Bob Bradley's back, but what about the players?

[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.

16 comments about "Bob Bradley's back, but what about the players?".
  1. Bill Glaves, September 1, 2010 at 9:44 a.m.

    At goalkeeper, we also have Tally Hall, backup to Pat Onstad at Houston. Still young, and promising. There's even younger goalkeeping talent coming up - in their late teens right now. They won't be ready for 2014, but maybe 2018 or 2022.

  2. James Froehlich, September 1, 2010 at 10:21 a.m.

    Ridge - excellent, clear-eyed analysis of where the US player pool stands. Unfortunately, it just re-affirms the utter nonsense of re-signing BB. WC coaches are often accused of only looking towards the next WC and avoiding the long term. Unfortunately for the US, that accusation more properly needs to be aimed at the whole of US Soccer, fans and bloggers alike!! Let's face the fact that there is no "tidal wave" of skillful creative players forming in the US. Whether Klinsmann was the better choice is not important, his insights on the state of player development in the US were right on!! Where other countries point to hundreds of potential stars we point to individuals. It's time to stop blaming the lack of money being offered by MLS (remember that other countries are also scouring our shores for candidates and they do pay well) and the competition for our prime athletes from the other major sports. We need major soccer officials and soccer media personalities to stop their blind support of the current state of soccer development. Love him or hate him, Paul Gardner is the only columnist who constantly risks the ire of the soccer community by screaming that the emperor has no clothes. It's time that the entire soccer community take off their blinders and recognize that future improvements in the US player pool will require pain, specifically changing how we select and how we teach.

  3. BILL MOORE, September 1, 2010 at 10:56 a.m.

    I'd like to see LUIS ROBLES of Karlsruhe added to your list of potential GKs (or understand more of why he isn't!). There hasn't been a harder working GK in our history.

  4. Walt Pericciuoli, September 1, 2010 at 11:37 a.m.

    I agree with Froehlich. The US program needs sweeping change from top to bottom.With Gulati and Bradley, it seems to me just more of the same. Our long range plans for selecting and developing players has proven to be inadequate. Do we have to wait another four years to to prove it again? Again, Gardner is right. Our national ethnic population and culture is changing. We need to tune into the change and incorperate into our programs the best of what the latino players have to offer. What better way than to bring in experinced proven (Brazil,Argentina,Spain,Italy) trainers to set up our academy system and to teach our American coaches how best to develop the potiential latin players we have here right now

  5. James Froehlich, September 1, 2010 at 11:42 a.m.

    Walt - particularly liked your suggestion to being in Latin coaches to the existing coaches training programs -- it wouldn't be disruptive and makes use of the existing infrastructures. Gulati, are you listening???

  6. David Huff, September 1, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

    In many respects it's all about MLS and its owners keeping a stranglehold over the USMNT and related youth player development programs so that they can keep the "American" brand alive lest helpful foreign influences (i.e. non-MLS and non-British) might intrude that would demonstrate that there is more out there in the world to the American soccer consumer and youth players. I do not see USSF or MLS Bob being flexible or open enough as suggested by Walt and James to bring in key aspects of the Latin short passing and possession game. They feel threatened by such influences because it interferes with their pre-set business model. Well I say 'Eff' MLS, USSF, Gulati and Flynn, its time for a fan/player strike to prevent the rise of Domenech II foisted upon us by these clowns. I'll be very happy to watch EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Mexican, Argentinian and Brasilian league football on FSC and GolTV instead of attending/watching the inferior USSF/MLS product or buying their merchandise.

  7. Scott Olson, September 1, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

    I 1000% agree with Froelich. Until America decides that Futbol is the true world sport and not American Football (Catch) and start sinking some money into the sport. Our player pool is probably not only going to stay in the dumps, but only get worse.

    When you look at how many players are available at the HS and Select brackets, that end up going nowhere, because there are not college and feeder teams for them to get picked up, it is astounding.

    Look at the # of big name colleges that don't even offer a mens soccer program. Texas, questioningly one of the bigger markets for younger players who enjoy soccer, has how many state schools with a Men's soccer program? Could probably count them on 1 hand. Rediculous!!!

    Sorry, but I think we have bigger problems than who the coach and current players are going to be. Maybe we should start talking about whether soccer will even be around in the US at more than a High School player level in 2014, 2018 or 2022.

  8. David Sirias, September 1, 2010 at 12:37 p.m.

    The article assumes Donovan and Demsey will be back, just like Bob Bradley I imagine. Therein lies the problem. A new coach would not assume that the team will be built around two over 30 attacking players. Neither is Diego Forlan. In fact, Dempsey may not even make the team, when all shakes out. And Donovan will be more of a role player as he gets older. Four years is a long time in the world of international football. Sunil + Bradley = epic fail.

  9. Paul Sheirich, September 1, 2010 at 12:56 p.m.

    Good stuff here. At defense, we continue to hear about Onyewu - he is too inconsistent to rely on. When he is on his game, he's pretty good, but the rest of the time he's a risk. I predict he will be out of Milan shortly. I'd really rather see us work new talent throughout the field.

  10. Hal Litchford, September 1, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.

    JF- I think your earlier comments are right on the money. What this all points to is a woeful lack of vision and/or planning on the part of US Soccer and MLS. I don't think we have any disagreements there, except perhaps from (sadly) our leadership. Rather than wringing my hands any further about these inexplicable decisions I'd like to make a few suggestions that (IMO) make sense and could help us do more with the talent we all know is here.
    1. Appoint a Soccer Czar - not a known ex-player, but someone with real and demonstrated expertise in player development. This needs to be someone that clearly understands the standards we need to aspire to and how to enforce them; he needs to be able to create programs and teach the teachers how to implement them, and he must have the knowledge to plug the right people into the right positions.
    2. Scrap the U-17 Residency program. It has served it's purpose but now it's time to focus on a generation of players not 20-30. Take the millions of dollars invested in Residency and distribute it among professional clubs that meet very strict standards for youth development (as promulgated by the soccer czar) It doesn't matter if its MLS, USL, NASL or even PDL - a professional club that does youth development properly should be subsidized for it. The money is there.
    3. Standardize the US soccer calendar. Preferably with the European calendar(ie September - May with a winter break) , but regardless, we've got professional leagues, college, high school, various youth associations ect all with their own schedules and at no time is the American soccer community all focused on the game at the same time.
    4. The MLS- adidas committment to re-establishing an MLS reserve league is a step in the right direction if done correctly. Why not incorporate it with USL and utilize PDL or USL 2 clubs as part of a competitive schedule for MLS Reserve teams? A couple MLS teams have done that already but this should be part of a national system rather than decision made by an enlightened GM. The young players coming into MLS MUST get a full schedule of competitive matches if they are going to develop into the level of professional that will raise the standards in this country.
    Just as companies like Microsoft and Apple keep their competitive edges by treating Research and Development with the seriousness it requires; great soccer clubs are planning 8-10 years out, and treat their youth development in much the same way. They all understand that if you want to become or stay competitive in the future, you must plan for it.

  11. Carl Hudson, September 1, 2010 at 4:47 p.m.

    Until Youth Soccer (U7-U18) stops being a cash cow for hundreds of "coaches" and club officials, we will
    continue our mediocrity.

    As the cost for a kid to PLAY Soccer have soared from $50 a year to $2000 +
    over the last 15 years, the QUALITY of the players has deteriorated.

    How much does a BraZilian 9-year-old
    cost his parents to play soccer?

    Next to nothing, I imagine. Which is as it should be.

  12. Bill Anderson, September 1, 2010 at 9:44 p.m.

    I am sure that Raymond Domenech will be able to develop the young players for the Red, White, and Blue! Good Luck Boys...

  13. Fernando Paz, September 2, 2010 at 1:51 a.m.

    I have seen a kid that plays in the USL's PDL league that plays left back for the Kitsap Pumas in Washington state and he has enormous potential his name is Mark Lee. He made the PDL's all team this year. He is fast and smart. I do not know why he is in that league he should be in the MlS at a minimum. I beleive that kid should start getting his name thrown out there. I believe he has some videos on youtube you guys should check him out. Left Back problem solved.

  14. Don Wishon, September 2, 2010 at 10:46 a.m.

    Froehlich for USMNT Coach...

    Carl, you make some interesting points as well.

    No mention of Brek Shea?

  15. Kevin Leahy, September 2, 2010 at 9:56 p.m.

    What do you mean when you say Findley did not quit on his teammates? No one at that level should ever quit! Why do we continue to give oppurtunities to players who make a hash out of them? Kljestan, Clark and Findley to name a few.The developement of our players has too much negative influence. Not supporting MLS is short sighted. If all the supposed soccer people in this country boughts tickets to matches, we might really have something. Most of the last cycle of players came through MLS and with out the domestic league, we can kiss competing internationaaly goodbye.

  16. Bruce Moorhead, September 3, 2010 at 3:55 a.m.

    I agree with Don Wilson. Brek Shea needs a look soon in a Clint Dempsey midfielder/forward rover role. I have mixed feelings about BB. He did an adequate job, but its time for more than adequate.

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