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Friday, March 27, 2009
Several veterans back in U.S. national team mix

Ives Galarcep, Special to ESPN Soccernet

Considering how well the U.S. men's national team did in its last World Cup qualifier -- a 2-0 victory against Mexico -- you wouldn't think there would be a need to tinker with the squad too much, but finding success as a national team isn't about waiting for a crisis in order to look for new options and solutions in the roster and player pool.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley has called on four familiar names that haven't been seen with the national team in the past six months. The four veterans have the ability to give the United States the boost it will need not only in upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but also in what is shaping up to be one of the busiest years in recent national team history.

Eddie Johnson, Pablo Mastroeni, Jonathan Spector and Marcus Hahnemann have been out of the mix for a variety of reasons, be it poor form, injuries or a desire to focus on club soccer, but now all four are back, and all are capable of playing key roles not only in Saturday's World Cup qualifier against El Salvador, but the rest of the U.S. team's loaded 2009 schedule.

Here is a closer look at where they stand:

Eddie Johnson -- Few players in recent national team history have squandered more chances to impress than Johnson, but his recent renaissance with Cardiff City was enough for Bradley to take notice and bring back a player who has enjoyed success in World Cup qualifying in the past.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. El Salvador
San Salvador, El Salvador
9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360

U.S. vs. Trinidad & Tobago
April 1
LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

It can't be ignored that Johnson has scored his share of big goals through the years, including eight World Cup qualifying goals, which happens to be second-most in the current national team pool (behind Landon Donovan's 12). That, coupled with the reality that nobody has stepped forward to press a serious challenge to current starting U.S. national team forward Brian Ching, makes it easier to forget his poor national team form in recent years.

While Johnson is unlikely to unseat Ching for the starting forward role, the goal for now is to edge out Jozy Altidore for the role of first forward off the bench. Given Altidore's club situation (he isn't seeing any playing time with Spanish second-division club Xerez), and given the fact that Johnson has established himself as a starter at Cardiff, Johnson stands a very good chance of seeing playing time in the upcoming qualifiers and this summer's tournaments.

Jonathan Spector -- Injuries have sidelined Spector for the better part of the past year, but now he is back, healthy, and ready to claim a place in the national team mix. Spector's versatility in the back, and his experience playing at a high level, makes him an attractive option for Bradley, particularly at the fullback positions, where the U.S. could use more candidates.

So where exactly might Spector be lining up for the United States? He has played both right back and defensive midfield for West Ham but has played left back and central defense at various points in his club and national team career. Spector has the quality to push veteran right backs Frankie Hejduk and Steve Cherundolo, but it is at left back where he just might stand the best chance to earn minutes. Heath Pearce has established himself as the starter, but after that the pickings are slim, especially now that Jonathan Bornstein appears to have regressed. If Spector can stay healthy, he should play a key role this summer.

Pablo Mastroeni -- It might seem odd for a 32-year-old defensive midfielder to be working his way back into national team reckoning, particularly at a position often regarded as deep. However, the reality remains that the crop of young defensive midfielders vying for playing time is still young and developing, and the need for a veteran in that position is understandable.

U.S. vs. El Salvador
Last five road games against El Salvador

Oct. 9, 2004 -- W, 2-0, San Salvador (WCQ)

June 29, 1997 -- T, 1-1, San Salvador (WCQ)

March 23, 1993 -- T, 2-2, San Salvador

Feb. 18, 1992 -- L, 2-0, San Salvador

Sept. 15, 1977 -- W, 2-1, San Salvador

You need only see Mastroeni's recent performance for Colorado against Chivas USA -- and against fellow U.S. national team midfielder Sacha Kljestan, no less -- to know that he is still capable of imposing his will in the middle of the field. With Maurice Edu slow to earn minutes at Rangers, Kljestan still maturing and adapting as a player, and Ricardo Clark still not establishing himself as a serious candidate to start, Mastroeni is perfectly positioned to regain not only a starting role, but also a role as one of the team's veteran leaders.

Marcus Hahnemann -- Some may have seen Hahnemann's call-up as evidence that Brad Guzan isn't ready to start a game like a World Cup qualifier in Central America, but that is hardly the case. Guzan is still the No. 2 goalkeeper in the U.S. pool behind Tim Howard, but Hahnemann's return from injury and return to form for Reading has him back in the mix for a No. 3 spot that is wide-open.

So why is a 36-year-old goalkeeper with seven caps back? Troy Perkins didn't exactly assert himself as a serious option for playing time, and Hahnemann is still playing at a high level and could still step in and provide a quality veteran option in the event that both Howard and Guzan were unavailable. Hahnemann's ability and his temperament, both on and off the field, make him a perfect candidate to be the No. 3 goalkeeper in the 2010 World Cup, and if he is ready to put in the time, Hahnemann should make some national team appearances this summer.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at

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