by John Philip Wyllie
Among those competing for the opportunity to represent the United States at the World Cup this summer are a pair of highly regarded Mexican-American MLS stars, Nick Rimando and Carlos Bocanegra.
Rimando's solid goalkeeping this past season in Miami helped to transform the Fusion from a perennial doormat into one of the league's best teams. Bocanegra, the MLS Rookie of the Year in 2000 was equally brilliant starring for the Chicago Fire as a central defender. Both however, face an uphill climb in landing one of the coveted 23 positions on the U.S. roster. Following their week-long training in preparation for a Dec. 9 friendly versus South Korea, Bocanegra and Ri-mando were realistic about the situation.
"There are a lot of great goalkeepers in the United States right now," Rimando explained. "(Brad) Friedel and Kasey (Keller) already have it sealed, so it is the third position that we are fighting for. It's quite a battle. There is Timmy Howard, (Zach) Thornton, me and (Tom) Presthus. It is going to come down to the wire and who ever does better, deserves to go.
Prospects are no more promising for Bocanegra, a mainstay in the Chicago Fire's defense for the past two seasons. "Making the World Cup roster is definitely a goal, but it is going to be tough for me this time," Bocanegra admitted. "But injuries occur and I'm going to work real hard, so maybe I can sneak in for that last spot. I'm not counting on it, but I'm definitely working towards it."
In order to qualify for one of the 23 available positions, Bocanegra will have to convince coach Bruce Arena that he will be more valuable than a talented group of more experienced players. Four of them played under Arena when he led DC United to consecutive MLS titles. To make things worse, four of the additional U.S. players competing for the same job have landed jobs with highly regarded European clubs.
So, while neither Rimando or Bocanegra are likely to be there when the U.S. opens World Cup play on June 5 versus Portugal in South Korea, both are at least being considered. Their inclusion in Arena's latest U.S. national team camp indicates they may in the not too distant future, don the red white and blue. With several of the players who occupy the spots currently beyond the 30 year mark, Rimando and Bocanegra may not have much longer to wait.
Bocanegra gained his first cap playing the entire second half
of the December 9
friendly versus South Korea. While the U.S. fell 1-0, their play improved in the second half when Bocanegra was on the field. Rimando was left behind in favor of Thornton.
Regardless of whether they make it to South Korea, Bocanegra and Rimando were pleased with the favorable World Cup draw the U.S. received last weekend. Their group includes South Korea, Portugal and Poland. More significant is who it doesn't include.
"Every team that makes it to the World Cup is a great team and deserves to be there, but I think we got a good draw knowing that we didn't get Brazil or France or somebody like that," Rimando said. "Still, we know we are going to be playing against world class players. Every team we go up against is going to provide a great task for us."