Postcard from Europe: Goodson’s World Cup hopes off to a good Start

Defender hopes play in Norway will lead to spot on U.S. squad

Depth
at center back is a constant source of speculation for supporters of the U.S.
national team. And Clarence Goodson is right there in the thick of it.

But
while a potential World Cup invite might rattle some American players on the
bubble, the IK Start defender is just keeping his head down and doing work. In
his estimation, his best bet to ensure inclusion in Bob Bradley's summer plans
is to keep a laser sight on the business of opening the 2010 Norwegian campaign
on the right foot.

Start,
who were co-owned by Erik Solér until he left to run Red Bull New York, looks
set to improve on last season's ninth-place Tippeligaen finish. And Goodson is
carrying much of the load for the Kristiansand-based outfit.

The
club is unbeaten through a tough opening trio of games, and Goodson has been
rated the club’s top performer twice by Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

That
sort of accolade has become the norm for the Virginia native, who was ranked
last year among the league's top defenders by both the aforementioned paper and
rival rag VG. The 27-year-old’s play over the last two seasons with Start has
also drawn a fair number of glances from around Scandinavia and Germany.

Through
it all, the beanpole center back with decent ball skills and a flair for
powering home corner kicks up the ladder has stuck with business as usual:
helping Start climb the table. When they do well, as they have to open the new
season, job one is done.

"We’ve
had a strong beginning to the season thus far, but it’s still very early,"
Goodson told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on
Monday. "We know we have a strong team that can beat anyone on any given
day.”

Start
has played well against tough opposition this season, including hard-fought
draws against the defending champions, Rosenborg, and this past weekend against
runner-up Molde.

"The
schedule through three matches has been very difficult,” Goodson admitted.
“It’s given us a confidence boost because we feel we were unlucky not to have
won one, if not both, matches."

The
solid take-off has Goodson believing Start can launch into a fight for a
European berth. Of course, he’s quick to temper those predictions with memories
of Start’s swoon to close last season, when the club won only twice in its
final nine games.

"I
think we are capable of a top-three finish, but it will all come down to how
well our reserves play as the season wears on," he said. "When fatigue
and injuries set in, that's when you separate medal contenders from
pretenders."

Helping
Start’s cause is another MLS alum, Hunter Freeman. The former Colorado, New
York and Toronto fullback is working by Goodson’s side for a second season. The
two play adjacently on the back line, with Freeman at right back. Thus, Goodson
has had a good view of his compatriot's development at Start.

"I
think Hunt has continued to improve upon many of the strong qualities that he
exhibited in MLS," Goodson said of his teammate. "Hunt gets forward
into the attack well and is able to get his cross off consistently. He
rarely tires and is difficult to beat one v. one. I expect him to only get
stronger as he continues to come back from an offseason ankle operation that
held him back last year. He's solid and that's what you want from any
defender."

Still,
Goodson, an FC Dallas alum, admits he made sure to check MLSsoccer.com during MLS’ opening weekend, a
routine activity now that he's across the globe in Scandinavia for most of the
American season.

"I
try to keep track of all MLS happenings," said Goodson. "It's my
country's league and it's important to stay up to date."

Though
still a Hoops supporter, the 27-year-old admits to now needing to check the
program on game days back home.

"FC
Dallas has significantly changed since I was last in Texas and I don't know too
many of the boys anymore," Goodson said. "That hasn't stopped me from
keeping tabs, though. Here in Norway, we play our matches on Sundays, so I
usually watch the MLS highlights in the down time before our game."

While
it may seem a mere pregame tradition to some, Goodson's routine practically
reflects his career path. He uses MLS highlights to get up for his IK Start
matches, which at this point present his path to a first World Cup selection
with the U.S. national team.

But
keeping his mind entirely off the cloudy World Cup picture? Even the devoted
Goodson admits he’s not totally immune.

"I
think about the World Cup," he conceded. "Who doesn't? I know I have
an opportunity to make the squad, but I still have plenty of work ahead of me.
The best way to stay in the discussion for South Africa is a strong club
campaign."

Greg Seltzer’s “Postcards from Europe”
appears every Tuesday on MLSsoccer.com.