The big question for U.S. Soccer supporters after today’s 5-0 thrashing of an understrength Norway squad: Which players helped their causes in the quest to be named to the Final 23 for Germany 2006?
With a cool hat-trick, Taylor Twellman finally showed his club-level form on the international stage. He finished 3 of his 4 chances nicely, and showed hustle on the defensive end as well. We saw TT score goal-scorer’s goals today. There’s nothing wrong with that: the U.S. needs forwards who can put the ball in the back of the net – as Eddie Johnson showed last year and Twellman did today. Twellman still did not connect well with his teammates, but at this point he’s a better option as a target man off the bench than Brian Ching, Conor Casey and Nate Jaqua.
Kerry Zavagnin impressed in the holding midfield role. With Pablo Mastroeni, Chris Armas and John O’Brien all currently injured, there’s an opportunity for defensive-minded midfielders to shine. Zavagnin did just this, snuffing out any Norway attack before it became at all dangerous, while starting the U.S. attack in a composed fashion. He made the simple pass, which on this day was also the correct one. On the other hand, Ben Olsen is too frantic in this role for my liking. KZ makes the final cut, for now.
Clint Dempsey fit in nicely in a Landon-Donovan-led midfield. Nominally, Dempsey was the right-sided midfielder, but his natural tendency to drift towards the middle of the field afforded Landycakes the freedom to play down the right wing. Dempsey also fell back effectively to collect the ball from defenders and start the attck. That being said, on game resets Dempsey held his shape and performed his duties on the right side defensively. Overall, Clint’s most complete national team appearance helps him edge out Steve Ralston and Chris Klein for the last offensive midfield position on the bench.
Todd Dunivant was the only player who did not impress, despite his two assists on the day. Too often he was out of position during U.S. possession, and his crosses for the most part were floated aimlessly. For all his supposed flaws, Frankie Hejduk played a much more effective match at fullback than his left-sided counterpart. Although his position is still up for grabs, I’ve seen enough from Todd Dunivant to know he is not the answer for Germany 2006.
Jimmy Conrad, Pat Noonan and Kevin Hartman did not do enough to distinguish themselves at three highly-competitive positions in the U.S. team. Hejduk, Eddie Pope, Josh Wolff, and Donovan played well enough to hold onto their coveted roster spots, for now.
The Final 23 (as of January 30, 2006):
Goalkeepers (3): Kasey Keller, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard
Defenders (7): Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Pope, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter, Cory Gibbs
Midfielders (9): Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, John O’Brien, Eddie Lewis, Bobby Convey, Pablo Mastroeni, Clint Dempsey, Kerry Zavagnin
Forwards (4): Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff, Taylor Twellman