NEW YORK – Forward Brian Ching and defender Jimmy Conrad were the biggest surprises among 11 players selected Tuesday for their first appearances on a U.S. World Cup roster.
Forward Taylor Twellman, and defenders Gregg Berhalter and Chris Albright were not included in the 23-man group picked by U.S. coach Bruce Arena.
Twelve holdovers were chosen from the 2002 team, which advanced to the quarterfinals in the best showing by the United States since 1930: forwards Brian McBride and Josh Wolff; midfielders Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, John O’Brien and Pablo Mastroeni; defenders Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Eddie Pope; and goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Among the newcomers were forward Eddie Johnson; midfielders Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey of the New England Revolution and Ben Olsen; defenders Carlos Bocanegra, Cory Gibbs and Oguchi Onyewu; and goalkeepers Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard.
“We are deeper from one through 23 and a better team,” Donovan said, comparing this year’s roster with the one four years ago. “The thing we don’t have that we had four years ago was not as many clear leaders on the team.”
Ching learned he made the team when he viewed Arena’s televised announcement with Houston Dynamo teammates at a sports bar in Denver International Airport.
“I was kind of a nervous wreck,” he said. “My name popped up on the screen, so I was pretty excited. There was a big cheer, a lot of excitement.”
Conrad found out he made the team from Donovan, a former MLS teammate, who told him a few minutes before Conrad received an e-mail with the official news.
“I’ve never had the attitude that I was on the roster,” Conrad said. “I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.”
Arena cited Conrad’s improvement and big games Ching had in World Cup qualifiers.
“Jimmy can help us on the field and off,” Arena said. “Brian has had a good start in the MLS season.”
Dempsey’s Internet hookup went down at his apartment in Mansfield, Mass., so he gave information on how to access his e-mail to his mother, Debbie, who was at home in Nagadoches, Texas.
“She called me screaming and crying,” he said.
Dempsey said his selection was bittersweet because Big Hawk, a rapper who recorded a commercial with him, was shot to death Monday night in Houston.
“It’s always tough to lose a friend under the conditions his life was taken,” Dempsey said.
The average age of the U.S. team was 28.6 years, down slightly from 2002’s average of 28.8.
and just above the 28.1 average in 1998, when the Americans finished last in the 32-nation field.
At the World Cup in Germany, the United States opens against the Czech Republic on June 12, meets Italy five days later and closes the first round against Ghana on June 22.
“With a good training camp, good preparation games and the right mental approach, our team will be a team that’s going to challenge anybody on the field in this World Cup,” Arena said.
Since the 2002 tournament, the Americans have risen to fourth in the FIFA world rankings, trailing defending champion Brazil, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. While the rankings aren’t well regarded by many, American players are faced with increased expectations. A 701/2-foot high Nike billboard near New York’s Madison Square Garden and a nearly identical 40-foot high ad in San Francisco have a picture of Johnson, Donovan and Beasley and proclaims in huge yellow letters: “THE WORLD NO LONGER WANTS TO PLAY US.”
Twelve of the players are with European clubs, and 11 are from Major League Soccer – exactly the same as the 2002 roster. Three players come from the Kansas City Wizards.
Keller is the oldest at 36, and the youngest is Johnson, who turned 22 on March 31. Reyna, the U.S. captain, and Keller set records by making a World Cup roster for the fourth time. McBride, Pope and Hejduk are headed to their third World Cups.
O’Brien, who scored the first goal against Portugal in the 2002 U.S. opener, has been sidelined for most of the past four years. Just coming off a groin injury, he has a calf problem and Arena said if O’Brien doesn’t get fully fit, he could be replaced.
“Physically, I’ll need to step it up,” O’Brien said. “We have the time for that, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Olsen, who turns 29 Wednesday, was the only player selected who didn’t appear in any qualifiers for the 2006 tournament, although he did play in a qualifier in 2001.
“I bet a lot of people didn’t think I would be back on the national team,” said Olsen, who overcame four operations on his right ankle.
Among those not picked were Steve Ralston, Pat Noonan and Jonathan Spector, whose bids were hurt by injuries.
The U.S. team gathers May 10 in Cary, N.C., then plays exhibition games against Morocco (May 23 at Nashville, Tenn.), Venezuela (May 26 at Cleveland) and Latvia (May 28 at East Hartford, Conn.).
Keller and Cherundolo won’t arrive until after their club’s last game in Germany, on May 13. Lewis may remain with Leeds in England as late as May 21, depending on how it fares in the Premier League promotion playoffs.
Each player gets $37,500 for making the roster and earns $3,750 for each game played by the team during the tournament. The player pool would receive $150,000 for each point earned in the first round and $2,775,000 if the Americans advance to the second round.
“This is obviously an exciting day for everyone,” Donovan said. “Likewise, it’s a sad day for a few.”