As a member of two World Cup teams, LA Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter has been around the U.S. national team long enough to know how a roster is composed and what types of players deserve a roster spot.
A core group is important, but so too is current form.
Thus, when looking at the provisional 30-man World Cup roster selected by U.S. coach Bob Bradley, teammate Edson Buddle’s name stands out.
“If there is any guy who deserves to go, it’s Edson,” Berhalter said. “He’s in great form right now. He’s been scoring tremendous amount of goals for us and he deserves it.”
Buddle has been the top forward in MLS through the first quarter of the season. With nine goals in eight games, he has helped the Galaxy charge out to a 7-0-1 record. Aside from his league-leading goal tally, Buddle has also chipped in with a pair of assists.
His early-season tenacity and ability to finish in all sorts of ways—set pieces, volleys, long-range shots, breakaways—opened the door for possible World Cup inclusion.
However, Buddle’s national team history consists of only a 10-minute appearance in 2003. This, according to Berhalter, should be of little consequence.
“You have to pick some players based on current form,” he said. “Obviously you have a core group that’s been together, that’s been working for the last four years, but there are certain players you pick on form.”
Berhalter was on the 2002 and 2006 World Cup teams. While he did not see action in Germany ’06, he was a key part of the 2002 squad, playing 90 minutes in both the second-round win over Mexico and the quarterfinal loss to Germany.
Having been around the international game for many years, he believes Buddle has the tools to make an impact for the U.S.
“[He has to be] confident in using his body, using his physicality to dominate people, [show that] what he’s been doing in MLS somehow translates to the international game,” Berhalter said.
Buddle is the least internationally experienced forward on the training camp roster. Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching were on the 2006 World Cup team, although Ching is battling a hamstring injury, while Jozy Altidore has more than 20 caps, including Confederations Cup matches and World Cup qualifiers. Also on the list are Robbie Findley who started against the Netherlands in March and Herculez Gomez, a veteran of the 2007 Copa America.
While Buddle has had tremendous success this season in MLS, his ability to elevate his game and, more importantly, finish off chances, are what could determine a spot on the World Cup roster.
“Everything’s a bit faster. Things are a little bit more critical. You’ve got to make every chance you have count,” Berhalter said. “The great strikers in the world, they get two chances and score two goals. That’s part of it. That part has to come.”