Wynalda: Summertime blues
especially those who will be a part of the efforts of Bruce Arena and a handful of other national team coaches to qualify for the World Cup -- will be the busiest players on the planet.
It's not as if the MLS schedule wasn't already difficult on our players when you consider the amount of travel that goes into a regular season. But it is that time again for the United States to begin the qualification process for 2006. Let's just hope these guys stay healthy. Just to touch on the Honduras game, Arena has to feel pretty good about his team's effort. Although this was a depleted Honduran team, the United States was simply the better team across the board. The passing was better, they were physical when they needed to be and there were no glaring mistakes.
The Brian McBride-Conor Casey experiment had its moments, but don't expect these guys to be in the lineup together when the important games happen. McBride will be pretty much the go-to guy for World Cup qualification.
As for the rest of the team, although the Earthquakes' Landon Donovan did not have a strong performance against Honduras, it really wasn't necessary, and I expect him, as he always does, to step up in the more important games. The midfield has never looked better, and defensively there are enough guys in the player pool to get the results we need to qualify.
The goalkeeping headache is Bruce Arena's to keep. It's a great problem to have, and it won't be easy to tell two of three world-class goalkeepers to sit. At times I think it doesn't matter who we put in goal. When you look at what Bruce has done in the past, when it's all about stopping shots, Kasey Keller has been his No. 1 guy. When the game has sped up and the intensity of the game warrants more passes back to the goalkeeper, he seems to feel more comfortable with Brad Friedel. My guess is it will come down to who's healthy, who's in form, and what kind of game we're dealing with.
In the upcoming games against Grenada, it is vital that the U.S. national team sets the tone early. It is imperative that we don't struggle through these first two games. The players selected will probably be a mix of players qualifying for the first time and players who know exactly what it takes to get results in places like Grenada. That makes for a difficult team for Arena to manage. In the away leg, the unpredictability of the Grenada team and the field conditions are something that can affect the game, although they probably won't. Simply put, we need to destroy Grenada. We can't give them a chance at any point to feel as if they have a shot to win or even tie. I think the U.S. team is capable and prepared to do just that.
As far as the rest of the summer goes, in looking at some of the scheduled games, some teams are going to be hit hard with national team call-ups. Where some teams have one or two players definitely playing for the respective countries and some others on the bubble, no team will get hit as hard as the Chicago Fire. Dave Sarachan will lose Chris Armas and DaMarcus Beasley to the U.S. team, while Andy Williams and most likely Damani Ralph will play for the Jamaican national team.
Looking at Chicago's schedule over the summer, the travel is not so bad, luckily for them. Once they get past our June 12 ESPN2 game, which incidentally, Armas and Beasley will miss, seven of their next 12 are at home, and their road matches consist of just a quick trip to Columbus and visits to Boston and New York. They don't hit the West Coast again until August 21. Regardless of the fact that the travel won't be as bad as it could have been, Sarachan has to somehow get results with what could turn out to be a different team every week during the next three months. All I can say is, good luck.
As far as D.C. United goes, they'll have to do some reshuffling. It's yet to be seen whether Ben Olsen or Earnie Stewart are really in Bruce Arena's plans, but you can certainly expect Bobby Convey to be doing his fair share of traveling this summer. Don't forget that Jaime Moreno and Ryan Nelsen are still in their national team pools, also.
All this has to make you think that maybe we should be happy about the fact that we're not going to the Olympics. What a scheduling problem we would have if our players were expected to somehow squeeze in the Olympics in Greece this summer.
Speaking of Chicago and D.C., this week's ESPN2 match-up is a homecoming for Peter Nowak, and Freddy-mania continues. This is Chicago's first opportunity to see the -- as of Wednesday -- 15-year-old Freddy Adu. Let's hope the extra year takes a little more pressure off this kid. Oh, and let's face it: He's already scored twice. Expect him to be part of the All-Star team. I'm sure it will upset some forward who has scored more goals than Freddy and therefore thinks he deserves to be there more, but it's a reality we have to deal with. Next week, I'll give my two cents on the All-Star game. Hopefully by then, we'll know who the opponent is.
Since I haven't answered any e-mails in a while, I figured now is a good time to talk about a few issues you readers have.
Ari, you've gotten league play confused with cup play. One thing you have to remember is MLS has always been two seasons. There's the regular season and the playoffs. The regular season has no overtime. In the playoffs, they invoke a format and overtime system very similar to UEFA Cup and Champions League to get a champion, but without the importance of away goals. To validate what you said, you do have a gripe. I wish we would just set a system and stick to it, but you have to agree that the current system has been the most agreeable to all parties involved, up to this point.
Catch Eric this weekend as the analyst on RadioShack Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. Do you have feedback on Wynalda's feedback? Please send your comments to Wynalda. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.