My US roster guess, the hard way

Sorry, I've been sick.  And the news has been coming fast and furry.  There's the MLS TV deal, the fight on who will own the New Minnesota Kicks, and Jill Ellis taking over the women's national team.  Sepp Blatter's running for re-election, a hanging curve that Bill may think is beneath his dignity to put in the center field bleachers. By the way, USWNT, even-numbered non-Olympic years are not the best time to try to crash the soccer news cycle.  In fact, if any of your players or coaches have any crime sprees planned, I'd reschedule them for June.  Your call, Hope.

But it's World Cup roster time, where we get to enjoy seeing the dreams of young men shattered like plate glass in a Hal Needham movie.

Nick Firchau had an interesting human interest story on Steve Snow, who has gained cult status as the Great American Forward Who Never Was.  My first thought was that if Bora put up with Eric Wynalda, he would have put up with Steve Snow, and my second thought was if we were going back in time and healing knee injuries, I'd like to see how the Roy Wegerle experiment would have turned out.

It wouldn't have been 1994 where Snow would have been needed, though, but 1998.  Wynalda was too old, and McBride was ready but young and inexperienced enough that it was understandable that Sampson didn't give him the keys until it was too late.  Steve Snow could at least have made 1998 respectable...although that team did have a problem with off-the-field extracurriculars, to say the least.  Hell, maybe Snow would have looked good in comparison with Harkes.

The US has been, er, blessed with a number of can't-miss prospects that missed, sometimes rather badly.  Snow is a great story, but I think the title for biggest disappointment is still contested between Clint Mathis, Freddy Adu and Eddie Johnson.

It's amazing that someone who came onto the national team stage with such amazing production would never make a World Cup team, but Eddie Johnson is - wait, really?  He was on the 2006 roster?  No, he wasn't, come on, someone would have remembered that.  I mean, he didn't play, did he?  Really?  Two out of the three matches?

Well, Eddie Johnson's comeback had been a source of considerable consternation to, um, pretty much me.  But apparently, I needn't have worried.  History is full of examples of players who were dropped after helping the US qualify.  Players such as....

Hey, actually, how often has this happened?  It's certainly news when it does, but how many times when a player is dropped, is it actually a surprise?

Here's the flawed methodology I used: I went back to the Hexagonal games that actually mattered - before qualification was clinched - and totaled up the starts and minutes.  The USSF website was helpful, of course, and would have been if they go back farther than ten years on this sort of thing.  A site called SoccerStats.us and searches for old match reports did the rest.  I'm pretty sure I have the big picture correct, but I'm not going to claim I have the exact number of minutes Preki played in CONCACAF qualifying in 2001.  I have 43, but who knows?

Steve Sampson used twenty-seven players in the Hexagonal before qualifying.  Seventeen made his final roster.  Out of the ten not picked, only two had more than 200 minutes total - Mike Sorber and John Harkes.  Sampson's desperation to replace those two would inform much of the 1998 World Cup for the United States.  The five players that rounded out his squad who had not appeared for him previously were Juergen Sommer (third goalkeepers don't usually appear in the Hex), Frankie Hejduk (who had spent 1997 in disciplinary exile after missing a team flight, before being brought back in early 1998), David Regis (Harkes' replacement) and two defensive midfielders, Chad Deering and Brian Maisonneuve.  All but Sommer saw significant World Cup minutes; all but Hejduk were pretty regrettable.

Bruce Arena used twenty-eight players in the nine relevant Hexagonal games for the United States in 2001.  Nineteen made the first final roster in 2002.  Steve Cherundolo was by far the most experienced of those snubbed, having started six and finished five Hexagonal games.  This particular statistically anomaly was cured when Cherundolo was called in to replace Chris Armas.  (Apparently Greg Vanney was ahead of Cherundolo for that spot, before Vanney himself suffered an ill-timed injury.)

The four players who had not participated in meaningful Hexagonal games, but made the US 2002 roster, were Tony Meola (the now-obligatory third keeper), young phenom DaMarcus Beasley, youngish phenomish Pablo Mastroeni, and Frankie Hejduk.

I honestly double-checked the hell out of this, and I still don't want to swear by it.  But Frankie Hejduk made two consecutive World Cup rosters without playing in the Hex.  Hejduk did play in early World Cup qualifying rounds...at minute totals just above nominal.  One start, one goal, 79 minutes against Guatemala in 1996, and 29 minutes in two games in 2000.  It's hard enough to imagine this particular record will be duplicated as long as the Hexagonal exists, and it's impossible it will ever be broken.

Anyway, back to the point, apart from Cherundolo, who did eventually get his roster spot (only to find himself injured - that shirt was cursed that year), Bruce Arena pretty much took the players who helped him qualify.  Anyone who was surprised at the absence of Jovan Kirovski, Ante Razov or Richie Williams will find no comfort in the minute totals - one full ninety among them.  The minutes total of Gregg Berhalter in 2001 - four, by my count - are belied by his great performance in the 2002 World Cup, and perhaps explained by the miserable time he was having at Crystal Palace.

Arena used thirty-three players in significant Hexagonal games in 2005, and nineteen of them made the 2006 roster.  Two others - Berhalter and Chris Albright - replaced injured players Cory Gibbs and Frankie Hejduk.  The two who had not played in the Hexagonal, but made the roster, were third keeper Tim Howard and Ben Olsen.  As of this writing, Steve Ralston's 2006 World Cup Panini sticker is on sale at ebay.co.uk.  Panini can hardly be blamed - he started five important games in the Hex, and subbed in two others.  Apart from Harkes, no one before or since has played so much in qualifying without making the squad.

Thirty-one players, by my count, played for Bob Bradley in the Hexagonal and the 2009 Confederations Cup.  I haven't been counting the Gold Cup, but I felt that this Confederations Cup belonged (even if the 1999 version didn't).

Out of those 31, nine were not part of Bob's final 30: Hejduk, Danny Califf, Marvell Wynne, Pablo Mastroeni, Freddy Adu, Conor Casey, Kyle Beckerman, Kenny Cooper, and Charlie Davies.  Davies missed the cut for tragic reasons.  Out of the remainder, only Casey had seen what you would call significant time in significant Hex games or the Confederations Cup, at around 300 minutes in six games - and he never played the full 90 in any of those games.

When Bradley announced his final roster, a further four players who had seen time in important games were cut - Sacha Kljestan, Brian Ching, Heath Pearce and Chad Marshall.  In those important games, they'd had four full 90 minute games between them, and only Kljestan had minutes comparable to Casey.  Taken out of context, their omission was no surprise.  Kljestan had played more than Jose Francisco Torres, and far more than Maurice Edu, but his campaign was inconsistent to say the least.  (Not that Torres wasn't.)

Most of Bradley's roster was surprisingly projectable.  Every single player who had gone the full 90 at least three times in either meaningful Hex games or the Confederation Cup ended up on the 2010 World Cup roster.  The surprises were from Bradley either filling out the bench, or desperately trying to find a forward.

Out of Bradley's final 30 picked before his final cut, eight had not played at all in the important Hexagonal games or the Confederations Cup.  A ninth, Maurice Edu, had only appeared at the end of one game.   Six of those nine - Edu, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Clarence Goodson, and Marcus Hahnemann - made the final roster.  (Bedoya, Robbie Rogers and, amusingly, Eddie Johnson were the others.)  Edu of course would end up being deprived of legendary status by Koman Coulibaly.  Marcus Hahnemann was the third keeper - usually, the third-string keeper does not appear in Hexagonal games.  Goodson didn't appear in the Cup; the others did but had little impact.

(If Arena or Sampson had picked a preliminary World Cup roster in their tenures, I wasn't able to find a record of it.  There was the ESPN special in 1998 showing Sampson cutting Mark Chung, but as we've seen, Mark was kind of a longshot, despite his MLS form at the time.)

So.  What, if anything, does all this tell about what Klinsmann will name for his final 23?  Let's assume it's not nothing, just for my sake.

Klinsmann used 32 players in the eight meaningful Hexagonal games.  Yes, the Panama game was important to Panama and Mexico, but it was just another friendly to us, when all is said and done.  We're talking about games where there are consequences to losing.

We have our three keepers already - Howard, Guzan, and Rimando.  That was easy.

Let's use Steve Ralston as our baseline for misfortune - anyone who has more than three full 90 minute games, or more than 400 minutes in significant games, is on the plane.  Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler answer that description.  Eddie Johnson, and I apologize if my math is off, clocked in at 398 minutes.  There will certainly be players who end up making the roster who have less than that, but Johnson did not play enough to conclude he was safe.  Zusi just barely made it - well, unless you count the Panama game, then he makes it easily.

So, that's twelve out of 32 players used who will probably make it on the roster, plus Rimando. Those are the players who would qualify as a definite surprise if they were not included on the roster.

What about the other twenty?

Eight we can rule out right now, of course.  Apart from Eddie Johnson, that's Danny Williams, Sacha Kljestan, Herculez Gomez, Brek Shea, Edgar Castillo, Stuart Holden, and Michael Orozco.  Herculez was your minutes leader in that group, with 161. Kljestan had 31, by the way.

But that leaves plenty of guys who also have unimpressive minutes.  Plus the guys who did not play in meaningful Hexagonal games - Brooks, Yedlin, Wondo, Green, and Boyd.  Okay, Boyd played against Panama for 15 minutes, but still.

I'm going to go ahead and project here, too, based on previous years.  It's not impossible for a young midfielder or winger to crash the roster at the last minute - Beasley did it in 2002.  Beasley was 20, Green is only 18, and Beasley had been part of the program for years at that point.  Beasley may have been a mere MLS player, but he was at least getting minutes.

You know who absolutely loves young, inexperienced World Cup defenders?  I don't know, because you never see them.  So much for Brooks and Yedlin.  That leaves Wondolowski and Boyd, and I think they're in.  Bob Bradley may have panicked in bringing in three new forwards four years ago, but (a) we haven't gotten much better at that position, (b) we did make it to the second round, and (c) Eddie Johnson being cut is one of those things I like to call "hints."

That's twelve guys whose exclusion I would be surprised at.

Yes, I'm saying that I would be more surprised if Chris Wondolowski was cut than Landon Donovan.  The numbers say that Donovan had two games out of the eight that mattered.  That puts him better than Kyle Beckerman, someone who is seen as a Klinsmann mainstay but only appeared twice in the significant Hex games.  And it gives him a much better chance than Tim Chandler, whose only appearance was the San Pedro Sula disaster way back in February.

But Donovan probably does make the squad, if barely.

Again, the thinking here is, these are the players the coach chooses when his ass is on the line.  So if I'm not giving weight to Gold Cups or friendlies - yeah, well, so's your old man.

Anyway, so you can make up your own minds, here are the records of the 30 in camp - minus the null sets of Boyd, Brooks, Green, Rimando, Wondolowski and Yedlin, of course.

Jozy Altidore - six starts, which is, what, six more than he had at Sunderland?

DaMarcus Beasley - started and finished six games in a great qualifying campaign.  Him not going, on paper and in real life, would be the biggest shock since Harkes.  There, I said it.

Kyle Beckerman -I know, he seems like he's called up all the time.  You tell it to his 91 minutes or whatever in the Hex, then.  Call it Richie Williams syndrome, where it seems like you saw him more often for the US than you actually did.  Stop watching so many damn friendlies.

Alejandro Bedoya - four years after being a late cut, and he rolled up 84 minutes in the meaningful Hex games. That's 84 more than Robbie Rogers, I suppose.

Matt Besler - six starts, and six finishes.  That qualifies for words like "experienced" and "lock."

Michael Bradley - and I've got all these coach's son jokes left over, too.

Geoff Cameron - five starts, two appearances in relief.  That's well above average, in case you were wondering.

Tim Chandler - 90 minutes getting his ass kicked in Honduras.  Finished the game, though he didn't play in any others.

Joe Benny Corona -3 minutes, coming in for Eddie Johnson in Seattle.  Go ahead and order your personalized jersey if you want, I'm not going to tell you how to live your life.

Brad Davis - 38 minutes.  He'd be Steve Ralston if Steve Ralston never played.

Clint Dempsey - went at least 90 in all eight games, with a garbage time sub in the Costa Rica disaster.  I think he's got a reasonable chance.

Mix Diskerud - 14 minutes.  You like some of these guys a lot more than Klinsmann, is the other point I'm trying to get across here.

Landon Donovan - Again, I'm saying a guy who only appeared twice in important games during the Hex is actually a longshot, not a lock.

Maurice Edu - one start, two appearances as a sub.  The World Cup owes him, though.

Brad Evans - only three appearances...but all three were starts, and all three he finished.  That's a lot by the standards of this camp.

Omar Gonzalez - I know, you all hate him.  Eight starts in the important Hex games, eight complete games.  Next question.

Clarence Goodson - two games.  Exactly the kind of guy you want around when you're starting a youngish defense, but I promised not to weigh in too much, so. 180 minutes in meaningful games, take it or leave it.

Brad Guzan - so, when he comes back to MLS, and asks to return to his old club, what exactly are we supposed to tell him?  Huh?  Didn't think of that, did you, Don Garber?

Tim Howard - he's inked up something fierce!  Did you all know that?

Aron Johannsson - came in for Dempsey after the 90th minute in the Costa Rica blowout.  So, the numbers say he has no chance.  Maybe I should have counted the Panama game in all this, after all.

Fabian Johnson - six starts, but, interestingly, only finished the game twice.  Another of my locks that may not be.  I think Eddie Johnson was cut so the cash-strapped USSF didn't have to spend money on initials and periods for the jerseys.

Jermaine Jones - okay, here's an interesting case.  Guy doesn't finish games.  Six starts, only twice was he on the field for the final whistle.

Michael Parkhurst - came in for Fabian Johnson in the Columbus game, and that was his 45 minutes.  Did a lot in the Gold Cup, though.

Graham Zusi - another guy that doesn't finish games - he only did it once in the games that mattered.  But he sure appears in a bunch of them.

And, because you've been so patient, assuming you made it this far, my roster guess:

Altidore Beasley Beckerman Besler Bradley Boyd Cameron Dempsey Diskerud Donovan Edu Evans Gonzalez Goodson Guzan Howard Johannsson F. Johnson (see? You don't want your team roster looking like the town meeting of Rock Ridge) J. Jones (however, a Jones that wears 13 for the US should have the differentiating initial) Parkhurst Rimando Wondolowski Zusi

I do wish I had the grapes to predict that Donovan gets dropped as an object lesson to terrify the team, though.  But I think it's more likely he gets used as a supersub.  Does anyone still do that?