Who Should Bradley Start Versus Chile Tomorrow?

For those who follow the U.S. men’s national team closely, tomorrow night’s friendly against Chile at the Home Depot Center (10:00 p.m. EST, TeleFutura, ESPN3.com) is must-see TV.

Of the 24 players Bob Bradley called into camp three weeks ago, 12 have never played for the U.S. before, and six have appeared just once in a U.S. shirt. This game will be all about new blood for the U.S. It’ll be an international test for a new generation of players, and for MLS as well: 20 of the 24 original call-ups are MLS players. (Zenit St. Petersburg striker Eugene Starikov was later added to the roster and Chivas USA’s Justin Braun and FC Dallas’s Ugo Ihemelu left camp with injuries last week.)

So who should take the field for the Red, White and Blue?

Here’s the list of available players:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Dominic Cervi (Celtic), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (9): A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles Galaxy), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Ryan Miller (Halmstads BK), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Anthony Wallace (Colorado Rapids), Marvell Wynne (Colorado Rapids)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Eric Alexander (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Dax McCarty (D.C. United), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Eugene Starikov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Here’s the group we’d like to see at the start:





Up top, we think you have to keep the momentum going for both Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury. The 18-year-old Agudelo scored in his U.S. debut this past November against South Africa, and Bunbury, 20,  really came on at the end of the MLS season and beyond: after a solid U.S. debut against South Africa, he lit it up in Spain with the Generation adidas team.

In the midfield, we’d like to see the young Norwegian-American Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud get an extended run. He sparkled in a brief appearance in the South Africa game, setting up Agudelo’s goal, and he plays regularly for his club.

Dax McCarty would make a good holding-mid complement to Diskerud—as would Jeff Larentowicz, but we’ll go with the slightly more experienced McCarty (two caps to the Ginger Ninja’s none). Plus it would give the U.S. a ‘Dax’ and a ‘Mix’ in midfield. So they’d have that going for them.

Here’s Diskerrud’s nifty assist on Agudelo’s goal against South Africa (with Bunbury crashing the box as well):

Anthony Wallace gets the nod at left back because he’s the only left-footed defender in the group. Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez could be the USMNT centerback pairing of the future.

The (likely) substitute we’re most eager to see in action is the 22-year-old Ukraine-born, Florida-raised striker Eugene Starikov (read his story and see clips of him in action here).

They’ve just met this month, and have obviously never played together before, but it would be interesting to see Starikov alongside 2010 MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski. It would also match two players whose paths to the USMNT were unorthodox—to say the least. Click here to read about Wondolowski’s journey from Division II Chico State to the pinnacle of U.S. Soccer.

Another player who took a non-traditional route to this camp is defender Ryan Miller, who was drafted by the Columbus Crew in 2008 after a successful college career at Notre Dame. When his MLS career didn’t pan out—he was waived by Columbus and DC United—Miller auditioned for several clubs in Europe, eventually latching on to second division Swedish outfit Ljungskile SK.

He did well enough there to be snapped up by Swedish top-flight side Halmstads BK. After earning a regular spot in the Halmstads lineup last season, making 26 appearances, the Illinois native drew Bradley’s attention. Look for Miller in the seccond half tomorrow night.

Bob Bradley Scours Globe, Calls In Eugene Starikov to January Camp

A 22-year-old striker, Eugene Starikov was born in the Ukraine, moved to Florida as a kid, and went to high school outside Tampa.

He enrolled at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., in the fall of 2007, and went on to tally 10 goals and six assists in 12 starts for the Hatters (actual nickname, seriously; check out the logo) before deciding, early in his sophomore year, to sign a contract with Zenit St. Petersburg, a club with which he had a family connection.

Zenit had just won the Russian top flight and the UEFA Cup, so they were not short on talent, and Starilkov was assigned to the club’s youth team. He did well (six goals in 22 games), but with first-team opportunities scarce at the championship side, he was loaned last spring to FC Tom Tomsk, a Russian Premier League team whose home stadium is in the city of Tomsk in the southwest of Siberian Federal District, Russia.

That’s  right, Bob Bradley—whose critics have charged that his player-selection range is too narrow—just pulled a player from Siberia to join the USMNT.

Next week he’s sending a delegation of scouts to Tierra del Fuego to look for talent.

Kidding aside, Starikov isn’t a completely-off-the-radar choice. He spoke to Yanks Abroad last spring, and the idea of a U.S. call-up entered the conversation.

Now it’s become a reality. Yesterday, Starikov joined the 24 other U.S. players in camp in Carson, CA.

Here he is scoring on a bicycle kick at Stetson (you have to watch it twice to see that it’s a bike—and a good one):

And here he is scoring the first RPL goal of his career, this season for Tomsk (he’s known as ‘Yevgeni’ in Russia):

H/T to Brian Straus for Starikov CV, and No Short Corners for Russian video.