Where’s Frankie Hejduk?

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Is Frankie Hejduk out tailgating with the Columbus Crew fans or members of the Hudson Street Hooligans and La Turbina? Is he down at the Starbucks sipping on a decaf latte? Yeah right, there’s nothing decaf about Frankie. Is he talking a sabbatical from soccer to join the professional surfing tour? That’s possible. But actually, the 35 year old is injured, and has been battling injury after injury this year.

When you turn 35 the injuries start mounting up and it’s harder to recover. One injury heals and feels better, and then another one develops. Such is the case for one of American soccer’s famously tireless players.

Hejduk has struggled with numerous injuries this year: a quadricep, a groin, a back, and a right hamstring strain have stung Hejduk into unaccustomed static state. He’s used to being in motion, running up and down the sidelines, his hair flying in the back. Instead, he’s been parked on the bench, and the Starbucks espresso shots he downs must at times push him over the edge – he must be going nuts watching and not playing soccer, especially that game in Mexico, at Azteca.

Hejduk though, has always been about positivity.

“I’ve got to keep thinking positive. It’s been one been one of those types of years,” said Hejduk. “They’re all different injuries but they have to do with each other. There’s a little overcompensation here and there from the body. You start leaning to one side too much. It has snowballed a bit.

“I hope it’s the last one. It’s almost gone full circle — the hamstring, the groin, the back now the quads. Every body part I’ve hit.”

Despite his absence, the Columbus Crew have been winning. But they’ll be happy to have him back. He adds that something extra, and a big reason why Columbus won the MLS Cup last year.

One team that missed him a few weeks ago was the U.S. national team. They could have used him down in Azteca. The team lacked spirit and energy, especially in the second half. Frankie is made for games like those.

A couple things I came away with from the Mexico versus United States game, not only did the U.S. need a player who can not only hold on to the ball, give the team a break and some possession, but they also needed a player who gives the team some spirit and fight.

Benny Feilhaber seemed to have it, as he stood up for Davies and pushed off the Mexican players who were trying to pull him up off the ground, but there weren’t many other players who seemed willing to put everything on the line.

The one player who can give a team some energy and fight, is Frankie Hedjuk. He’s been out injured and is getting up there in years, but he can still bring something to the national team and deserves a spot on the World Cup squad in 2010. Perhaps he’s not a starter, but someone who can come off the bench and change the attitude of the team. He’s no Dani Alves. He’s not going to come of the bench and score a free kick, although he will give it his all.

Perhaps he still can’t cross a ball, and will admit he’s not the most skilled player, but he’s worth having on the World Cup team for those ‘intangibles’. He’s known for doling out some Bob Marley aphorisms before games, too. He stirs it up and sometimes you need that on your team. Bob Bradley comes across as very logical and methodical, but it’s good to have an emotional engine on your team as well.

A number of players have recently played Hejduk’s right back position: Jonathan Spector, Marvell Wynne Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, and even DaMarcus Beasley. Bornstein is in some ways in the mold of Hejduk, tireless and full of energy. He earned his stripes by playing well in the Confederations Cup. As did Spector, who by playing for West Ham United, has become a solid professional, who picked out Dempsey not once but twice in the Confederations Cup. It is nice to have a fullback who can cross the ball.

Yes, the U.S. national team beat Spain and nearly beat Brazil in the Confederations Cup without Hejduk, though it took them a while to get going in the tournament. Sure, two red cards in the first two games didn’t help, but I’d say Hedjuk’s spirit may have kick started the team much earlier.

Do you need much more proof that Hejduk would be a welcomed addition back to the national team than the game in El Salvador? Remember Frankie nearly pushing Altidore out of the way to score the goal against El Salvador?

What about the love slap after the Mexican game in Columbus? Frankie’s enthusiasm for the game can be misinterpreted, by the other team and its coaches. Yet that’s why you want him on your team, his energy brings the U.S. team together.

“There are, in any team, players whose drive, whose competitiveness, whose determination in the game, sets the standard,” U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley said in a press release after the El Salvador match. “Players who leave it all on the field, who may not look perfect but at the end of the day you’d take them on your team any day of the week. Frankie is one of those players.”

Is he too old? Is his World Cup dream for South Africa gone? I don’t think Hedjuk will give up without a good fight and it will be hard to leave him out of the team. He missed out on the World Cup in 2006 due to an ACL tear, and to recover from that injury and help his MLS team win the title, says a lot.

And Hejduk might recall this Bob Marley line as proof that he’s not done playing in the World Cup just yet: ‘Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny’.

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