Biggest U.S. roster surprise is Ching over Twellman
Posted: Wednesday May 3, 2006 1:57PM; Updated: Thursday May 4, 2006 11:40AM
Bruce Arena selected Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching as one of the four strikers on the U.S. World Cup roster.
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
Further proof that soccer is catching on in the States: U.S. head coach Bruce Arena's announcement of his 23-man roster was carried live on SportsCenter.
It would have been nice if it had gotten a little more play -- perhaps it could have aired ahead of the 2007 NFL draft preview. And it would have been nice if someone would have taken advantage of Arena's presence on set to ask a question or two that wasn't along the lines of, "Boy, that Landon Donovan is good, huh?"
Really, though, there wasn't a whole lot to grill the coach about. His roster picks were largely a formality. There were only two real surprises:
Brian Ching. Face it, the man's finishing at the national level hasn't exactly left U.S. fans feeling flush. He had a big goal to salvage a draw against Jamaica back in 2004, in the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying. He scored in his next game, against El Salvador, and then went 10 straight without finding the net -- and doing very little to convince anyone that his inability to score was some sort of anomaly. He just didn't look dangerous. Remember him in the Germany game? Me neither.
Taylor Twellman, on the other hand, has thrown up some gaudy stats this year for the Nats. Granted, he hasn't always played against the sternest competition, but Twellman, the reigning MLS MVP and scoring champ, has four goals and three assists for the national team in '06, easily the best numbers on the team.
So what gives? Well, Twellman has scored just once for the Revolution this year, while Ching has scored six times in five games for Houston, including four on opening day against the Rapids. But it's not like Ching needs to go out and splurge on a nice fruit basket to send to Colorado 'keeper Joe Cannon. Arena said of his decision to leave Twellman home: "His form at the moment had a little to do with it."
This looks like more of a tactical move than one based on form. Ching is big (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and can function as a target man should something (God forbid) happen to Brian McBride. Ching's not a bad option to send on late in a game down a goal -- he can win balls in the air and pose a threat on set pieces.
Ultimately, Ching's ability to spell McHead (who will turn 34 during the Cup) got Ching a spot. It's a decision that could open Arena up to second-guessing (like that would bother him) should the U.S. have trouble scoring in Germany. Twellman might not be the flashiest player, but he's a poacher with a knack for scoring. At the end of 90 minutes, they don't ask how, they ask how many.
Jimmy Conrad. A pleasant surprise -- his prospects seemed doomed after a bad performance against Germany in March, which was followed by his exclusion from the side that was held to a 1-1 draw by Jamaica. Conrad is a great guy who writes a great Internet column, and now he'll have plenty of great fodder for it. But it's not like Arena picked him because he's a footballing Samuel Pepys; Conrad can play a little soccer, too. He's probably the best defender in MLS: versatile, smart, sees the game well, good size. What he doesn't have is much national team experience. He didn't play in a single qualifier. But then again, Pablo Mastroeni didn't play in any qualifiers for the '02 Cup, and that pick turned out pretty well.
What makes Conrad's selection a surprise isn't that he's not World Cup-caliber, it's that his inclusion leaves Gregg Berhalter at home. I know, I know, Berhalter was terrible in this year's 4-1 friendly spanking at the hands of Germany. (Conrad wasn't much better.) But he's always struck me as an Arena guy, someone the coach trusted enough to send out against the Germans in the '02 quarters. (It was Berhalter's header that was handled on the goal line by Torsten Frings, a play that should have led to at least a penalty kick, if not a red card, but was completely ignored by Hugh Dallas, the awful Scottish ref who ... slow down. Deep breath. OK. Breathe. There.)
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Berhalter. An Arena guy (and that can matter -- Ben Olsen is an Arena guy, and that certainly helped get him a midfield spot ahead of Pat Noonan, whose bad hammy didn't help his cause), but one who suffered from a couple of lackluster performances and the fact that Conrad has emerged as a really, really good defender.