Gold Cup 2011: Freddy Adu and 5 Young Players Who Need to Show Promise
After the United States' narrow 2-1 defeat against soccer-juggernauts Panama on Saturday in the 2011 Gold Cup, fans are wondering what is this team really made of. There is no reason for panic, however. They played reasonably well, and lets face it: Panama are a great team filled with world-class players, so the fact the US even managed to stay on the field with them is a major accomplishment.
All jokes aside, the US is a team in transition. With the World Cup three years away and qualification practically guaranteed (isn't it great to play in a qualification group with the likes of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados?), a number of questions remain unanswered. Because of this luxury of playing virtual cupcakes for the four years in between tournaments, coach Bob Bradley has a lot of options when it comes to experimenting.
Of the original 23-man roster for the Gold Cup, only seven play their club football in MLS. The United States has done a good job of sending players abroad, getting them accustomed to playing in the best leagues in the world and bringing these lessons to their national team.
One such opportunity is this years Gold Cup. With a full-strength roster virtually intact, Bradley can look to his young players to see how they will fare in international "competition." The development of these young players will be a major factor in how far the U.S. goes when the next World Cup rolls around.
Here are five youngsters who need to improve their game before Brazil 2014.
It's all been downhill for Jozy Altidore since his big-money move to Villareal in June 2008. He has a bad loan spell at Hull City in the Premier League and is now loaned out to Turkish Club Buraspor. Fortunately for Altidore, he is only 21 and has plenty of time to develop.
Altidore has all the natural talent to be an excellent forward. It just seems like he can't put it all together at this stage in his career and maturity is one of the biggest reasons why. The next three years will be vital in his development, both for his club and country. He will be 24 at the next World Cup, which should be the prime of his career. He has already won 37 caps for the US and should add to that number through the Gold Cup.
Altidore will be counted on heavily to deliver the goals for the United States over the next three years and in the World Cup in 2014.
Ream is limited. He is good on the ball and can start an attack from defense, but he does not fare well under pressure at the back and often looks clumsy (giving away the penalty for Panama's second goal last night would be exhibit-A for that statement).
Ream has to step up his game for the United States to have any commanding presence in the heart of the defense. International-quality players will find it easy pickings attacking a player like Ream.
Once seen as the future of soccer in the United States, Freddy Adu has seen his fare share of attention. As a 14-year-old phenom for D.C. United, Adu captured the hearts of a lot of people that usually don't watch soccer.
It has been a steady decline for Adu since then, however. Bought from Real Salt Lake in July 2007 by Benfica, Adu has yet to find a landing place in his career. He has been loaned out four times—the latest to second division Turkish side Rizespor.
Adu was shockingly called up to the US squad for the Gold Cup after a significant absence from the team. However, he will likely not see any action in this year's Gold Cup, so he must prove to his country that he has grown up and become a complete footballer.
Adu has had plenty of time to prove himself and simply hasn't. His inclusion on this list is more of a result of fewer younger players in the US setup and less of actually believing he has any chance to show promise. He disappears in matches and lacks creativity to be a good attacking midfielder. His chance to be a world-class player has come and gone.
The Colombian-born forward has seen his ups and downs in his career, but it looks like the United States have a really talented player in Juan Agudelo. The 18-year-old lit up the under-17's before joining the national team and has scored a pair of goals already.
It's hard to put a lot of pressure on such a young player, but Agudelo is the key to the success of the United States. With Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey being the engines of the team, they can only do so much. They need help from the rest of the squad and Agudelo seems to be the answer to that problem. He will be 21 when Brazil 2014 rolls around, and could be a big-time player plying his trade in a major European league by then. Major teams like Roma and Atletico have already showed interest in him, and he would be smart to consider a move abroad as he continues to mature.
Agudelo needs to continue his growth for the United States as they head through the Gold Cup and into the next major international fixtures.
In soccer terms, he wouldn't qualify as young, but Maurice Edu is a player that definitely needs to show promise for the United States to have any chance of being competitive with the superpowers in the next World Cup.
One of the United States main weaknesses is the heart of the midfield. They have excellent wide players and attacking midfielders who can create quality goal-scoring chances, the defensive part of the midfield is where they tend to struggle.
Being that this is Edu's specialty, he has to step up at the international level and become a leader for this team. There is only so much encouraging a player like Donovan or Dempsey can do when they are the creators; its the gritty hard-nosed tackler that has to lead by example and fire up the team whenever they are down about themselves. The Rangers player has been a solid contributor to the team for a few years now, but solid isn't good enough when you are going against the major teams in Europe.
The combination of Jermaine Jones, Edu, and Michael Bradley is a part of the pitch that the United States have to win to keep the opposition from gaining position and launching attacks. Edu will be the main anchor on the US World Cup team in 2014 and has to prove he can be a leader and a calming influence on the team.