Another quadrennium. Another World Cup roster selection. Each time, we have more hype. But is this U.S. team any better than the last four?
Here’s a position-by-position look. Each year, the players are listed in order of minutes played. Slashes represent a big drop in number of starts.
1994: Tony Meola /// Brad Friedel, Juergen Sommer
1998: Kasey Keller / Brad Friedel // Juergen Sommer
2002: Brad Friedel /// Kasey Keller, Tony Meola
2006: Kasey Keller /// Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann
2010: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan
Never a trouble spot for the USA. Hahnemann, who has been playing regularly and playing well, may be the No. 2 guy ahead of Aston Villa backup Guzan, but chances are we’ll never need to know.
1994: Marcelo Balboa, Paul Caligiuri, Alexi Lalas, Fernando Clavijo // Cle Kooiman // Mike Burns, Mike Lapper
1998: David Regis, Eddie Pope, Mike Burns // Marcelo Balboa // Alexi Lalas, Jeff Agoos
2002: Tony Sanneh, Eddie Pope, Frankie Hejduk, Jeff Agoos // Gregg Berhalter // Carlos Llamosa // Steve Cherundolo, David Regis
2006: Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Lewis, Eddie Pope // Jimmy Conrad // Gregg Berhalter, Chris Albright
2010: Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein
The talent level has improved, but we might not see the evidence in South Africa. On paper, the top five players on the 2010 roster are the strongest group of five defenders the USA have taken. Bruce Arena was fortunate in 2002 to catch Tony Sanneh in a career year and Eddie Pope in the prime of a great career. Left back is always a problem position, with Eddie Lewis shoved back there on occasion. If everyone were healthy, Bocanegra could move left while the Confederations Cup pairing of Onyewu and DeMerit could clog the center. Bob Bradley might not have that option, and we could end up seeing any of these defenders at any time.
1994: Thomas Dooley, Mike Sorber, Tab Ramos, John Harkes // Cobi Jones, Hugo Perez // Claudio Reyna
1998: Claudio Reyna, Cobi Jones, Thomas Dooley, Frankie Hejduk, Brian Maisonneuve // Tab Ramos, Chad Deering // Preki
2002: John O’Brien, Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Pablo Mastroeni // DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Lewis // Cobi Jones
2006: Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey, Pablo Mastroeni // Ben Olsen, John O’Brien
2010: Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres, Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, DaMarcus Beasley
Another great example of 2002 catching players at their peak. O’Brien had injury problems throughout his career but made a strong run in South Korea. Reyna also was in top form. Beasley had just emerged as a force on the wings, and Donovan was coming into his own. The 2010 midfield should be stronger than the 2006 group thanks to the development of Dempsey, Bradley, Holden and Edu, along with the addition of Torres. Yet the 1994 group had two unique players in Ramos and Harkes with future stars Jones and Reyna in the wings with one-time great Perez.
1994: Earnie Stewart, Eric Wynalda // Roy Wegerle // Joe-Max Moore, Frank Klopas
1998: Earnie Stewart, Brian McBride, Joe-Max Moore // Eric Wynalda, Roy Wegerle
2002: Brian McBride // Clint Mathis, Earnie Stewart, Josh Wolff // Joe-Max Moore
2006: Brian McBride // Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff // Brian Ching
2010: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Robbie Findley
In 2006, Johnson was the phenom on the hot streak with relatively little experience in big games. In 2010, Buddle and Gomez share that role. Findley also fits that description if you take away the “hot streak” part of it. The consistent professional McBride has been replaced by the young Altidore, who has gone from the highs of the Confederations Cup to the lows of being kicked out of town by Hull. All four 2010 forwards have the potential to exceed the previous generations’ accomplishments, but they haven’t done so yet.
The 2002 team was terrific — in 2002. If the same players had taken the field in 2001 or 2003, the result could’ve been far different. Still, that squad was better than the 1994 team, which had a couple of players pulling the general level upward. The 1998 squad suffered from some selection questions and was between generations — some players were showing signs of better things to come, some were on their way out.
On the whole, the talent seems slightly better, but this team has the dual question marks of youth and health. It’s not a step backwards, but the squad hasn’t taken the leap forward it would need to overcome adversity. The 2002 team, good as it was, needed some luck to make its run to the quarterfinals. This one is in the same boat.