Bradley Explains Choices, Omissions for Gold Cup Roster

In statements released by U.S. Soccer yesterday, coach Bob Bradley said that “winning the Gold Cup this year is a top priority” and that that objective was his main focus as he selected the team for the tournament, which runs from June 5 to June 25 in venues across the United States.

Bradley went on to address specific selections and omissions.

First up, Timothy Chandler, the Nurnberg defender/midfielder who looked so promising in U.S. friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay in March.

On his omission:

“We’ve had a number of different discussions with Timmy and with the club [Nurnberg] and when we added them all up at the end of the season, his first real season playing at this level, we felt that it didn’t make sense at this time for him. He’s carried a few little injuries of late. He has told us that physically and mentally this season has been a hard one.”

On whether Chandler, who was born in Germany to a U.S. serviceman father, is keeping his international options open:

“The simple matter is that in the way things work in soccer these days, until a player plays in an official match, you don’t know for sure. In all of our conversations with Timmy he’s always expressed how excited he is to have played for the U.S. and we feel that there’s been a very good level of discussion and follow-up with him and it’s all been with the idea that he’s going to continue to play a role for us.”

On selecting San Jose Earthquakes attacker Chris Wondolowski over Sporting Kansas City Striker Teal Bunbury:

“Teal is a young striker that we certainly see a lot of potential in. I think we’ve had a good opportunity to work with him in some camps. I spoke with him and just felt that this time…. I didn’t think it was the right time for him. I don’t think he’s been as sharp as we would like so far in the season. I think that’s a sign of him continuing to mature and grow. Quite honestly, another part of it is the fact that as we watched different games we felt strongly that Chris Wondolowski was in good form. He has scored some good goals, some very different goals and Chris seems to be a player that gets a couple of chances every game. There are always a lot of variables when putting a whole roster together but those are some of them that played into the situation with Teal.”

On Herculez Gomez, who got hot at the end of the Mexican season but was not selected:

Herculez did finish the season on a good note, scoring, I think, four goals in his last five or six games. We took note of that. Herculez, whenever you bring him in, works hard. He’s a mobile guy but in this particular case, different things added up in a way and we made the decisions that we did. It is important to make it clear that it never came down to Jozy [Altidore] versus Herculez.”

On Alejandro Bedoya, who recently scored his fourth goal of the young Swedish season and was not called in:

“He’s a player we’ve seen some good things from when he’s come on into games. He has energy and willingness to be involved in the game in a good way, but nonetheless we looked at some of the other players and now in some cases you have to make some tough decisions where certain guys are almost in the same category. In this particular case, some decisions went in the favor of some other players.”

On Brad Guzan, the presumed No. 2 goalkeeper who was not called in:

“Brad made a personal decision and his schedule didn’t allow him to be available for this Gold Cup.”

On Freddy Adu:

“We have followed Freddy since he transferred to Rizespor. We’ve watched him a number of different times on the computer. We’ve not managed to get there. We watched one of his playoff games this morning, but we still feel that there are good signs from him as a player that have shown us soccer qualities that we think help our team. It hasn’t always added up enough yet with the full national team but this seems like it’s a good opportunity to get him back in with us where we have a good month together and can challenge him. We hope that he has continued to grow and mature and can play a bigger role with the national team.”

On Robbie Rogers:

“Robbie is a player that everyone knows has ability to run at people, get behind people, and he’s capable of playing on both flanks. Thus far in MLS this year he started the season having missed the January camp because he had knee surgery following last year. I think his mobility and his energy in the team have been good. We felt it was a good time to get him back with us and build on some of the things that we’ve seen over the years. We all know that Robbie has a lot of talent and in different moments with the national team it has come out in a very good way and now we think this is a good time to see if we can push it a little further.”

As for Charlie Davies, Bradley said that while the goal-scoring component of Davies’ game is healthy, he believes Davies still needs to improve in other areas.

The U.S. opens the Gold Cup against Canada on June 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.

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Which U.S. Newbies Should Go to Cairo on Feb. 9?

We’ve said it before, but after this past Saturday’s friendly against Chile, it bears repeating: no two observers of a U.S. national team game will come away with the same impression.

Take a look at the player ratings here, here, here, and here to get an idea of what we mean.

One observer called central midfielder Dax McCarty “Xavi light” (a huge reach), while another said he was industrious but inconsistent (closer to reality). There were also notably mixed reviews for Zach Loyd, Brek Shea, Mikkel Diskerud and Sean Franklin.

The only players who drew a consensus in the postgame breakdowns were Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, and Tim Ream—and on the negative side, Marvell Wynne.

Just to add to the Tower of Babel of analysis, we happen to disagree on those last two.

Ream had a good game, and he started the play that led to the U.S. equalizer, but, as often happens when he plays with New York (we watched every game last season), he seemingly made one dangerous giveaway for every two pinpoint passes out of the back.

He made two howlers on Saturday, and on the second one, he was bailed out by … everyone’s whipping boy, Marvell Wynne.

Wynne was unanimously dismissed following his debut at center-back (he’d previously played out wide for the U.S.), but we would still leave the door open for this player if we were in charge. He wasn’t as lost versus Chile as critics claimed, and his athleticism is completely off the charts. If he improves his positioning and reading of the game, he can contribute for the U.S.

In any event, only a few of the players from the Chile match (if any) will be a part of the U.S. squad when it faces reigning African champions Egypt on Feb 9 in Cairo.

That’s a FIFA international fixture date, so coach Bob Bradley will have access to all of his foreign-based first-team players. (Sidenote: how will in-form midfielder Stuart Holden fit into that one? Not to mention recent Blackburn Man-of-the-Match Jermaine Jones.)

Which youngsters will he choose to integrate into his first-choice squad? If he takes any at all, this is how we see it breaking down:

Likely:

Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream

The U.S. coach is known for bringing along youngsters slowly, but considering the U.S.’s thinness at forward, he might include the 18-year-old Agudelo and see how he mixes with the first-choice veterans.

Ream is older (23) and clearly has the potential to succeed the likes of Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit in the center of defense. It’s doubtful that any of those three will be with the U.S. come Brazil 2014.

Possible:

Teal Bunbury

Along with Agudelo (and a handful of designated players), Bunbury will be one of the most interesting players to watch in MLS this season. He came on very strong at the end of last year, and carried the momentum into an offseason of a lifetime (goalfest in Spain with the Generation adidas team, national-team debut, first national-team goal, and Pablo Ramirez–aided YouTube fame).

Mikkel Diskerud

He wasn’t great against Chile, but may have been ill-suited to his first-half role. When Agudelo and Bunbury came in to give the U.S. two strikers, Mix livened up and looked more effective. The U.S. needs players with his Feilhaber-esque skill and creativity.

Sleeper:

Zach Loyd

He doesn’t even start for FC Dallas (though that could change this year), so it may be a reach to tab him for a full international against the African champions. But Loyd is competing for the left-back position, where the U.S. hasn’t had a completely reliable option for years. He was overexcited at times versus Chile, but he’s highly athletic and made some impressive plays on Saturday. Don’t count him out.

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:

——————-Rimando———————-

Franklin—-Ream—-Gonzalez—-Wallace

Shea—-Diskerud—-McCarty—-Bedoya

———-Agudelo——Bunbury

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.

Generation adidas Team Wraps Up Unbeaten Tour of Spain

You can’t read too much into games like these, but the MLS Generation adidas side has to feel pretty good about the three wins it just reeled off in Spain.

With only two natural defenders on their roster (Dallas winger Brek Shea played in the back), the GA team knocked off the reserve sides of venerable La Liga teams Real Madrid (2-1), Rayo Vallecano (1-0 in a driving rain), and Atletico Madrid (4-1)—all of which are in midseason, with players (presumably) eager to claw their way into the first team.

Here are the highlights from yesterday’s rout of Atletico, with an own goal created by FC Dallas midfielder Andrew Wiedeman, two strikes from Sporting KC striker Teal Bunbury and one from Red Bulls youngster Juan Agudelo:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Juan Agudelo

Seventeen-year-old Red Bulls rookie Juan Agudelo made his U.S. national team debut today against South Africa, and a memorable one it was.

The teenager bagged the game’s only goal, off a fantastic assist from fellow debutant Mikkel Diskerud, to become the youngest player ever to score for the U.S. in the modern era.

Here it is:

The young striker, who turns 18 in a week, came on for Robbie Rogers in the 65th minute, and scored the winner in the 85th. The victory lifts the U.S.’s record to 5-5-4 for the year (the Nats have not had a sub .500 record since 1997).

In all it was a bright game for the U.S., and one in which five players earned their first cap: In addition to Diskerud and Agudelo, the latter’s Red Bulls teammate Tim Ream debuted, along with Canadian-American striker Teal Bunbury, and 19-year-old defender Gale Agbossoumonde.

Ream started and played well in central defense alongside Clarence Goodson. Other U.S. bright spots included right back Eric Lichaj, earning his second cap, and winger Alejandro Bedoya, who made several dangerous runs on the flank.