Three for Thursday: Competition is part of the game
On Friday, American soccer fans will see two of the US national team's biggest stars go head-to-head in the FA Cup when Landon Donovan's Everton take on Clint Dempsey and Fulham.
You could argue that these two players are the engine that powers any and all US success in the offensive third of the field. Brek Shea, C.J. Sapong and Stuart Holden may be the future, but right now, these two are the most potent attacking weapons in Jurgen Klinsmann's arsenal. Just as they were in Bob Bradley’s.
Naturally there is something of a friendly, professional rivalry between Donovan and Dempsey. Both are fierce competitors, the type of players that want to be the one with the ball come crunch time.
They aren't the first pair of American players to try to out-perform a teammate, though. Here are three other sets of USMNT players who battled for playing time, a starting role and more.
Eric Wynalda and John Harkes
What is there to say about these two that hasn't already been said? In the 1990s they, along with Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart and Tab Ramos, were the Yanks' most dynamic players. They were also two of the biggest egos on a team of big personalities that was edging toward relevance in America for the first time.
Needless to say they had their fair share issues, arguments and attempts to one-up each other on and off the field. From World Cup appearances to TV jobs to everything in between, the lives and careers of Harkes and Wynalda have become as intertwined as goal netting.
But in the end, what mattered most is that, like Donovan and Dempsey, they were always better together than they were apart, and always played for the colors.
Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel
Who can forget the great, seemingly perpetual ‘keeper dual that was Keller vs. Freidel? For a time, American fans – and coach Bruce Arena – were torn between which of these two pioneers, arguably the fathers of the American ‘keeper dynasty, should start for the USMNT.
Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob; in the months leading up to the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, the question was, "Were you down with Friedel or was Keller your man?"
It was Friedel who got the nod in 2002 in South Korea, producing a string of saves against the co-hosts and saving a pair of penalties in the group stage, then retiring from the national team a year later. Keller held the starter’s role in 1998 and 2006, and still holds nearly every goalkeeping record in the US book.
Taylor Twellman and Brian Ching
During the run up to the 2006 World Cup, one of the biggest questions surrounding the US team was, "Who will be the fourth striker?"
Brian McBride was the surefire starter. Eddie Johnson and Josh Wolff seemed to have tickets booked to play next to him, while Donovan and Dempsey were available to take up forward duty if needed. Consequently, the battle for the final true forward option in Germany came down to Twellman and Ching.
On the international front, it seemed that Twellman had the upper hand, having bagged five goals – including a hat trick against Norway at the Home Depot Center – for the Yanks in the nine months leading up to the announcement of the final squad.
But Ching was hot for his club and scored five goals for the Dynamo in the month before final selections. In the end, Ching's torrid MLS form landed him a trip to Germany.
Following the World Cup, these two met in MLS Cup 2006 and took their competition to new heights by exchanging stoppage-time goals only a minute apart. Ching also came out on top of this duel, as the Dynamo won 4-3 on penalty kicks.