If you’re a fan of the U.S. Men’s National Team, this is the summer you’ve been waiting for. With World Cup Qualifying, the FIFA Confederations Cup, and the CONCACAF Gold Cup all taking place this summer, many questions surround the team, its players, and its chances for success in all three competitions.
There are several questions that many U.S. fans have about the team as it continues to take shape before June 2010:
1) Who are the 23 players who will likely head to the Confederations Cup?
Bob Bradley has intimated that he is taking this tournament very seriously, as it will provide a stern test for the U.S. team in South Africa a full year before the World Cup will be held there. As such, it will be a dress rehearsal of sorts for the U.S. program.
It will be important to send the strongest team possible, as many players will be able to see the stadiums they may play in. The U.S. has drawn a very tough first round group that includes Italy, Brazil and Egypt. I don’t expect many surprises on the list that Bob Bradley eventually announces for this prestigious tournament.
Given the tough group the U.S. has drawn, I don’t feel that the results for the U.S. will be as important as how well they play. If they can hold their own and show well on either side of the ball, then it will have been a success. Advancing to the group stage would be icing on the cake, in my view.
2) Will the U.S. get a stranglehold on the World Cup qualifying hexagonal?
The U.S. is entering its toughest stretch of games in the 10 game, home-and-away series to determine which three teams receive automatic entries to next year’s World Cup. First up is away to Costa Rica on June 3, followed by a home match in Chicago on June 6 versus Honduras.
On Aug. 12, the U.S. travels to Estadio Azteca in Mexico to face El Tri. As far as CONCACAF goes, it does not get more daunting than that. The U.S. has never won at Azteca and Honduras and Costa Rica are playing some excellent soccer right now and do not sit too far behind the U.S. in the current standings.
The U.S. should at least draw with Mexico and Costa Rica on the road and win at home vs. Honduras. Anything less will shake the team’s confidence and cause some serious worry heading into the last set of games in the fall.
3) Who are some fringe players who will get a look from Bob Bradley?
This summer, with all the games on the schedule, will give Bob Bradley an opportunity to give his entire pool a nice run out. The CONCACAF Gold Cup provides the chance for some players trying to get a look, perhaps for the last time during this World Cup cycle.
This group of players includes those coming back from injury, those trying to regain their form, and certainly some players who have not really been a part of the U.S. system in the past. Some of the players we may see at the Gold Cup include (not an exhaustive list):
Defense: Marvel Wynne, Michael Orozco, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall, Steve Cherundolo, Frank Simek, Danny Califf, Chris Wingert
Midfield: Sal Zizzo, Danny Szetela, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers, Jeremiah White, Benny Feilhaber, Jemal Johnson
FW: Eddie Johnson, Conor Casey, Chris Rolfe, Kenny Cooper
4) Who is the best player to pair with Michael Bradley in the middle of the park?
Despite some claims of nepotism, Michael Bradley will be a starter and fixture on this team in the middle of the park. But who will partner with him in the elder Bradley’s preferred lineup? We should see some experimentation from Bradley Sr. this summer as all three of the following players will be given a tryout in central midfield.
There’s a lot to like about Pablo Mastroeni, who provides solid veteran leadership and is probably the strongest defensively of the available options. However, he has a penchant for drawing untimely red cards and sometimes makes foolish challenges.
Jose Francisco Torres, with his flair and deft passing ability, has been able to calm things down and distribute well to his teammates when he has come on the field.
Even if he does not start games, he is usually the first or second substitute, as we have seen over the last several games. The question on him is whether he is big enough and has the ability to be solid defensively.
Maurice Edu is enjoying his best season as a pro now that he is starting regularly for Glasgow Rangers in Scotland. He’s playing with a lot of confidence now, and he is a two-way player.
This summer should go a long way towards determining who will be starting next to Michael Bradley in midfield in 2010.
5) What is the best lineup for the US team?
There are several glaring holes at a few positions on the team, including central midfield, left back and right back, to name just a few. But I believe based on personnel (or lack thereof) the lineup we saw in the last match will indicate what we do on June 3 and June 6.
I expect again that DaMarcus Beasley will again lineup at left back (though not his natural position) with Landon Donovan slotted at left midfield. Brian Ching and Jozy Altidore (if the latter is healthy) will be the tandem strikers in a 4-4-2 alignment.
The lack of depth at several positions is a constant worry for U.S. fans, but hopefully some players will emerge, particularly in the wing and back positions.
These are just a few of the questions fans have about the team, but we should have more answers come August.