The 23rd Man

I know it’s a while before world cup rosters are finalized, but I do have a question that I have been chewin’ on for the past couple of weeks. What criteria do coaches use to fill that last spot on the roster?

The good thing about world cup rosters is that once a starting XI has been decided, the remaining 12 players are available for substitutions, not 7. If that is the case, then it would seem to me that a coach would want to have as many different types of players available to him based on how the game is played.

But that is not always the case. I have come up with some scenarios in which a player is chosen to fill out the roster. I am sure there are more.

The fawn - We get this one every so often. The young player who will probably never see the pitch, but is there for the experience. Ronaldo was 17 in 1994, and watched Brazil win the cup from the sideline. Theo Walcott made the England team in 2006, but nary a minute did he play. Of course there are exceptions: Enzo Scifo, Michael Owen and Norman Whiteside all had noticeable impacts for Belgium, England, and N. Eire respectively. So if a coach is going to go this route, at least pick a guy you can lean on.

The charity pick – Ricardo La Volpe used the past pick on the roster to take his son-in-law, Rafael “Chiquis” Garcia to Germany. His reasoning: he needed a left footed DM. Well apparently, not badly enough, because Chiquis didn’t play at all in Germany. The pick omitted other players who could have made a difference: namely Cuauhtémoc Blanco.

The major gamble – I can’t think of a better example than Paolo Rossi. Banished from the game in 1980 after a betting scandal (in Italy, whoda thunk it), Rossi was added to the 1982 squad just after he had served out his sentence. The press and fans were horrified at the thought. But then he goes on a scoring rampage to help Italy lift the cup.

The injured hopeful
– Kevin Keegan was as good an Englishman as I have ever seen, but his back betrayed him and kept him out of the group stages in 1982. He did manage to get some PT in the second round, but he was a dull whisper of the player he was leading into the tournament.

The gray-beard – Roger Milla. I would love to know how many blood vessels he burst in Colombia and how many he nearly burst in England.

The Glaring Omission - Then there are those who didn’t make the squad that could have, in retrospect, helped in some way, any way, to help there team advance. We already talked about Mr. Blanco in 2006, but what about the Dutch veterans that were left off the squad? Could Holland have used an Edgar Davids or a Seedorf in 2006? Gazza in 1998? And we can’t forget the much publicized Harksey incident. There are others, I’m sure.

So what kind of player would you pick?

I tend to go for the guys that can help you win (or preserve a win). One guy that I hope makes it is Chile’s Rodrigo “Pony” Ruiz.

He has gone 100% gray (in his late 30s). He is not the fastest guy, but he has guile to spare. And he is as good a provider as there is in the Americas. If Chile needs a goal in the second half, this guy can provide platinum service. Jared Borgetti is one of Mexican Futbol’s all-time scorers, and he can thank Pony Ruiz for the bulk of those goals.

Who would be your wild card?