Will all the hurt help?
The list of the United States Men's National Team's walking wounded reads like half the starting line-up. The squad's struggles to stay healthy are well documented, and although most of the players are on the mend, plenty of questions about fitness and form remain. Can Davies complete his remarkable comeback from an October car accident to make the 23-man roster that travels to South Africa? How will Dempsey's latest setback affect his play? Will Ching, who turns 32 in May, be able to recover from a hamstring tear and stay injury-free throughout the month-long event? And so on, and so forth.
As the deadline for the 30-player preliminary roster approaches and the official two-dozen-minus-one following soon after, manager Bob Bradley and his staff need to make some difficult decisions. The health of recovering players will factor into the equation. They'll want to bring a fit team to South Africa. That means one that features players who've managed to avoid injuries, correct?
Well, maybe not. The Stars and Stripes will need to be match fit for the World Cup, but an injury in a player's recent past might actually help him perform in South Africa.
Crazy? Consider this: Between club and country, being an international soccer player is a year-round commitment. At most, he gets a month or so off before jumping back into the grind. That's a lot of soccer, played at the highest level. Rehab -- a strenuous task but one that's perhaps less mentally and physically demanding than, or at least a change from, the intense week in, week out pressure of performing in front of 40,000 fans -- can come as a welcome break.
Pierre Barrieu, the assistant coach who oversees the U.S. squad's fitness training, agrees with this theory to a certain extent.
"It can be a blessing in disguise at times, but it's all about the nature of the injury, the timing of it, and how you deal with it.," he told Goal.com from Los Angeles on Monday afternoon. "There are some success stories out there. Being French, the one that comes to my mind is [left back] Bixente Lizarazu. He came back [to his Bayern Munich club] played the last two months of the season. He was refreshed by the time the World Cup came. He's an example of a guy who had very successful surgery and rehab, came back and was a starter on his club team so he got to play at crunch time near the end of the season."
Davies and Holden won't have two months to regain their touch at their clubs, but both are shooting to return for, respectively, Sochaux and Bolton's last couple of matches. Onyewu struggled to find the pitch before tearing his patella tendon in Washington D.C. but reports indicate he's nearing a return to full training as well. Dempsey finds himself in the best position of the crew. After recovering from a PCL injury that saw him miss two months, he played in eight games for Fulham -- displaying some scintillating form -- before hurting his thigh. In short, the U.S. corps can benefit from missing some time, but they need to get back on the field soon.
"If someone's just rehabbing and doesn't get to play games, it's not ideal before the World Cup," Barrieu said.
Ironically, the sheer number of Americans laid up could also be a blessing in disguise. One of the most essential elements in a successful recovery is staying positive and the fallen members of the U.S. squad are supporting each other. (Check out the inspirational message Holden and Davies send each other on Twitter.) Rehabbing together, whether in the same facility as Davies and Onyewu were earlier this year or emotionally, helps.
"First of all, you know you're not the only one in the situation," Barrieu said. "You don't spend time being down on yourself with 'Why me, and not them?' ...You see players in the same case and you're working for everybody. When you're sick and you see people that are much sicker, it's human nature to think, 'You know what? It could be much worse.' It helps you stay positive."
At the end of the day, only a healthy U.S. will advance past the first round this summer. If muscle pulls, ligament damage, and the like continue to haunt the squad, they will struggle. That much is clear. If, however, the injured players can return soon, they might be better prepared for the rigors of the world's biggest tournament than they would be if they played straight through the season. It's always more beautiful after a downpour.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com and will be reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.
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