[MY VIEW] Will Bob Bradley, whose contract to coach the U.S. national team has been extended through 2014, have a better pool of players to work with than he did this year? The defense needs rebuilding, there’s great promise in midfield, and major questions up top. Here’s a quick look, by position, of what a projected pool looks like today.
GOALKEEPER. Marcus Hahnemann will be 42 in 2014 and unless Brad Guzan (who will be 30) gets off the bench at Aston Villa, he’ll be much younger but not experienced enough in case Tim Howard can’t answer the bell at age 35.
Howard played well at the World Cup but failed to come up with a truly big save, of which predecessor Brad Friedel specialized in eight years ago. If Howard keeps his place and his form in the Premier League there will again be only a question of who fills the two backup slots behind him. David Yelldell at Duisburg (German second division) is way down the depth chart.
Former youth international Chris Seitz is embedded at Philadelphia and Dominic Cervi is still at Celtic but not playing much. Perhaps the best young MLS keeper in MLS, Stefan Frei of Toronto FC, is a Swiss citizen.
DEFENDERS. The ages of Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo (all will be 35 in 2014), the murky future of Oguchi Onyewu, and the never-ending quest for a left back necessitate a complete back-line renovation. Jonathan Spector (who will be 28) and Clarence Goodson (32) made the 2010 squad but didn’t get off the bench, Michael Orozco (same age as Spector) didn’t make the cut. Jonathan Bornstein will be 30. The European contingent also includes Zak Whitbread of Millwall and Frankie Simek of Sheffield Wednesday but their time is probably past.
Tops on the list of those to be summoned are Galaxy centerback Omar Gonzalez, the 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year, and a probable finalist for this year’s award, Red Bull defender Tim Ream. A broken foot has sidelined another promising MLS rookie defender, Ike Opara of San Jose. Others may emerge: Eric Lichaj at Aston Villa, Daniel Williams (Freiburg/Bundesliga) and current U-20 Gabe Agbossoumounde (Sporting Braga/Portugal) among them. Marvell Wynne at center back? Who knew?
Most of the 2014 defensive group will not have played in the 2010 tournament, yet if Onyewu can recover his fitness and form he’d be a solid linchpin to build around. Onyewu's shaky start to the tournament played a major role in the team conceding early goals in the first two games, and he was eventually benched. And he will be 32 in 2014.
MIDFIELDERS. There could be a rich fleet of creative midfielders ready in 2014: Benny Feilhaber, Alejandro Bedoya and Stuart Holden are cut from different molds, yet are all imbued with ideas and the skills to pull them off. Whether they can best serve the national team on the flanks or in the center has yet to be determined. Former U-20 Sal Zizzo, on the other hand, is clearly a wide player, but fizzled out in Europe and is scrapping for playing time with Chivas USA.
Sacha Kljestan has made the move from MLS to Europe, in this case Anderlecht, and will be near or at his peak in 2014, when he turns 29. His concentration and workrate have been questioned, not so his ability and vision. He played on both flanks and in the middle for Chivas USA and hasn’t found a regular slot for the national team, which is one reason Bradley dropped him for the World Cup.
How Ricardo Clark, 27, so disappointing in South Africa, does in his first full season with Eintracht Frankfurt will provide a clue to his future.
Jose Francisco Torres got some time at the World Cup after adding tenacity to a gifted touch, and will see many more opportunities leading up to the next World Cup than he did for the 2010 event. His understanding of the team and its nuances grew substantially in rather limited playing time, and he also has World Cup experience to draw upon.
Through their successes and stumbles at the 2010 World Cup Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu gained valuable experience, and with regular duty the next four years, preferably in Europe, should be primed for their best. Whether that best can be good enough against the top national teams, nobody knows.
Jermaine Jones, who has regained a starting spot in Germany with Schalke, has an outside shot but turns 33 in 2014. Therein lies a problem for Bob Bradley; does he give Jones a long look just in case he can stand the test of time, or is it smarter to give Jones a few token appearances and save the crucial tests for younger candidates?
A gap on the left side needs to be addressed; the days of DaMarcus Beasley are probably over, but he – like Landon Donovan and Onyewu – will be 32 in four years, so it’s not out of the question. Bedoya is left-footed though he plays more on the right for his Swedish club Orebro.
Edgar Castillo, though raw and inexperienced, has some upside. Robbie Rogers is one of several MLS candidates who, while talented, aren’t yet good enough and probably never will be.
FORWARDS. Already thin up front, the U.S. lost a major component when injuries suffered in a car crash ruled out a World Cup for Charlie Davies, who has yet to regain regular playing time with his French club Sochaux. Glimpses of a flourishing partnership with Jozy Altidore can be nurtured over the next four years, assuming Davies recovers fully and Altidore can find regular playing time to smooth out his crude touches and occasionally rash decisions.
Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2014 and though Robbie Findley will be only 29, he played the most minutes and did the most damage to his international reputation at the 2010 World Cup. Still, while he came up short on ability he didn’t quit on his teammates.
If Freddy Adu figures out the best way back to the national team is hard work and productive playing time rather than tweeting his hopes and dreams, well, it's possible.
After that, well, the line forms on the left. Leading up to the 2010 tournament, Eddie Johnson played his way back into oblivion. Galaxy youngster Tristen Bowen has shown some promise, as has Philadelphia Union rookie Danny Mwanga. How about a recall for Kenny Cooper? Marcus Tracy, a teammate of Feilhaber at Danish club AGF Aalborg, hasn’t been able to crack the first team on a regular basis.