[EDIT - Fake Sigi checks my math, and I have been found wanting. He or she basically kills me for this post, by the way. If you want to see me get left dead in the ditch, click the link.]
So this is how the Best Year Ever begins. With the B-team in the rain.
The NFL games aren't until Sunday, so there's not a full slate of sports competition. But this game still should have been in February. The only sports competition in February is the freaking swimsuit issue.
It's not only (possibly) our Best Year Ever, either. Catrachostan also believes, correctly, that they are in an advanceable group. They're not gonna beat no Spain (although I've said that about CONCACAF nations before, and been wrong), but if you can't go to the World Cup thinking you can get the job done against Chile and Switzerland, just stay home and let Ireland go in your place.
I think Honduras can do it. And some of the role players who will help them do it will be playing tomorrow! We won't see Costly, Suazo, Palacios, or in fact anyone from outside the Honduran league except for Kansas City's villainous Roger Espinoza. I'm intrigued to see whether Georgie Welcome cements a place for South Africa - we'll remember him as the guy who beat us in Olympic qualifying a couple of years ago. (That was the game with the woman in the bikini running onto the field. See, now you remember.)
By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Chivas USA and the Galaxy will unveil a statue commemorating Amado Guevara and Carlos Pavon, and all they meant for Los Angeles soccer.
As for the United States...I'm tragically late on this, but it's just enthralling. The equivalent January camps from 2002 and 2006.
[EDIT - sorry, misremembered]Fifteen of the players called up in 2002 made the roster...well, if you count Chris Armas and Greg Vanney, who lived the nightmare and missed that World Cup due to injury. This squad pretty much was the World Cup squad, in other words, except for the European-based players: Friedel, Keller, Reyna, Sanneh, Berhalter, O'Brien, Stewart and (last and least) Regis. (Weirdly, Eddie Lewis of Fulham was there for the US in January.)
Only eleven out of the squad in January 2006 made the summer roster - and that's counting Chris Albright as a substitute for Hejduk. Missing from that camp: Bocanegra, John O'Brien, Reyna, Berhalter, Convey, DaMarcus, McBride, Gooch, and all three keepers. All of those guys were in Europe. Hm.
This year? Well, I'd be surprised if more than five of this current roster made it. Bornstein, Casey and Rogers are the only ones I feel have a decent shot.
I know Wikipedia is a horrible source, but this recent call-up chart is so useful. Check out how many good players we actually have. Yeah, some lemons, but basically, those guys will be the core of the team.
Now, check out how many American flags you see there. Be sure to put a mental asterisk next to Donovan's and Holden's. How many of our World Cup team actually plays in MLS anymore?
That's right. We're slowly turning into Ireland. Or France.
One of the big points of pride of 2002 was that MLS players made up half of a quarterfinalist. (Which was more than Serie A could say.) That has no chance of happening again this summer, and not because the United States stinks.
January squads have gotten worse every year, but it's not because in January 2002 the US was hosting the Gold Cup and in January 2010 the US is hosting a rainstorm. I was in denial about it, because I haven't seen Frankie Hejduk called in, but these are the best American MLS players right now.
Now, a couple of things could happen. Bob Bradley could absolutely fall in love with guys like Robbie Findley. Well, we're all in love with him right now, because the most popular national team member is always the forward who hasn't embarrassed himself recently. So not only might MLS produce the next generation of stars, they could do so as early as tomorrow!
Or, Europe will siphon off good American players faster than MLS can produce them, and we'll be back to where we were in the early to mid-90's, where Bora Miltunivoic didn't even want to count games where European-based players didn't play.
Or, American players will get so good that what we'll see in MLS is as good as it's been, it's just that we're producing better players than we ever have.
Except, last summer's Gold Cup proved there was a serious and significant gap between our front-line and our understudies. Imagine the current camp against our players abroad, or the current camp against the 2002 camp. It would be pretty ugly.
This isn't just a talent issue, it's a marketing issue. MLS was able to spin the Confederations Cup showing into the "Summer of Soccer," armed pretty much with just Landon Donovan. Can they really do that again?
And who with, if Landon is in the Premiership?
Okay, but what about the actual players? Who will make a splash tomorrow, and then onto next summer?
Nobody. The dumbest thing a hopeful player could possibly do tomorrow is play well. In 2002, Jeff Agoos scored an unassisted goal in the Gold Cup final...and he would go on to score unassisted goals in Korea.
Taylor Twellman tore it up in 2006. He was masterful. A hat trick in the game against Norway. And then he was left off the World Cup roster, the worst disappointment in a career only Charlie Brown could really empathize with. (Twellman is, as we speak, going insane live on Twitter.)
So tomorrow, take a good look at the Man of the Match. It may be the last time you ever see that man smiling.
Now - remember when I mentioned France? Just because our players play abroad, does not mean our team is bad. And what's good or bad for MLS might not be good or bad for the USMNT, and vice versa. The two are certainly diverging, probably for a while.
I happen to be of the opinion that a strong MLS helps the US national team - after all, look how many of those Yanks Abroad (hey, that's a good name for a website) did time in the Major League. That's probably going to continue. But if MLS can't make a go of marketing future and former stars, then whence the next generation?
Sorry, "whence" came up in my Word of the Day calendar, and I had to use it.
Anyway, that's not what I wanted to post.
I wanted to post, AGAIN, how vitally important it is to work Grand Funk's "We're an American Band" and Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" into the US fans' song rotation.
I'm prepared to give a little on Wilde, who was English and talked about something called "East California." But US fans HAVE to do Grand Funk in South Africa.
[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMsIrKjSM6Y]We'll help you party down[/ame]