As the June 23rd roster submission deadline looms, Graig Carbino looks at the issues facing Olympic coach Peter Nowak.
By Graig Carbino
ALBANY, NY (Jul 3, 2008) USSoccerPlayers -- There was a time when Olympic grandeur trumped just about anything. Peter Nowak lacks that luxury, needing to work to fill out his roster for Beijing.
How tough has this become? Well, the Olympics aren't given official status on the FIFA calendar, so clubs aren't obligated to release players. In the Case of Major League Soccer, club means League and therein lies the problem.
Nowak must now pick the 18 players that he feels best gives the United States an opportunity to survive their very difficult preliminary group while balancing the needs of MLS along with foreign clubs.
Assuming this won't be an issue for the Under-23 National Team regulars might be a stretch, with club commitments counting for more than the chance at a medal. Further complicating that is World Cup Qualifying with the senior team happening during the Olympic run.
Players who are first team regulars for club and country end up in a difficult situation that won't favor their Olympic involvement.
Fortunately for Nowak and the US, there remain options. For players like Freddy Adu, Danny Szetela, and Jozy Altidore, the Olympics should make sense for their clubs and Bob Bradley. More games at a high level when they would get otherwise. Benny Feilhaber is training with Derby as he continues to rehab from injury, but even if he recovers in time it's questionable whether his club would risk sending him to China.
Where this fails is for a player like Michael Bradley, someone who is always first choice with the National Team, has UEFA Cup commitments with Heerenveen, and could also end up transferred when the market reopens in Europe.
The Toulon tournament exposed two things about the U-23's, a relative lack of depth and a need for an extended training run before meeting real competition. That said, Michael Orozco and Brek Shea showed they should be options.
From MLS, the core could form around Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Seitz along with other players who have been in the picture regardless of their current form with their club. Given the age requirement, 'on form with their club' might end up being a luxury. That opens up several slots for players where their absence that might not be such a burden for their clubs.
Then there are the three over-age players Nowak can use as he prepares his squad list for the July 23rd deadline. Any player born before January 1, 1985 can be used to complete the Olympic roster.
Everyone from Kaka to Ronaldinho have said they would like the opportunity to be one of these special dispensation players for their respective countries, and several high profile US players have followed suit. If willingness alone were enough, Nowak could play a real life version of Football Manager and layout a best choice XI for the start of the group stage against Japan on August 7th in Tianjin.
This is actually more difficult than the rest of the squad sheet, with almost all options committed to club and country one way or the other. Name an established player, and there's an availability argument.
Let's go with the conventional thinking that Nowak is going to pick a goalkeeper, defender and an attack minded player for his three overage allocations. That spreads the experience along the spine of the squad, with all three expected to be starting.
Which keeper? Kasey Keller ended the season with Fulham as first choice, reportedly has an extension even with the signing of Australia's Mark Schwarzer, and both are linked as over-age choices for their countries. Both are also going to be fighting for the starting job, are near the same age, and aren't likely to take the risk.
The MLS options are all starters, and it would be hard to believe that Everton would risk the US advancing and Howard missing the season opener. Howard's normal backup Brad Guzan is Chivas USA's starter and someone will need to be in goal for the US in qualifying.
Matt Reis is probably also out of contention as he is the New England Revolution number one and MLS is under no obligation to release their overage players. If Nowak does not take Keller, and that looks highly unlikely if he's sticking with Fulham or moving somewhere else in England, it would be difficult to see him bringing in any other overage goalkeeper.
The experienced defender that Nowak will decide to add to his roster is a little bit tougher to peg. Players like Carlos Bocanegra and Danny Califf are out in my mind. Why? They have both changed clubs in the off-season (Bocanegra to Rennes in France and Califf to Midtjylland in Denmark) and will need to be involved in their respective teams pre-season training to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings.
Bocanegra's center back partner Oguchi Onyewu should also be questionable since he's being shopped by Standard Liège. If he goes, he will be in the same boat as Bocanegra and Califf. If he stays, his club will want him around for their Champions league qualifying game that could come as early as August 12th.
Watford's Jay DeMerit could be an option here even with the early start to the Championship season in England. Then again, he might be trying to impress on manager Aidy Boothroyd that he remains the best option in an attempt to regain his starting job and club captaincy.
In the attack, most people have already inked in a seemingly odd choice, Brian McBride. With the drama surrounding his return to MLS continuing to play out, he has the opportunity and the motivation to go to China. When the competition ends he will be able to slide right into the Fire line-up in shape and on top form. McBride’s impending selection to the US Men’s Olympic roster seems like a perfect fit for all parties involved.
As it stands, adding one of the best attacking options in US soccer at any level is a coup for the squad, even if it only makes it a little easier for Nowak.
Graig Carbino writes a weekly column for USSoccerPlayers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org