Southern California's impact in the World Cup since 1990 can't be denied.
Each of the six U.S. teams to play on soccer's greatest stage since 40 years in the wilderness ended with Paul Caligiuri's -- make that Southern Californian Paul Caligiuri's -- "shot heard 'round the world" has featured players from these parts in prominent roles, and the American side that faces England in its World Cup opener Saturday outside Rustenburg, South Africa, is no different.
In all there are five players who grew up in the L.A. area and another seven with ties, strong or tenuous, to the region among the 23 players on Bob Bradley's -- make that Manhattan Beach resident Bob Bradley's -- World Cup roster.
Nothing new here. UCLA, which has bred three of this World Cup's players (Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber), produced 11 for the 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 U.S. teams, including Caligiuri, whose ballyhooed volley to beat Trinidad and Tobago in the final qualifier for Italia '90 in many ways was the starting point for soccer's rocketing growth in the U.S. over the next 20 years.
Other American stars: Eric Wynalda, the top U.S. forward until Donovan came along; Wynalda's high school teammate Cobi Jones, the all-time U.S. caps leader (with 164); Marcelo Balboa, the anchor of the U.S. back line for a good decade; and John O'Brien, perhaps the most talented U.S. player to take the field, his career, sadly, cut short by injury.
Here are this Cup's local heroes:
Club: Stade Rennes (France). Position: Defender. Age: 31. Born: Upland. Hometown: Alta Loma. College: UCLA. L.A. ties: Alta Loma High School, UCLA. Former pro clubs: Chicago Fire, Fulham (England).
Who is he? A backliner with a nose for the net and a good head. And he's the U.S. captain.
Why is he here? The 2006 World Cup veteran has extensive European experience, he's the team leader, and he's a starter at left back (or in central defense if needed).
What should we expect? Bocanegra will get up the flanks to join in the attack, and he'll be a first-choice target on set pieces. He should be adequate defensively at left back.
Hmmm. Interesting: MLS Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Defender of the Year in 2001 was an All-CIF Southern Section football star at Alta Loma HS, setting a school record for receptions (46), intercepting seven passes and handling the kicking duties as a senior.
Club: Chivas USA. Position: Defender. Age: 25.
Born: Torrance. Hometown: Los Alamitos. Colleges: Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA. L.A. ties: Los Alamitos High School, Cal Poly Pomona, UCLA, Chivas USA. Former clubs: None. Although Chivas USA could soon be.
Who is he? An unassuming left back who was nearly overlooked by MLS, then won the 2006 Rookie of the Year award under then-Chivas coach Bob Bradley.
Why is he here? He's a great guy, wonderful for locker room chemistry, and his versatility -- he can play virtually anywhere -- is prized. Oh, and there are few capable left backs in America.
What should we expect? He provides cover for Bocanegra on the left side of defense and is a late-game option should his fellow UCLA alum need a break. Internationally, he's better going forward -- just ask the Hondurans, who are in the Cup because of his late headed goal against Costa Rica -- than defending.
Hmmm. Interesting: Bornstein is half-Mexican and half-Jewish. The former will simplify a proposed loan to Mexican club Atlante. The latter led him to play for the U.S. soccer team at the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel, where it won the silver medal.
Club: Los Angeles Galaxy. Position: Midfielder/Forward. Age: 28. Born: Ontario. Hometown: Redlands.
College: None, turned pro at 17. L.A. ties: Redlands East Valley High School, L.A. Galaxy. Former pro clubs: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), San Jose Earthquakes, Bayern Munich (Germany, loan), Everton (England, loan).
Who is he? The most prominent American soccer player to ever walk the earth has been a U.S. national team star since his teens. He's the all-time U.S. leader in goals (42) and assists (45) in 123 international appearances, and he's a six-time winner of the Honda Player of the Year Award, American soccer's most prestigious honor.
Why is he here? What, are you kidding? He's the face of American soccer, and if Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are as important to U.S. chances as is Donovan -- and they might well be -- it's Donovan's performance that likely will determine how far the U.S. goes.
What should we expect? Bradley prefers Donovan to play on the right flank, with the freedom to pinch inside, make runs up top and switch with the left winger as needed. He'll have a lot of freedom to create, and that will be his primary job. He may score goals, but it's the goals teammates score from his service that will count most.
Hmmm. Interesting: Donovan speaks fluent Spanish, which he learned while playing on mostly Latino youth teams in the Inland Empire. He won the Golden Ball as the MVP of the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Zealand, where the U.S. finished fourth.
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland). Position: Midfielder/Defender. Age: 24. Born: San Bernardino. Hometown: Fontana.
College: Maryland. L.A. ties: Etiwanda High School. Former pro clubs: Toronto FC.
Who is he? An athletic defensive midfielder who won MLS's 2007 Rookie of the Year honor and soon found himself overseas, eventually moving into the starting lineup for Scotland's champion.
Why is he here? He's a tough box-to-box midfielder who wins balls and can start (and finish) attacks. He also can play in central defense, as he did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What should we expect? Edu is an option if injuries or red cards disrupt the back line, although he's better in central midfield, where he's probably fourth on the depth chart, behind Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark and Jose Francisco Torres.
Hmmm. Interesting: Edu became a hero at Rangers with his last-minute goal to beat hated rival Celtic in February. He's confused at times with diminutive playmaker Freddy Adu, whom he was introduced as before a World Cup qualifier in Cuba.
Club: AGF Aarhus (Denmark). Position: Midfielder. Age: 25. Born: Rio de Janeiro. Hometown: Irvine. College: UCLA. L.A. ties: Northwood High School, UCLA. Former pro clubs: Hamburger SV (Germany), Derby County (England).
Who is he? A creative midfielder with enormous promise who struggled in Europe after an impressive start in Germany. He was a key figure on the U.S. 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup championship team.
Why is he here? Feilhaber can do things with the ball other players can't, and his creativity is valuable to any side.
What should we expect? He's an option off the bench on the flanks or in central midfield, more likely to see time if the Americans need a goal than if they're trying to hold on to a lead.
Hmmm. Interesting: Feilhaber's paternal grandfather emigrated in 1938 from Austria to Brazil to escape the Nazi regime. Feilhaber moved to New York at 6 and to Orange County in his teens.
STRONG L.A. TIES
Club: Los Angeles Galaxy. Position: Forward. Age: 29. Born: New Rochelle, N.Y. Hometown: Port Chester, N.Y.
College: State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo. L.A. ties: L.A. Galaxy. Former pro clubs: Long Island Rough Riders, Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC.
Who is he? A tall, muscular, soft-spoken striker with good technique who scores goals in bunches and has matured greatly since joining the Galaxy in 2007.
Why is he here? Nine goals in six games to start the season for the Galaxy. Those kinds of numbers, that kind of form, make a big impression.
What should we expect? Buddle is an option up top if Jozy Altidore's time is limited by his ankle injury, but he's so good connecting with the players around him that playing him alongside Altidore is an option, too.
Hmmm. Interesting: His father, Winston, was a pro soccer player in Jamaica who named his son after Pele, whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Buddle led State Fair to a national junior college championship in 1999.
Club: Pachuca (Mexico). Position: Forward. Age: 28. Born: Los Angeles. Hometown: Las Vegas. College: None, turned pro after high school. L.A. ties: Birthplace, former L.A. Galaxy. Former pro clubs: Cruz Azul (Mexico), Aguilas Blancas (Mexico), Durango (Mexico), San Diego Gauchos, San Diego Sockers, Seattle Sounders, L.A. Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, Kansas City Wizards, Puebla (Mexico).
Who is he? A natural goal scorer, as he proved with the Galaxy (he had 21 goals in all competitions when L.A. won the MLS Cup-U.S. Open Cup double in 2005) and this season at Puebla (sharing the Mexican Primera Division's scoring title with 10 goals).
Why is he here? He was misused as a winger with Colorado and Kansas City, returned to his natural position with Puebla, and scored goal after goal, often coming off the bench to do so. You can never have too many goal scorers.
What should we expect? Herc is the (not so) secret weapon off the bench when the U.S. desperately needs a goal.
Hmmm. Interesting: Gomez was so far off the radar that he's nowhere to be found in the 2010 U.S. Soccer national team media guide. His younger brother, Ulysses, is a pro mixed-martial arts fighter.
LOCAL? WELL, KIND OF
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland). Position: Winger. Age: 28.
Born: Fort Wayne, Ind. Hometown: Fort Wayne, Ind. College: None. He turned pro at 16. L.A. ties: Was with the L.A. Galaxy when he was 16 and 17, but he never played. Former pro clubs: Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Manchester City (England, loan).
Who is he? A dynamic winger at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup and during the 2002 World Cup who took some huge steps backward after heading to Europe. He's without a club at the moment -- Rangers, for whom he saw limited action, dropped him in May.
Why is he here? Beasley at his best was something else, a slight, speedy figure running through defenses with great abandon. He needs to turn his career around, and his performance at the pre-World Cup camp demonstrated that he understands this. He showed glimpses of the Beas of old, and that was enough to assure him a roster spot.
What should we expect? Beasley made a big impression at the 2002 World Cup but did very little four years ago. He's an option on the left flank if Clint Dempsey plays up top.
Hmmm. Interesting: His older brother, Jamar, starred for the U.S. U-20 national team and signed with MLS in 1998 at 18, at the time the youngest signing for the nascent league. Jamar also played for the U.S. futsal (a kind of indoor soccer) national team and just signed with the Kansas City Wizards.
Club: Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany). Position: Midfielder. Age: 22. Born: Princeton, N.J. Hometown: Princeton, N.J., and Manhattan Beach. College: None. Turned pro at 16.
L.A. ties: Family home is in Manhattan Beach. Former pro clubs: MetroStars, Heerenveen (Netherlands).
Who is he? A brainy, older-than-his-years central midfielder who, thanks to his dad, understands the game perhaps better than anyone else on the roster.
Why is he here? He's head coach Bob Bradley's son! Yes he is, but that's not why he's here. He's got size, vision, strength, a real physical element to his game and he's capable of putting balls away, too.
What should we expect? He's the most influential player in the middle for the U.S., key to stopping opponents' forays forward and leading the transition to attack. Expect him to play every minute of this World Cup.
Hmmm. Interesting: The youngest MLS player to be sold to a foreign club -- he was 18 when he left for Holland -- he became a star at Heerenveen by scoring 17 goals, 13 in league play, in 2006-07.
Club: Hannover 96 (Germany). Position: Defender. Age: 31. Born: Rockford, Ill. Hometown: San Diego. College: Portland. L.A. ties: Well ... he's from San Diego, which is Southern California and (sort of) near L.A. Former pro clubs: None. He went to Hannover in 1999.
Who is he? A smallish right back who has made his name in Germany's Bundesliga and is representing the U.S. at a World Cup for the third time.
Why is he here? He's a leader off the field -- Bob Bradley values his perspective in team discussions -- and a veteran presence on it.
What should we expect? It's either Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector at right back, and although Spector has been the popular candidate, Cherundolo's play in the preparation matches has been superior.
Hmmm. Interesting: A fan favorite in Hannover, he serves as a vice-captain for his club and has started a foundation, Kinderherz, to help children with heart conditions.
Club: Real Salt Lake. Position: Forward. Age: 25. Born: Phoenix. Hometown: Phoenix. College: Oregon State. L.A. ties: Started his pro career with the Galaxy. Former pro clubs: L.A. Galaxy.
Who is he? A speedy forward who has made big strides the past couple of seasons in Salt Lake City, although he should score more often than he does.
Why is he here? The Americans' first-choice "speedy" forward (to be paired with "big" forward Jozy Altidore) was Charlie Davies, who valiantly tried to come back after surviving a deadly car accident last October but ran out of time. Findley is his replacement.
What should we expect? He can stretch defenses with that speed, and that's pivotal in creating attacking space. It would not be a surprise to see him in the starting lineup, although he could be just as effective off the bench.
Hmmm. Interesting: His cousins include NBA guards Mike Bibby (Atlanta Hawks) and Eddie House (New York Knicks) and NFL receiver Shaun McDonald (with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season).
Club: Aston Villa (England). Position: Goalkeeper. Age: 25. Born: Evergreen Park, Ill. Hometown: Homer Glen, Ill.
College: South Carolina. L.A. ties: Started his pro career with Chivas USA. Former pro clubs: Chivas USA.
Who is he? A big, capable goalkeeper -- he won MLS's award for netminding with Chivas USA in 2007 -- with a great future.
Why is he here? Every team needs three goalkeepers, just in case one gets hurt or red-carded. Tim Howard is the Americans' No. 1 and Marcus Hahnemann is No. 2.
What should we expect? That Guzan will be a good teammate, work hard with Howard and Hahnemann in training, and cheer like mad for his teammates on the bench. He sure ain't gonna play.
Hmmm. Interesting: The 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year lists Brad Friedel, a three-time World Cup star for the U.S. (who was in the nets for the Americans' 2002 quarterfinal run), as one of his idols. Howard's job: Backing up Friedel at Aston Villa.
OH, THE HEAD COACH
Club: U.S. national team. Position: Head coach. Age: 52. Born: Montclair, N.J. Hometown: Essex Fells, N.J. College: Princeton. L.A. ties: Coached Chivas USA in 2006, lives in Manhattan Beach. Other coaching jobs: Ohio University, University of Virginia (as Galaxy coach Bruce Arena's assistant), Princeton University, U.S. U-23 team (as Arena's assistant), D.C. United (as Arena's assistant), Chicago Fire, MetroStars, Chivas USA, U.S. U-23 team.
Who is he? Analytical coach who exasperates the hard-core fans while breeding great loyalty from his players.
Why is he here? When talks broke down with German legend Juergen Klinsmann, who lives in Huntington Beach, U.S. Soccer gave Bradley the job on an interim basis. Quick success got him the job full-time.
What should we expect? The U.S. will be completely prepared for any possibility, it will benefit from strong chemistry, and everyone will be accountable.
Hmmm. Interesting: His staff includes former Egyptian national team goalkeeper Zak Abdel (who lives in La Verne and has coached at Cal State Fullerton and with the Galaxy and Chivas USA), assistant coach Jesse Marsch (who played for Chivas USA) and fitness coach Pierre Barrieu (who lives in Redondo Beach).