornton. Of the 23 men who’ve played in the last
two games, Bocanegra, Hejduk, Williams, and West will likely watch
the upcoming World Cup on television. In their place, Pope,
Cherundolo, Meola, and Razov will make the trip.
Changes since last report card: Mastroeni out, Regis in, due to
Regis’ fine showing against Italy. Sanneh and Razov are also added,
as the last report card listed only 21 players for the 23 roster
Let the games continue!