Arena tabs eight from MLS for U.S.
the New England Revolution (Eastern Conference) and FC Dallas (Western Conference) -- have the greatest representation, two players from each side being called up. April's MLS Player of the Month, Clint Dempsey, will take his amazing form to the international level after starting the season in high gear. The second-year player, who was also Rookie of the Year last season, has notched five goals and added four assists in league play in just seven games. Four of his strikes have been game-winners, helping to propel the Revs to their best-ever start at 6-0-1, making them the only remaining unbeaten team in the league. Joining Dempsey at the national team camp will be his New England teammate Steve Ralston. The winger will be looking to earn his 22nd cap for the U.S. team.
Forward Eddie Johnson and defender Greg Vanney have been selected from FC Dallas. Johnson has been on an incredible scoring tear at both the club and international levels of late, scoring an amazing eight goals in eight appearances for the U.S. team. He has also found the back of the net four times in seven matches this season. Vanney returns to the international scene for the first time this year. A member of the Los Angeles Galaxy from 1996-2001, Vanney joined FC Dallas just before the start of the season and has helped them established one of the top defenses in the league, allowing only seven goals in as many games.
Another player who has returned to the league this season and joins the U.S. men is Los Angeles Galaxy striker Landon Donovan. After a short stint in Germany, the dynamic attacker returned to MLS and suited has suited up for Los Angeles five times so far. He is tied with Dempsey as the top goal-scorer with five and has also added three assists.
Colorado Rapids defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni will be looking for his 38th cap in the match vs. England. The Arizona native was selected by Arena despite missing his club's last two games through suspension. Competing for that defensive midfield slot is the surprise selection from D.C. United, Clyde Simms. He is the only player invited to camp that is yet to make and appearance for Arena, though he has been called into recent camps with the team. In his first MLS season Simms has seen the field in six of seven games for the reigning MLS Cup Champions, including four times as a starter.
Also returning to the fold is goalkeeper Zach Thornton. He returned to the Chicago Fire late last season and reclaimed his starting role this year after a season in Portugal with powerhouse club Benfica. An imposing figure at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, his ability to control the penalty box and make spectacular saves has helped the Fire put their defensive woes from a season ago in the past.
Of the 11 European-based players selected for the match, five have past ties to MLS. Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC, England) was one of the top defenders in the league during his four seasons with the Chicago Fire. His teammate in the English Premier League, forward Brian McBride, has been on fine form of late, even scoring twice in his club's season finale over the weekend in a 6-0 win over Norwich City. McBride, the most-capped player selected by Arena, was a regular goal scorer for the Columbus Crew from 1996-2003.
Two former MLS players from second-tier English club Reading FC were also called in for the match. Midfielder Bobby Convey began his professional career at D.C. United while goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann spent time between the posts for the Colorado Rapids between 1997 and 1999. Rounding out the MLS connections is Feyenoord (Holland) defender Cory Gibbs, who spent the 2004 season with the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas).
Following their game against England, the U.S. team will head to Salt Lake City where they will continue the final round of World Cup qualifying with a match against Costa Rica at Rice-Eccles Stadium on June 4 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Real Salt Lake will host FC Dallas immediately following the World Cup qualifier in a superb doubleheader. The Red, White and Blue will then travel to Panama to square off with its national team on June 8 at 9:30 p.m. ET. That game will be available for viewers tape-delayed on Telemundo at 11:30 p.m. ET and 1 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
The U.S., along with Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, is competing in the 10-game round-robin World Cup qualifying format through Oct. 12, with the top three teams automatically advancing to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The fourth-place team will compete in a two-game playoff to be held Nov. 12/13 and Nov. 16 against the fifth-place finisher in Asian qualifying.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.