Now, if we emerge with any points from these three games, I will be shocked. Argentina is the #1 team in the world, and Spain and England both could make valid arguments as to why they should be the top ranked squad.
Bradley’s list of players to some looks like a roster, but to me it looks more like a list of human sacrifices.
The biggest trend on the roster is clearly the inclusion of young talent. Gone are many of the names we are accustomed to seeing take the field for the MNT. In their place is a score of under-25 players whose club success has catapulted them into the MNT discussion.
Bradley is the anti-Alexi Lalas, choosing to go with youth and desire over age and experience. As the team prepares for the 2010 World Cup, it is a wise move in my opinion to get these youngsters on the field against the world’s best now so they know what to expect two years from now.
So without further Adu (no wait, he’s included!), here is who Bradley went with for the team’s 3 most difficult challenges of 2008:
Defense: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC), Jay DeMerit (Watford FC), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Dan Califf (FC Midtjylland), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew)
Midfield: Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Eddie Lewis (Derby County), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids)
Forward: Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Nate Jaqua (Unsigned), Eddie Johnson (Fulham FC), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Josh Wolff (1860 Munich)
Some of Bradley’s selections were quite surprising. Robbie Rogers, who scored twice against SJE last weekend, is a hot young talent, but I am surprised to see him called up to play with the big boys so soon. Ditto that statement for the entire midfield, except for golden oldies DB, Lewis and Pablo.
Kenny Cooper is another name I didn’t expect to see. Cooper has had a great year with the Burn and will look to translate his growth into a regular MNT job.
Finally, the inclusions of Dominic Cervi and Nate Jaqua are odd. Since they are still unsigned (despite the fact they could play in MLS if they wanted to), maybe Bradley just wanted to make sure they don’t get too rusty. I like Cervi, but personally I think Jaqua is the Ryan Leaf of U.S. Soccer. On paper, he looks like a talent, but in games he lacks the awareness to succeed. So far anyways.
But everyone knows the snubs are more fun to talk about than the surprises, so let’s get to them. The biggest ones come between the posts. Marcus Hahnemann and Kasey Keller, two guys who are usually in the pool, are fishes-out-of-water this time (who likes Marco Polo references!). I don’t know why Bradley would want an unproven commodity like Cervi over Hahnemann and Keller, but clearly this trip is about gaining experience for young players.
And Bradley’s theory certainly makes sense when you look at the forwards. Other than Ching and Wolff, the rest of the forwards couldn’t even buy beer five years ago (well, I bet Dempsey had a great fake I.D.) These guys need to face a stifling defense now, or they will be looking for their pacifiers come 2010.
The mid is also infused with youth, including Adu, Bradley, Feilhaber, Clark, Gaven and Klejstan. The D is a little older and more experienced (which is good thing when you consider who we will be up against). Look for Carlos B. to wear the arm-band, but the Gooch to continue in his role as defensive enforcer.
All in all, I think it the roster looks great. Lots of youth, but also some experienced guys to keep the team even-keeled and calm, even as they face their toughest challenges of the year. Look for the U.S. to surprise its opponents, but still fall to the world’s soccer powers.