Each Thursday I will bring you some thoughts that I have about the upcoming games, the team itself, MLS in general, etc. Pretty much it will be my two cents. This week, I am examining the team roster and what I would be trying to put on the field if I were Bruce Arena. Let's get started:
Goalkeepers: Danny Cepero (#1), Jon Conway (#18), Ronald Waterreus (#23)
Waterreus brings in the experience we lost with Tony Meola. Look for him to be the starting goalkeeper throughout the season, barring any injuries or defensive collapses. His previous experience with Red Bulls captain, Claudio Reyna will certainly help as the two will be on the same page about many issues. Jon Conway will start the season as he did last year. On the bench. Conway proved solid last season after taking over for Tony Meola. That may have kept him on this team this year after the team brought in Nick Rimando but traded him back to RSL for an additional pick a few weeks later (but that's another story). Conway did have some times between the pipes where he didn't look to sure of himself. That being said, he may be one the most, if not THE most solid backup keeper in the league. As for Danny Cepero, the Ivy League grad will assume the developmental third string spot previously held by Mike Ueltschey and Mike Behonick. Each for a season. Bruce seems to be high on his ability so maybe he can stick around.
Defenders: Marvell Wynne (#2), Hunter Freeman (#3), Carlos Mendes (#4), Seth Stammler (#6), Joe Vide (#14), Todd Dunivant (#16), Tim Regan (#22), Taylor Graham (#26), Hugh MacDonald (#31), Jeff Parke (#60)
Gone are Steve Jolley and Peter Canero. In are...well...look above. What does that mean? Much more depth in the backline which hopefully will lead to the backline being pushed to excel more and reliability should the injury bug hit. The starters from last year will remain with Wynne, Parke, Mendes, and Dunivant anchoring the backline. With Parke fighting off some injuries, it appears that Seth Stammler (normally a defensive midfielder) looks to be getting the nod in central defense according to Ives Galarcep. Also moving to the backline this season is second year player, Joe Vide. Vide played well in his rookie year and saw most of his time in midfield. It appears this season, Bruce is molding Vide into a wing back. Newly acquired Tim Regan and Hunter Freeman will both also battle for time in the starting line-up and can easily earn it. Taylor Graham has also supposedly improved this offseason which is music to the ears of fans who watched him get burnt over and over again last season. Hugh MacDonald, an undrafted rookie, also made his way onto the team with a developmental contract after a successful preseason. Although lacking a truly experienced defender, Mendes and Parke will be together in the central defense for the third season in a row which certainly helps.
Midfielders: Sinisa Ubiparipovic (#8), Claudio Reyna (#10), Dave van den Bergh (#11), Blake Camp (#12), Elie Ikangu (#13), Dane Richards (#19), Dema Kovalenko (#21), Sal Caccavale (#25), Markus Schopp (#32)
With one of the strongest starting midfields in the league look for a healthy lineup to include Kovalenko in defensive midfield with Seth Stammler, Dave van den Bergh and Markus Schopp on the wings (who will play almost as forwards this season) and Claudio Reyna in the middle of the field. In defensive midfield, Kovalenko and Stammler will be pushed by second year, former Manchester United trialist, Elie Ikangu. Ikangu has spent most of the preseason injured but will be ready to go for the opener. Should Schopp not be ready to come back in time from his injury look for the Red Bulls first draft pick ever, Dane Richards (#19 overall) to play the wing. Fans, don't worry. This kid is good and can easily start! What happens if Reyna's knees get destoryed by the turf, you ask? I will address that with my forward situation. Sal Caccavale, Blake Camp, and Sinisa Ubiparipovic may not see much first team time this season, with Ubi having the best chance to come on as a sub.
Forwards: Clint Mathis (#5), Mike Magee (#7), John Wolyniec (#15), Jozy Altidore (#17), Jerrod Laventure (#28), Randi Patterson (#29)
Six players for one starting spot would have most fans excited. Unfortunately this may not be the case as all the mentioned players have negative aspects. Clint Mathis, considered by some the team's greatest player can also be considered the biggest dissapointment. Clint never seemed to recover from a torn ACL after spending a couple more seasons with the Metros then moving to Germany. There Clint enjoyed some success but his well documented antics earned him a spot on the bench until John Ellinger (Clint's old youth coach) gave Clint a job in Salt Lake. After a dissapointing start and fights with teammates, Clint was traded to Colorado where he had more downs than ups. Now back where he made a name for himself, Clint has one last chance to prove to himself, the fans and most importantly coaches around the league that he has regained his form. Remember I said, I'd say who would replace Reyna should the knees give? Cleetus, please regain your early 2000's form! Mike Magee is another player who was very promising but injuries have plagued the career of Magee. He had shown a lot of promise both in midfield and up top but between injuries and yelling at the refs, he hasn't seen much action. This may be his last season to prove he is worth a spot on the team as well. John Wolyniec might be the team's scoring threat this season. Yikes! The former 1999 MetroStars draft pick is now with his fourth stint with the team and is known for his extremely hard work ethic and nose for the goal...oh and being robbed Goal of the Decade! If Wolyniec is starting opening day, I don't think many of us will complain as he may be the best scoring threat. Others will argue that 17 year old, 2006 season savior, Jozy Altidore should get the start. I'll agree with that notion but I am still not comfortable with a second year, 17 year old having the weight of team on his shoulders as the lone striker. Jerrod Laventure probably won't see much time this season, but if he is able to score a goal like he did last season, I'll take him as a late sub every game! Still raw, hopefully the long time MetroStars reserve player can break out of his shell and prove himself this season on his developmental contract. Another raw talent is Randi Patterson. Playing with the U17 and U20s, Patterson made a name for himself in the attack. His critics argue that the supplemental draft choice slipped that far because of his inexperience, height and first touch on the ball. While Patterson may not see any time with the first team this season, hopefully he can learn and be molded into a full team international prospect in years to come.
So my predictions for game day in snowy Columbus?
Marvell Wynne-Seth Stammler (Hunter Freeman 46th)-Carlos Mendes-Todd Dunivant
Dane Richards (Markus Schopp 46th)-Claudio Reyna-Dave van den Bergh
John Wolyniec (Clint Mathis 67th)-Jozy Altidore
Goals from Mathis and Altidore give the Bulls a 2-2 tie to start the season. Columbus goals scored by Eddie Gaven and Andy Herron