19 April 2005

The National Netminder

Ever since Brad Friedel announced his retirement from the U.S. national team, I've been trying to influence Bruce Arena's choice of successor for the goalkeeper position. This is undoubtedly the deepest position for the U.S. so Arena is spoiled for choice. One of Bruce Arena's greatest and most distinguishing attributes is his egalitarian approach to handing out roster spots and no less than nine different players have donned the goalkeeper's jersey in the past few years: Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Adin Brown, Joe Cannon, Jonny Walker, Tony Meola, Nick Rimando, and Zach Thornton. So, who should Arena take to Germany 2006?

It's hard to argue against Kasey Keller deserving a shot at the World Cup. It was a toss-up between him and Friedel in Korea/Japan and when Keller lost out, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as Friedel's heroics, including two penalty saves, inspired the U.S. to their best ever performance on the international stage. But Keller's more than just a sentimental favorite. One of a goalkeeper's best attributes is experience and with 75 caps and 36 shutouts, this is Keller's biggest advantage over his rivals. As long as he stays healthy and sees regular first team action for his club, he'll be the starter for the national team.

Next in the pecking order, I'd place Tim Howard. After enduring a dip in form and the wrath of the British tabloids, he's finally starting regularly again for Manchester United. Even though he's still very much in the process of regaining his confidence, I think he's got the most physical ability of any of the U.S. keepers. The 2005/06 season will be crucial for Howard's career and his chances to displace Keller. Should he recapture the form of his first ten months with Manchester United, he'll be difficult to deny.

Marcus Hahnemann, on the other hand, brims with confidence. Formerly of MLS side Colorado Rapids, he has firmly established himself as a fixture and fan favorite at Reading, the English side currently in the thick of the battle for promotion to the Premiership. Hahnemann lacks experience at the international level with only 4 caps, but as the cornerstone of one of the stingiest defenses in English First Division over the past three years, it's high time he was given a chance.

The other long shot, I'd throw into the mix would be Adin Brown, now with Norwegian side Aalesund FK. It'll be a challenge for him to get enough exposure and consideration playing in second, or even third tier European league, to vie for a spot on the national team, but he certainly was impressive during his stint with the New England Revolution.

Finally, while I'd expect some of the domestic-based keepers get the odd call-up, I think Zach Thornton is the only other possibility for making the trip to Germany.

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