For years, it was the backhanded compliment the US received anytime we got a result, particularly against Mexico. "They are so well organized and athletic." We've heard it for so long that when you think of US soccer, you attribute those kind of strengths to our teams - organization, discipline, hustle, size, and athleticism. Notice a key ingredient that for years was rarely, if ever, thrown into our bowl of soup - skill. But that's a different thread for a different day. It is time we blow out of the water the misperception that the US is an exceptionally athletic or big team. We are not, and that's the point of this thread. Somewhere along the way, those traits were either devalued, or they were always overstated to begin with. Because reviewing the US playing pool today, including youth teams, and you see a lack of athleticism that is holding us back from being an elite team. Let's look at the Gold Cup roster. Beasley, Donovan, Onyewu, Hejduk, and maybe Cherundolo can all be considered exceptional athletes in terms of speed, quickness, and endurance. We have a few players that do OK, and then we have a group of players who are below average athletes at the international level. Vanney, Ralston, Armas, Olsen, Noonan, and maybe even today's Sanneh fit that description. Or how about the U20 team? Wynne is an explosive athlete today. Adu is very quick in short spaces, though not exceptionally fast over longer distances. Eddie Gaven is a pretty good athlete, but I wouldn't call his speed or quickness explosive. The bottom line is that we cannot afford to field a team of pedestrian athletes. Why? A few reasons: International Soccer today is as much about explosive athleticism, nonstop pressure only the fittest can apply, and physical domination as it is about skill. Don't like that? Don't watch International Soccer. The style of play the US is best at requires good athletes, and it is at its best when it has explosive athletes in key positions. We're at our best when we apply pressure at the very top, beginning with our forwards, and continue that pressure through the midfield. We need guys who can fly around the field, give opponents very little time on the ball, and create turnovers. After we create those turnovers, we need frontrunning burners who can go towards the goal in a hurry. We still don't have the skill. Sad to say, but it's still the truth. You see a Ronaldinho or Robben on this team? Neither do I. Those guys (not to mention a few of their teammates) have freakish skill, but compliment that with explosive speed and quickness. We don't have the skill to break teams down with a slow, build-up style of play. Is there some help on the horizon? Not if Bruce isn't looking in that direction. But there are some kids out there who are really starting to play well in MLS that may warrant a look prior to 2006. Justin Mapp - Damn this kid is good, and explosive, and skilled. And he's leading Chicago to the best record in the East. He's turned that 20-year old corner and is starting to put together consistent performances and embarassing MLS defenders. Could be a real option at right midfield. Ricardo Clark - Remember him? One great year, one year marred by injuries and getting bounced around the field, and then traded to San Jose. Well, he's back. He is strong, fast, physical, and leading San Jose to a surprising record in the west. Should be considered at DMid. Tim Ward - Yep, I'm crazy enough to talk about a rookie here. An injured one at that. But we are hurting that badly for a left back, and Ward showed all kinds of promise before he was hurt. Fast, fit, and skilled. Can cross with either foot. Chad Marshall - At 6'4", he can physically dominate opponents. He's the MLS-proven version of Oguchi Onyewu, and I have a hard time understanding why he doesn't get stronger consideration, unless Bruce is afraid of Andrulicooties. Nate Jaqua - Another 6'4" player, Nate's finally found a consistent spot in Chicago's roster at forward. I haven't seen a defender yet who can physically match him in the air, and he's athletic and skilled enough to turn and face defenders. But what sets him apart is the physical presence he can provide up top in front of the goal.