First thoughts on the final 23 is there is nothing there that is surprising, and at the same time, there is nothing that exciting. I could have selected this roster, actually, even Mark could have selected this roster.
A major issue with the US team of 2010 and the teams of the past is that we (yes I said we, I am a yank) don’t have a game changing player in the US squad, and that will hurt us once we move past the group stage. We have serviceable personnel all over the field, but if you look at the club teams represented, there are not too many powerhouses, or if they are on a major club they are not playing in the first-team.
For example, Oguchi Onyewu plays for AC Milan, but hasn’t featured in their first team yet. I know that he is recovering from an ACL tear, but if you look at other high level World Cup squads, some of the biggest names in football are not making their national team because they have not played enough first team football, so they are left to vacation in the south side of France.
An example of this is in the French squad. Forward Karim Benzema was left out of the French team because he has not played enough in the starting line up, not just the first team. He was bought in the summer by Real Madrid for around $44 million, but struggled to find a place in the starting line up of a super star team. He is still an excellent player, even so much that there are rumors that Manchester United are looking to purchase him this summer.
Now a player who plays regularly on one of the best teams in the world, sought after by another world class team, and cannot find away into the French squad shows me two things:
First – The US squad lacks depth. We are willing to reserve a spot for Onyewu even though he has not featured for AC Milan and is coming back from a serious injury and is probably not fully fit. That worries me when the games reach the 80th minute. That is when you will see the most critical mistakes made and goals scored. And these mistakes are made by fatigued players that are not 90 minute match fit, like Onyewu is likely to be.
Second – The US just does not have world class players (except between the posts). Our game changer is Landon Donovan. Excellent football player, but a role player. At Everton he did his role well and they loved him for it, but he is not one to strike fear in any team. For the US, his role is to be that player, and he just isn’t.
As for South Africa we should make it out of the group stage pretty easily based on the assessment of the teams. Since Algeria and Slovenia are both so lowly ranked we should be favored to win those matches. We are used to playing undisciplined squads and have a good understanding that discipline and structure will get you these wins.
With a potential match against Germany in the second round, it is hard to see a way around them (thank goodness Ballack’s giant forehead is out of the way) based on my assessment of this team. It all comes down to heart and belief, and that is the one thing we cannot measure.
That is the assessment two weeks before, should be interesting to see what happens.