[U.S. SOCCER] In the wake of the first U.S. match of 2011, a 1-1 tie with Chile at Home Depot Center on Saturday, there's rampant speculation about how many of the participants -- several of whom earned their first cap -- will be recalled for game two Feb. 9 in Cairo against Egypt. There might be a few but there also could be none. Coach Bob Bradley will have all of his European-based players available on the first FIFA international date of the New Year, and some of them have landed in new club situations via loan arrangements or transfers.
Oguchi Onyewu has moved from AC Milan to Dutch club Twente Enschede, and Jermaine Jones made a promising debut for Blackburn last weekend in his first post-Schalke appearance. The much-maligned Robbie Findley is playing English League Championship ball with Nottingham Forest, and Edson Buddle scored on his debut for German second division club FC Ingolstadt after leaving the Galaxy as a free agent.
Fans disappointed in their World Cup performances may have given up on Findley and Buddle, but Bradley likely has not. In the last two games, he's seen the youth and enthusiasm that Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo have brought to the U.S. attack yet he’ll have plenty of other choices.
There’s also the vexing problem of what to do about Landon Donovan, who skipped the U.S. camp to rest and just joined the Galaxy for preseason training. A fitness fanatic, Donovan is never really out of shape, and so integral is he to the U.S. team is hard to imagine him skipping two straight games.
The sharp attacking form of Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden and the resilience and distribution of Michael Bradley, are what the Americans will count on in Cairo.
Those are just a few of the intriguing circumstances to be evaluated by Bradley, who indeed must start building a squad for the 2014 World Cup – for which several 2010 veterans will be too old – but has the more immediate concern of the Concacaf Gold Cup.
As was the case the last time around, he is targeting that tournament as crucial. The shrewdest way to handle it is to bring his strongest team with the hope of qualifying for the 2013 Confederations Cup, by which time the current youthful group of Agudelo, Bunbury, Tim Ream, et al, will be older and more experienced, and probably carrying a few Concacaf qualifiers on their belts. That will be the time to phase out Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit and other veterans who can no longer play at the international level.
Those same players will be vital cogs this summer at the Gold Cup and unless they completely lose their form, there’s no rational reason to exclude them between now and July just to experiment with a fleet of younger players. There’s plenty of time for that.
What makes Agudelo especially appealing is he possesses some of the same attributes as Charlie Davies in younger, rawer form. There’s pace and strength, audacity and confidence to swoop and dart and swerve into the penalty area, as well as a sharp game sense for someone who just turned 18. He’s yet to be given regular playing time to show he can threaten and finish consistently, but playing for a Red Bulls team that will surround him with experienced players is an optimum proving ground.
He’s very young, and recent examples of U.S. attackers who were rushed along too quickly or veered off-track – Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Benny Feilhaber, Jozy Altidore – confirm that U.S. Soccer and Bradley must be careful, but not overly cautious, with this latest young phenom.
Bunbury has a year of MLS play with Kansas City and a grand total of two caps, yet so dire is the U.S. situation up top that an impressive 30 minutes last Saturday has convinced a significant segment of fans that these two young men are the now as well as the future.
Three weeks of training camp whipped the U.S. players into shape sufficiently to play a low-key friendly at home against a Chilean ‘B’ team. But it’s unrealistic to expect those same players to flourish in front of a raucous Egyptian crowd that remembers, as do their players, of a 3-0 pasting inflicted by the USA at the last Confederations Cup a year and a half ago. The European-based players, except those in Scandinavia, will be midseason sharp, while the MLS players have gone back for the start of preseason training devoid, for the most part, of games.
U.S. fans may regard the Egypt game as a training exercise, but Bradley won’t. It figures to be a tough game in harsh conditions against a team very prideful of its self-proclaimed status as the best in North Africa, a much stiffer test than was South Africa back in November. It also falls at an awkward time for players in Scandinavia and those in MLS, though Mixx Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya labored against Chile and will want to get back on the field for the USA as soon as possible.
There’s a few Americans in Mexico, which has already started its season, and they might be preferred over the MLS options, though the staggering travel distance and time change from North America to Egypt is yet another reason to select mostly Europeans.
In late March, the next FIFA international window, the Americans will play Argentina in the New Meadowlands Stadium March 26 and Paraguay in Nashville three days later. Most MLS teams are playing on the first date, a Saturday, so it’s logical to assume Bradley will summon the Europeans for that match, and then release many of them to tackle Paraguay with those from North America.
In Cairo, a few of the newer faces would be nice to see, but it’s more likely the veteran guard will be called.