OK, after a brief break in Boston, I'm back in the office (although I'm about to head off on vacation later this week) and with the European leagues in full swing, there's a bunch of things to talk about. Here's what I'm thinking about today:
1. Projected U.S. World Cup roster: Since we launched our first U.S. player power rankings last month, I've gotten a lot of e-mails asking me to clarify if the rankings represent how we at ESPNsoccernet perceive the players, or if we're trying to represent what we think coach Bob Bradley thinks.
The answer is the latter: It's our projection as to whom Bradley will choose for his World Cup squad in 2010, and it's more or less an amalgamation of our staff writers' opinions and discussions with team sources. On the flip side of that, people have asked me whom I would choose for the 23-man squad. Working on the premise that the World Cup was starting this week, and assuming that everyone is healthy, here's whom I'd pick:
Defenders (8): Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk, Edgar Castillo, Chad Marshall.
Midfielders (8): Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Robbie Rogers or Freddy Adu.
Forwards (4): Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Landon Donovan.
Just to explain some of my choices, I've opted for only 3 pure forwards because both Donovan and Dempsey can also play forward, and I don't think the remaining choices like Conor Casey or Kenny Cooper are compelling enough to merit taking over some of the names in the midfield pool.
I'm fully aware that neither Rogers nor Adu has proven himself at the senior level, but I still believe that the team needs an X factor option off the bench, someone who can offer something different, who's direct with his play and capable of beating defenders off the dribble. That being the case, I'd opt for whoever is in better form leading into the World Cup out of the duo of Robbie Rogers and Freddy Adu.
As for the troublesome left back spot, I've opted to take only one pure left back -- and admittedly a gamble at that -- in Edgar Castillo, who offers a lot more going forward than Jonathan Bornstein. With Spector able to fill in at left back, and Bocanegra capable of playing there (against certain opposition), that's enough cover for a position that remains extremely weak.
2. Landon Donovan's next projected move to Europe: This time, reports have surfaced on French soccer Web site Le10sport.com that Paris Saint German are negotiating with Donovan's reps to bring him to the French Ligue (other teams rumored to be interested are Espanyol, Livorno and Genoa). My initial feelings are positive that it'd be a good move for him. For a start, U.S. fans must be relieved that it's not the Bundesliga again. Also, PSG is a quality club, which, while far below the level of its heyday, still plays attractive enough football in an attacking league that will suit his game. However, fans shouldn't expect Donovan to waltz straight into the starting lineup; PSG has a fair amount of attacking midfield/forward talent.
Donovan will be competing with the likes of Stephane Sessegnon, Ludovic Giuly, Mevlut Erdinc, Guillaume Hoarau and Peguy Luyindula for playing time. It's likely that he'll see far more playing time than he did at Bayern, but he's by no means assured of a starting spot.
3. Jozy Altidore off to a fast start: After Altidore came on and proved to be one of the keys in Hull's victory over Bolton, you'd have to think that he's locked down a starting spot ahead of Hull's other more pedestrian forwards (the utterly useless Caleb Folan and Craig Fagan, for example). Altidore assisted on the game-winning goal, looked dangerous throughout his 30-minute run and could easily have scored two or three goals (he almost certainly should have finished his one-on-one with Jussi Jaaskelainen, which he lofted inches wide).
It's not always going to be this easy for Altidore -- there were a lot of gaps in the Bolton back line as they chased the deficit -- but after that performance, fans can expect plenty more opportunities for Altidore to strut his stuff. These are certainly exciting times for U.S. fans who've long been hoping for a striker who can hit in the double-figure range in a top league. With Charlie Davies and Altidore progressing rapidly, the U.S. could very well have two such players available heading into the next World Cup -- all of which should put further pressure on Bob Bradley to keep his two most explosive strikers in the lineup at the same time.
4. Chad Johnson's ode to soccer: OK, so while he officially goes by Ochocinco these days, the Bengals wide receiver has long been not only a devoted soccer aficionado (as he outlined to me when I interviewed him back in 2007) but also an accomplished player in high school. Those unaware of his soccer skills were treated to a display of his leg strength when he filled in for injured Bengals kicker Shayne Graham on Thursday against New England in a preseason game. It's just another reminder of how much scarier the U.S. team could potentially be if it could entice more of its top-flight athletes to stick with soccer.
5. MLS vs. ESPN Part II. Last Wednesday we played our annual staffer match (7-a-side) between MLS and ESPN. A bunch of us from Bristol headed down to Manhattan and met up with a couple of our New York marketing staffers to face MLS in a rematch of last year's game (won by MLS 7-6). This time we played at the outdoor field turf pitch next to Chelsea Piers on W.23rd and the signs were ominous beforehand. MLS director of communications Will Kuhns (who unfortuntely for MLS was unable to play) suggested we mix the teams up in order to promote parity (probably due to the fact that the MLS lineup appeared to be a lot younger than ours and boasted 4 former D-1 college players). We respectfully declined out of company pride, determined to win or lose on our own merit (or lack of). However, since we only had 7 players, MLS did graciously give us two of their players, one to be our goalie, the other, one of their D-1 female players. The result? We surprisingly won handily 10-6 and I notched three goals. The taste of revenge is sweet!