Soccer coaches at all levels value a few key factors when choosing their lineups and rosters: past and projected performance (of course), but also match fitness, chemistry, experience.
As my high school coach once said- it's not just the XI Best players you want (he was talking hoops, so he said Best XII.) But it's the Best XI- the best group of players that compliment each other.
Coaches of national teams get to take it a few steps further: Recent playing time and performance for club teams, experience in pressure situations like World Cup qualifiers or tumultuous away game environments, and even extraneous factors like travel logistics or international work permit issues.
The question is: what's the best way to weigh a player's total experience vs. recent performance vs. the logistics of assimilating him into the team?
It's not just a National Team issue. Imagine a State ODP team where 6 of the kids are from the same town, and another kid is sloughing 3 hours across the state for practice (like Clint Dempsey did in Texas). There's travel issues on top of peer to peer considerations.
So it's not surprising that ahead of tonight's US Men's National Team qualifier against Costa Rica in Denver, a huge fervor broke out when Sporting News reported that there was dissent and second-guessing among the US Men's National Team pool players (among others) and a lack of support of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
We're in the camp that argues that all the attention is a great sign of the growing passion for our national team in the US. And we won't deconstruct the incident, since it's been done so well by many others.
But the leadership issue is worth diving into. Even though it has been a focal point of the week, the exclusion of 7-year US captain Carlos Bocanegra still somehow doesn't seem to have had enough of the spotlight.
SI's Grant Wahl focused on Bocanegra immediately, and recapped Bocanegra's immense contributions to the national team:
Wearing the armband isn't easy, and Bocanegra had it for the 2010 World Cup (in which the U.S. won its group ahead of England), the '09 Confederations Cup (beating Spain and reaching the final), the '09 CONCACAF Hexagonal (winning the group) and the '07 Gold Cup final (a win vs. Mexico), among other occasions. Bocanegra has never been flashy, but he has been a consistent and terrific servant to U.S. Soccer over the years, and I can't help but feel that this transition could be handled better by Klinsmann.