With the manic depression that is so closely tied to passionate support of the US Men’s National Team, every new tournament elimination provides another competition to look forward to. As if the Gold Cup wasn’t hard enough to swallow, Thomas Rongen’s u20 team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup still hurts and the u17’s display against Germany which knocked them out of Mexico was downright embarrassing. So where does that leave me now? Dreamy eyed over the 2012 Olympics.
Since 1992, soccer at the Olympic Games has essentially been an under-23 tournament with 3 overage roster exceptions. I thought I’d give my predictions on the players definitely in the u23 squad and a few thoughts about eligible overage players who may get the invite to London in 2012.
In 2008, now Philadelphia Union coach Petr Nowak took a fairly strong squad to Beijing which included Michael Orozco, Michael Bradley, Dax McCarty, Maurice Edu, Charlies Davies, Benny Feilhaber, Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, and Sacha Kljestan. Many of these players rose to places in the senior national team starting XI. In that respect this survey is also a prediction of the future shape of the national team going forward.
While the US failed to bring its strongest complement of players to the Concacaf u20 tournament in Guatemala recently, most notably not calling Juan Agudelo of the New York Red Bulls. I don’t think the Olympic team coach will repeat Rongen’s mistake. Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu have been called many things over the years but they bring undeniable experience to the u23 side, having even played together in the Beijing Games. Agudelo’s performance in the Gold Cup was not great, but it was enough for an 18 year old to solidify his place in the future of the national team camp. In the semifinal and final of the Gold Cup, Adu showed the creativity that has been conspicuously missing from American teams.
This creativity and versatility can also be found in FC Dallas stand-out Brek Shea. Shea can fill in to any number of positions and is showing his knack for scoring goals in MLS this season. Mix Diskerud lit a fire in Americans’ hearts with his inch-perfect, picture-perfect pass on to Juan Agudelo in South Africa and he is progressing well with his club Stabæk in Norway.
Moving to defense, Gale Agbossoumonde made his debut in that match against the Bafana Bafana. His recent club form has not been spectacular, but throughout his tumultuous saga with TrafficSports Gale has not given up and I expect this determination to carry him through to a new club since Djurdgardens in Sweden declined the option to make his transfer permanent. A possible partner in central defense is Perry Kitchen who for plays for DC United. Although this pairing did not work particularly well in Guatemala, there were a plethora of tactical mistakes in that tournament. All in all, I think Gale needs to build up his confidence in the club setting before putting on the shirt for the national team again.
Timmy Chandler was very impressive during the friendlies in March and barring a national switch, should be a shoe-in for the Olympics. Zarek Valentin and Anthony Wallace have each gotten a fair number of appearances for the u20 national team and are starting on their MLS teams. If they continue along this path, they will be sure to get looks leading up to the tournament.
I expect the fight for goalkeeper to come down to DC United’s Bill Hamid and Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson. Hamid is the first choice keeper for his club but Johnson was called into January’s national team camp and played 45 minutes against Chile. Brian Perk could also play a factor based on his tremendous performance for L.A. Galaxy in the absence of Donovan Ricketts to injury and Josh Saunders to suspension.
Joshua Gatt recently made a stir when his manager at Molde in Norway, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, said that Manchester United should take a good hard look at him. United’s former Baby-Faced Assassin also declared interest in taking over at Old Trafford after Ferguson’s retirement, which could lead to Gatt and fellow American Sean Cunningham tagging along to Manchester. Gatt has been on a tear of form recently, with two consecutive game-winning goals in the Norwegian Tippeligaen.
Joe Benny Corona carried his team, Club Tijuana, from the second division into the Mexican Primera last season. This season started he picked up in similar form, scoring in his first match. Luis Gil was once the wonderkid on American’s lips and is still developing under Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake. The possession style they play in Utah should make Gil calm, comfortable and confident on the ball despite his young age.
The sheer physical potential of Omar Salgado warrants inclusion for consideration to the Olympic team. The concerted efforts of the Vancouver Whitecaps to develop Salgado without burning him out could produce gold for both the club and the United States when the 6’4″ striker breaks through. Forward positions on the final squad are going to be hard to come by, but Teal Bunbury’s two national team caps and the striker’s hunger after being overlooked for the Gold Cup could push him squarely into the picture. Also, the goal-scoring prowess Will Bruin has exhibited so far during the 2011 MLS season pushes his foot in the door for consideration. However, Bruin needs to follow up his strong rookie season with a second year success.
As for overage players, I don’t see a single striker robbing a place. In the Gold Cup, both of the US starting forwards were under 23. In these 3 possible roster spots, you want to look for something that the under 23 players can’t provide. In 2008, that was Brian McBride’s natural instincts in front of goal and leadership attributes. The list I compiled doesn’t have an enforcer-type defensive-minded midfielder in the mold of Jermaine Jones, but I’m waiting for the U.S.-Mexico match to see the team mentality under the Klinsmann era.
Stuart Holden can provide an undying stamina and work-rate but with the tactical awareness that’s become part of his game since joining Bolton in the EPL. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, the two studs of the USMNT, can provide something extra on the wings. Depending on the scheduling of World Cup Qualifiers in the summer of 2012, Donovan might be busy and Clint Dempsey showed an ugly side during the Gold Cup, lack of effort, a tendency to flop on minimal contact and a terrible ulcer-enducing profligacy in front of goal.
Central defense is a great position for influential leaders on the field. Bocanegra could be a reliable general for the Red, White and Blue, but I like Clarence Goodson’s calming affect out of the back. Goodson was the most consistent performer in the back line of the Gold Cup and could replace the aging Bocanegra as the go-to center back. Tim Ream got exposed and looked lost on the field during his Gold Cup opening match, but perhaps the MLS season will help him regain his form and push him further. Another player in search of form is Oguchi Onyewu, who recently signed with Sporting Lisbon and could really use the confidence that a solid club season can have to regain the confidence and fire that drove him before his knee injury.
I don’t think the US will use an overage roster spot on a goalkeeper, considering how well both Johnson and Hamid have been developing. I like the idea of bringing them both and swapping them for different group stage games just to give the squad a different complexion.
Doing this little exercise has made me very much optimistic about the future of the United States Mens’ National Team. We have so many hungry and tenacious young players in the pool; here’s hoping they can get the tactical and technical training to meet (or better yet, exceed) expectations. Here’s the squad I would take to the Olympics if the games started tomorrow.
18 Roster Spots Available:
2 Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
5 Defenders: Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Clarence Goodson (Brondy IF), Zarek Valentin (Chivas USA), Timmy Chandler (FC Nuremberg), Anthony Wallace (Colorado Rapids)
7 Midfielders: Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Josh Gatt (Molde FK), Joe Benny Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Stabæk), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Freddy Adu (Benfica), Stuart Holden (Bolton)
4 Strikers: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Omar Salgado (Vancouver Whitecaps), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo)