U.S. youngsters getting their shot
To grasp just how young and inexperienced the roster called up by U.S. men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley for his team’s January camp is, consider this.
The most experienced national team player among the 24 call-ups is midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.
He’s 23-years old and has a grand total of six national team appearances.
Bradley is using the first camp of 2011 to take a long look at a strong crop of young players who impressed in MLS play in 2010. With a total of six 2010 rookies among the call-ups, Bradley went about as young as he could go.
So why the emphasis on youth? It’s a luxury Bradley has because there are no World Cup qualifiers or important matches on the immediate horizon.
“The Gold Cup doesn’t begin until June, so we have a little more time there,” Bradley said. “We also understand going forward that it’s an opportunity to at least begin the process of looking at some Under-23 players, players that will be able to play for our Olympic team in qualifying.
“We really tried to focus on players that have not been in January camps so that we could see what some of these new faces are all about and get to see them in this situation.”
The emphasis on youth is presumably what kept off San Jose fullback/winger Bobby Convey, who finished off an outstanding season with the Earthquakes. The lack of qualifying left backs and left wingers seemed to make Convey an easy pick, but a long-rumored rift between Convey and Bradley has made a Convey call-up anything but a sure thing, with Convey even going so far as to say he doesn’t think he will ever be called in while Bradley is U.S. head coach.
The youth movement didn’t keep all MLS veterans out of camp. MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski earned a much-deserved call. His clutch goal-scoring thoroughly impressed, though at 27 it is unclear just how much of a viable long-term option he can be.
Jeff Larentowicz is another veteran who earned a well-deserved call-up. As one of the key members of Colorado’s championship team, Larentowicz is getting a second chance at a January camp after having last January’s national team camp cut short by a knee injury.
Those hoping to see a full-strength U.S. team are going to have to wait until the Feb. 9th friendly against Egypt, but that team could feature young players who impress Bradley enough in the nearly three-week camp in January.
So who are these kids making up the youngest national team roster in decades? Here is a closer look at the young players Bradley will be working with next month:
GOALKEEPERS: Dom Cervi is the No. 3 goalkeeper at Celtic, but is ready to make a move to seek playing time. Sean Johnson impressed considerably after taking over as the Chicago Fire’s starting goalkeeper in mid-season.
DEFENDERS: A.J. De La Garza showed good versatility in his second pro season with Los Angeles while teammate Sean Franklin was arguably the best right back in MLS this season. They are joined by fellow L.A. defender and MLS Best XI selection Omar Gonzalez, whose national team debut came in a start against Brazil in August.
Tim Ream is a skillful centerback who anchored New York’s defense as a rookie while Ryan Miller enjoyed success in his first year in Sweden. Anthony Wallace is a former U.S. Under-20 national team starter and just started on Colorado’s MLS Cup-winning back-line. He’ll get a look at the troublesome left back position. Zach Loyd did well as a rookie multiple positions for FC Dallas, but he faces stiff competition at right back in this camp.
MIDFIELDERS: Eric Alexander was one of the most surprising rookie standouts in MLS in 2010, playing well enough to have FC Dallas let Dax McCarty go in the MLS Expansion Draft. Boasting a tireless motor and good attacking qualities, Alexander has a bright future.
Mikkel Diskerud is a budding star in Norway and flashed his passing skills in the U.S. team’s win against South Africa last month. Brek Shea looked nervous and overwhelmed in his national team debut in October, but will get another chance to show his skills on the wing.
FORWARDS: Arguably the most exciting national team prospect in the pool, Juan Agudelo flashed his ability with a game-winning goal against South Africa in his national team debut in November. He boasts speed that the rest of the forward pool in this camp doesn’t.
Teal Bunbury was also impressive against South Africa, as he was in his rookie season for the Kansas City Wizards. Justin Braun went under the radar in 2010 on a poor Chivas USA team, but he’s a young goal-scorer who impressed Bradley with his play.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer.