The Case against Frankie Hejduk
By Casey Ward
With US Soccer head coach Bob Bradley set to announce his initial 30-man roster next week, amateur and professional pundits across the country are speculating on who will be bunkmates at the Princeton training camp. Considering the conservative approach of Bradley, I have been astonished at some of the names mentioned in connection with the roster: Kenny Cooper, Edgar Castillo, Luis Robles, Freddy Adu. No doubt American fans are entitled to a shake-up after the recent mediocre run of form and rash of injuries, but such outlandish expectations will surely result in further disappointment. One player’s name peppered throughout these
Photo from fOTOGLIF
conjectures that is more likely than the above mentioned to receive a call-up and perhaps even a final roster spot is Columbus Crew defender Frankie Hejduk. Below is a list of predicted arguments for his inclusion and a refutation of each one. In full disclosure I must acknowledge that, as a Crew fan, I loath to see any player absent during the MLS season.
1) He is a team leader.
While Hejduk encourages and excites fans with his nonverbal pregame pleas to stand and cheer and with his passionate play, he is not the on-field leader that some expect him to be. He is, as most of us are, hot-headed and occasionally foolish in challenges. He rarely uses the captain’s prerogative of arguing with the referee, designating that task to the comically inarticulate Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Most importantly, though, the US men’s team already has inspiring enough figures in Donovan, Howard and Bocanegra. Also, Cherundolo, from whom Hejduk would be expected to wrestle the right-back spot, is captain of Hannover 96, despite the language barrier.
2) He has experience.
So does Brian McBride, Eric Wynalda and Walter Bahr.
3) He is fast.
Although the National Football League has virtually nothing to recommend itself to fans of fluid, unproduced, aesthetic games, it does publish players’ sprint times in the 40-yard dash. I would like to see the US coaching staff adopt this technique of gauging a player’s quickness (not stamina, of course). I am certain that if this were incorporated into the evaluation of potential players, Frankie Hejduk would be seen as slightly faster than Bocanegra, only as fast as Cherundolo, and much slower than a defender like Heath Pearce, whose pace and skill would likely be translatable to the right full-back position.
4) His Merman hair, frequent non sequiturs, sinewy musculature (like a skinless cadaver), penchant for chugging souvenir cups of beer on the field, and unorthodox, two-footed tackle might, at the very least, bemuse and/or terrify the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Aaron Lennon.
In short, his presence is more needed and appreciated in Columbus than in Rustenburg. He is a local character, a more memorable though less kid-friendly mascot than the Crew Cat, and two months without his presence would be too much to bear for a devoted fan community. Aged and flawed, he is nevertheless our captain. And, judging from the response one gets when Real Salt Lake is mentioned as 2009 MLS Champions (when the Crew earned the Supporter’s Shield), we never really learned how to share.
Casey Ward is an unabashed fan of Major League Soccer. He has a BA from Michigan State University and an MFA from Ohio State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org