A number of U.S. men's national team stalwarts have come down with a case of bad timing.
With World Cup qualifying set to resume in about three weeks, three veterans and past lineup staples are in no shape to participate. Right back Steve Cherundolo is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and has not played for Hannover 96 since Dec. 19. Carlos Bocanegra, who was a healthy scratch in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal opener against Honduras, has not played for Racing Santander since before the 2-1 loss to Los Catrachos on Feb. 6. Clint Dempsey has a minor calf injury that Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas says may keep him out for up to two weeks, which makes it close enough leading into a stretch of two crucial qualifiers to raise an eyebrow. Landon Donovan's extended break from the game has him set to miss perhaps his last chance to play against Mexico at Estadio Azteca during a time when the national team could use his spark and then some.
Even indirectly, timing has not worked in the USA's favor. When Celtic and Honduras left back Emilio Izaguirre was injured and ruled out of the final qualifying round opener, it paved the way for Juan Carlos Garcia to get the start. The same Garcia who entered the game with zero international goals. And the same Garcia whose bicycle-kick equalizer turned the match in San Pedro Sula on its head.
One U.S. player who could turn the trend around with impeccable timing, though, is Brek Shea.
With Jurgen Klinsmann able to count his reliable wing options on one hand (and not necessarily one with five fingers) and the U.S. attack lacking true flankers who are not shy in taking defenders on one-v-one and creating for its goal-starved forwards, opportunity is there for the taking for Shea. If his debut for Stoke City is any indication of the trajectory of his Premier League voyage, then the 22-year-old should have every chance to play his way back into the international picture, where he was once a Klinsmann lineup fixture.
In his first match action since Sept. 29, Shea turned in an encouraging 66 minutes off the bench as an injury replacement for Matthew Etherington and even won a penalty against Fulham (one that was not converted by Jonathan Walters, at no fault of Shea), in the Potters' 1-0 loss. One solid showing does not suddenly make Shea the answer to the USA's problems, but the process in laying the foundation for Shea's time in England could not have come at a more appropriate juncture. Still, earning a regular place in manager Tony Pulis' good graces is a top requirement for Shea. Rebuilding his match fitness and sharpness over the next three matches leading into the next international break -- Stoke faces West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom prior to the USA's March 22 clash against Costa Rica -- is a must as well. At the very least there is a shred of good fortune for a U.S. international at a time when the national team needs it most.
Shea's debut capped a week in which Jermaine Jones became the second American to score in a UEFA Champions League knockout stage (matching DaMarcus Beasley's feat in 2005 for PSV), and Terrence Boyd returned to the scoresheet for his club. In the assists department, Jones contributed one over the weekend for Schalke in league play, Edgar Castillo came through with a game-winning one for Tijuana in a landmark Copa Libertadores performance, and Timmy Chandler and Michael Bradley turned in clutch helpers to deliver a draw and win, respectively, to their clubs.
On the other end, red cards to Michael Orozco Fiscal and Maurice Edu mean that this week should be a quiet one for two of the heroes who lined up across the back line for the USA's historic 1-0 win at Azteca in August's friendly. Those were the most notable contributions from Americans playing abroad this past week, and here is how the full contingent fared (season statistics encompass all competitions):