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U.S. youngsters under the spotlight

Juan Agudelo USA PI
Agudelo provided the spark for the USA's equalizer against Chile.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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In the same month that American Idol returned to the air, another talent competition was taking place in the Los Angeles area, only it didn’t involve bad singing and celebrity judges.

It involved a new crop of U.S. national team prospects, and just like American Idol, some were much more ready for prime time than others.

The U.S. team’s 1-1 draw against Chile on Saturday night was every bit an audition, and while some were up for the challenge, others clearly were not.

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Playing the role of supremely talented youngsters who look like can’t-miss future stars were Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury, who came on as second half subs and pumped life into a stalling U.S. attack. They both showed why they’re considered prime candidates to be fast-tracked to the full senior team despite being 18 and 21, respectively.

Playing the role of the solid performer who had moments but lacked some star power was Dax McCarty, who was steady and earned future consideration even if he is unlikely to break through the stockpile of central midfield talent in the U.S. national team pool. Nick Rimando was in a similar position. A pro’s pro, but unlikely to be the headlining goalkeeper for the national team any time soon.

Then you had the awful auditions by older contestants who made you both cringe and wonder why they were there in the first place. Jeff Larentowicz, who could have been named Man of the Match of last November’s MLS Cup final, looked flat-out lost in his national team debut, while Marvell Wynne’s return to the national team fold was about as mistake-prone and ugly as his last tour of duty almost two years ago.

Bob Bradley probably wasn’t too fazed by the forgettable performances. He knows, much like American Idol judges know, that for every superstar you find there are a number of entrants who just aren’t ready to make the big jump, and there are also those who are good solely for blooper reels and punchlines.

Matches like Saturday night’s are about finding those worthy of keeping around, and those good enough to merit being given a golden ticket -- which in the case of the U.S. national team means moving on to a potential place with the full-strength first team. There weren’t any flat-out unforgettable performances, but there were several players who could walk away from Home Depot Center confident that their auditions were more positive than negative.

POLL

  • Who was the USA's best against Chile?
    • Dax McCarty
    • Teal Bunbury
    • Juan Agudelo
    • Zach Loyd
    • Tim Ream
    • Someone else

Who did well on Saturday for the United States? Here are some players who helped their cause:

Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury: They’ll be grouped together for some time as the future of the forward position. Agudelo’s skill on the ball and willlingness to run at people is exciting to watch, while Bunbury’s size and mobility make him a nice long-term target forward prospect.

Tim Ream: Bob Bradley needs center backs, and while Omar Gonzalez is certainly in the conversation of up-and-coming options, Ream stood out for his passing and confidence on the ball. He sparked several attacks out of the back, including the first pass on the penalty-inducing sequence.

Mikkel Diskerud: No, he didn’t have a magical assist like he had against South Africa, but he showed that there’s more to his game than slick moves. His work rate and willingness to get in on challenges showed a player who, while still young and developing, is more well-rounded than first thought.

Zach Loyd: The seemingly never-ending search for a good left back led Bradley to try out Loyd and the FC Dallas rookie impressed after some rough early moments. Loyd’s speed stood out, and he looked better as the game went on. He did more than enough to merit more looks at the position.

Dax McCarty: Though he’s just 23, McCarty is more experienced than most of his teammates and he looked like a comfortable vet on Saturday. He had a great early shot hat forced a tough save and made several smart passes. He had his fair share of turnovers though as well.

So which players had disappointing nights, and for some, probably played themselves off the national team radar? Here are some:

Marvell Wynne: Part of the reason Colorado won an MLS Cup was because Wynne made a seamless transition from right back to center back. On Saturday, Wynne didn’t show the consistency and quality he had shown for the Rapids, losing his mark on Chile’s goal and generally looking shaky for his 45 minutes. He’s still an amazing athlete, but you wonder if he’ll get any more national team looks.

Jeff Larentowicz: Much like Wynne, Larentowicz looked little like the player who had a stellar season for the Rapids. He looked lost and overwhelmed at times, though he seemed to find his feet later in the match. He’s one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS, but didn’t help his chances of getting more national team looks.

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Brek Shea: Fifteen minutes into Saturday’s match, Shea showed good pace and movement, connecting on passes and looking very impressive. Then, his game completely fell apart. He wandered, lost the ball, didn’t defend and pretty much looked as bad as he did in his national team debut against Colombia. He’s young and athletic, but he seems to lack soccer smarts and doesn’t look like a viable national team option any time soon.

Chris Wondolowski: The MLS goal scoring leader failed to make an impact, but that had as much to do with the offense not clicking and him being miscast as the lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation. That said, there are still lingering doubts about whether he has the pace to produce on the international level. If the U.S. team is moving away from the 4-4-2 and toward a 4-2-3-1, Wondolowski may not have a real chance to break through.

Sean Franklin: The Galaxy defender had an extremely rough start to the match, nearly giving up a penalty and being beaten repeatedly, but he did settle down in the second half and looked steadier. Was the recovery enough to keep him near the top of the pecking order at right back? Steve Cherundolo, Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Spector should feel safe.

Alejandro Bedoya: One of the more highly-regarded players in this group, Bedoya contributed little to the attack on the night, but that was due in large part to the U.S. offense working more on the left flank. Bedoya put in serious work tracking back and helping Franklin against a tough Chilean flank, but he showed little of the attacking quality that nearly earned him a World Cup roster spot.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer.

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