CONCACAF Qualifying: It’s Started….Somewhere…

Wow. If I hadn’t read this MLSnet.com fluff-piece on Khano Smith, I wouldn’t have known that the preliminary qualifying round for CONCACAF had started this past weekend. Obviously, given Smith’s name coming up, Bermuda was one of the participants. Since the article was written on Friday, there’s nothing in there about whether Bermuda beat the Cayman Islands…time to see what I can dig up…

Hmm…ESPN does all right, but only so far as posting the original draw. If there’s a CONCACAF specific corner of the site, I’m not seeing it…wait, no, I found it. There’s a “results” link just above the schedule’s title and that takes you to ESPN’s “Live Scores” section. Click back to February 3 and – voila! – there’s your result: Bermuda 1-1 Cayman Islands (ouch…crappy start…isn’t it? I didn’t even know the Cayman Islands had a team…I mean, I assumed they did, but…you know what I mean. Then again, I probably wouldn’t know much about Bermuda, either, if the Revs didn’t go down there every preseason).

Long parenthetical rambles aside, it looks like more qualifying games are coming on February 6 – including, yep, the relevant-to-Yanks game between Dominica and Barbados. You can get the complete preliminary qualifying schedule on the Khano Smith profile.

So, it has begun…damn shame it’s not on TV. Ugly as I imagine they are, I’d watch these things. The bigger shame, though, is the fact the African Cup of Nations isn’t on a more accessible outlet

(UPDATE: A couple other sites flagged the kick-off of CONCACAF qualifying: Sideline Views and Soccer Insider (quite probably among others).  Steve Goff, author of the Insider and an infernal busy-body to boot, one-upped my “coverage” by doing the obvious: digging up a match report and reaction piece….damn you, Goff!!  As it turns out, though, this was a bad result for Bermuda…and not just because they played this one at home.)

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The Yanquis Got Poland…The Yanquis Need More.

So, I see we picked up an international friendly against Poland on March 26 – and that’s good so far as it goes. It wasn’t till I read My Soccer Blog’s post on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (Yanquis) schedule for 2008 that I got to thinking we really need another couple games. At time of writing, the Yanquis have three friendlies scheduled this year before we begin World Cup qualifying. And that ain’t enough.

Part of it grows from my late (over-wrought) anxiety about the Yanquis stumbling at the first Caribbean hurdle. Intellectually, I understand that just about any plausible U.S. team will beat either Dominica (think I’ll pull for these guys) or Barbados – and probably like a gong at that. But that reality hardly makes a case for approaching this thing casually.

An article posted by “the editor” on USSoccerplayers.com gets at why, if only indirectly. Lamenting the practice of calling in long-shot players for the Yanquis current January training camp, “editor” (I think this is probably J Hutcherson, but I’m having fun) questions the value of mixing these players with more regular candidates – after all, how often will they take the field together again? I subscribe to the urgency of “editor’s” beef – e.g. the clock is ticking, people – but see value in ongoing experimentation. As “editor” ticks down the list of invitees, I see him taking some eye-catching things for granted. For example:

Tim Howard and Kasey Keller should feel little threat from the keepers currently in Carson.”

“Eddie Robinson, meanwhile, may not be contending with Carlos Bocanegra or Oguchi Onyewu for a regular starting spot, but he’s a fringe candidate to fill in when the going gets tough in World Cup qualifying.”

“Ed Johnson has proven he can score in meaningful games and should be in the conversation for the first choice strike partnership atop a 442 or 352.”

My first question is why I can’t make the bold font from the original article go away?

But other, more relevant questions (and answers) follow: Is Kasey Keller really still in the goalkeepers’ pool? (A: He mentions Brad Guzan for ‘keeper, and that’s a start, but I’m inclined to look to the future for ‘keeper. I’d keep looking.) Has the combination of Onyewu and Bocanegra inspired confidence? (A: Frankly, no. Too often, they’ve left me feeling more jittery than a wet cat hooked up to a 9-volt battery. I’d keep experimenting through April, then name the best available pair.) Johnson has shown he can score in the past, but how often? (A: Given our, um, situation at forward and given Johnson’s erratic form, I think the best you can say is he’s an option; that means keep looking.)

It should be pretty clear where I’m going with all this. I agree with “editor” that we’re to a point where we should cut out fringe players. But, for the plausible candidates – e.g. Michael Parkhurst, Eddie Robinson, anyone at forward – we need more games, preferably early in 2008, to gauge their abilities or, if nothing else, to push the guys we do have. We’re simply not strong enough in too many positions to call an end to Bradley’s experiments. That time is coming, but the bigger issue as I see it is getting these players games. Sterner tests would be nice, but I’d cast a wide net for friendlies….hell, the Caribbean seems a great place to start. What’s Grenada doing this year?