U.S. Roster Might Be a 50-50 Raffle by Arena

The mathematics are simple: There are only 23 places on the U.S. World Cup roster for Germany '06 and every player worth his cleats wants one of them.

So how is Coach Bruce Arena going to select who goes and who stays?

"As a rule of thumb, I would expect half our roster to be out of Europe and half out of Major League Soccer," Arena said at the Home Depot Center, where he has 28 players -- all but one from MLS -- taking part in a six-week camp.

Half and half?

That could mean 12 from Europe and 11 from MLS, but Soccer America magazine sees it differently. Its list of probable choices features 14 European-based players and only nine from MLS.

The Europeans are goalkeepers Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann; defenders Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Corey Gibbs, Gregg Berhalter and Carlos Bocanegra; midfielders DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Lewis, Bobby Convey, Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien, and forward Brian McBride.

It is easy to make a case for every one of those players, but as in World Cups past, injuries will take their toll.

Already this year, Manchester City's Reyna has been sidelined after undergoing surgery Dec. 30 for a broken bone in his right ankle.

"It's not a bad injury," Arena said. "He'll be back playing probably in another four weeks."

O'Brien, of ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands, also is sidelined by injury, and even before the camp opened last week, other players fell by the wayside. Columbus Crew defender Chad Marshall was forced to pull out because of tendinitis in his left knee. Columbus teammate and goalkeeper Jonny Walker had to withdraw because of a back problem.

In addition, Houston midfielder Ricardo Clark pulled out because of an ankle injury and Chicago Fire midfielder Justin Mapp bowed out for unspecified personal reasons.

"It's typical," Arena said. "It happens all the time. We've probably lost about 10 players at the domestic level for a variety of reasons. So that's unfortunate, but it's all part of it."

Time was when the loss of 10 players would have decimated the U.S. team. The depth of talent is much greater now, however, and Arena feels comfortable with the 28 he has in camp.

They include all nine of Soccer America's MLS picks: defenders Frankie Hejduk, Chris Albright and Eddie Pope; midfielders Pablo Mastroeni, Santino Quaranta and Landon Donovan, and forwards Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolff and Brian Ching.

Again, it is easy to make a case for every one of those players, but injuries will be a factor here just as in Europe.

FC Dallas striker Johnson, for instance, is coming off a lengthy layoff caused by an injury to the big toe on his right foot.

"He's a little rusty but he's got his body in decent shape," Arena said. "He needs to get back playing again. His touch is off a little bit. That'll take him a little time but it's good to see him here. We haven't seen him in a while. It's a real positive that he's back on the field."

The Galaxy's Albright was forced to the sideline during training Friday because of a left knee problem. He said he would be fine, but the camp will take its toll, as will the friendly matches the U.S. has scheduled between now and the start of the World Cup on June 9.

The good news, Arena said, is that there is little immediate pressure.

"We have plenty of time to prepare for our friendlies in January and February," he said, "so we'll go at it at the right pace and hopefully move forward and see which players out of this group can be part of our World Cup roster."

Arena is easing the MLS players (and Danish-based defender Heath Pearce of FC Nordsjaelland) back into game shape after most have been off for a couple of months.

"We can't be too demanding at this point," Arena said. "We're not in a crisis situation like last year when we had a World Cup qualifying game in the first week of February. So we can be a little bit more relaxed and go at it in a little easier fashion."

The U.S. is preparing for its first three of 10 World Cup warmup games -- against Canada in San Diego on Jan. 22, against Norway at the Home Depot Center on Jan. 29 and against World Cup-bound Japan in San Francisco on Feb. 10.

Also in February the team probably will play a closed-door scrimmage against World Cup-bound South Korea, which plays the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Feb. 8.

Those games will be good early indicators of where the U.S. stands, but March will provide more telling games when the Americans take on Poland in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on March 1 and World Cup host Germany at Dortmund on March 22.

Neither game, though, will feature the eventual U.S. World Cup starting lineup, Arena said.

"I think the game on March 1 will have more European-based players and the game against Germany actually will be mostly domestic-based players because it will be very difficult getting any players besides our German-based players for that game," he said.

March 22 is not a FIFA-approved international game date, meaning that clubs do not have to release their players. Even so, the U.S. could have the Bundesliga trio of Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Cherundolo (Hannover 96) and Berhalter (Energie Cottbus) available, at the very least.

Arena has said he plans to announce his 23-player roster in April.

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