7 Players 23 and Younger to Watch from United States Men's National Soccer Team

Kirby GraffContributor IJuly 10, 2011

7 Players 23 and Younger to Watch from United States Men's National Soccer Team

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    After the disappointing Gold Cup final against Mexico, the lingering question is where is this team going forward?  The likes of Dempsey, Howard and Donovan are sure to make the next World Cup qualifying run as stalwarts, but the rest of the team is a question mark.  Here are seven players 23 and younger that could possibly make some noise.

Juan Agudelo

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    Age: 18

    Position: forward

    USMNT Profile: 10 appearances, two goals

    2011 Club Profile: New York Red Bulls, 14 appearances, four goals  

    Both Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore, and to some extent Bunbury, are supposed to be the forwards that save U.S. Men's Soccer.  He scored the only goal in his first cap against South Africa, and he scored the equalizer against Argentina in a friendly the U.S. did not deserve to draw.  

    His Gold Cup performance was slightly disappointing, but to his credit he is only 18.  He uses his speed to free up the sidelines and other teammates, and his range on the field both offensively and defensively is impressive.  He still needs to learn to hold the ball better up top and fight through rough center backs, but his future is bright.   

    Since the addition of Luke Rodgers to the Red Bulls, Agudelo has been used as a super sub.  Effective, but the more time he spends on the field the better for US soccer. 

    Here is a pretty good YouTube highlight mix.

Jozy Altidore

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    Age: 21

    Position: forward

    USMNT profile: 39 appearances, 12 goals

    2011 Club Profile: Villarreal has his rights, but he is on loan to Bursaspor in Turkey.  Twelve appearances, 1 goal.

    Before the recent Juan Agudelo love fest as the next U.S. forward prodigy, Jozy Altidore was the next big thing.  He scored a hat trick against Trinidad and Tobago, and perhaps the biggest goal of his career came against Spain in a 2-0 semifinal victory in the 2009 Confederations Cup.  

    However, both of those situations were over two years ago.  He appeared in every match during the 2010 World Cup, but both he and all the other U.S. forwards failed to score in the tournament.  

    His biggest knock is his motor.  When he is playing well, he is making smart runs and uses his size to control the box.  When he is not playing well, he seems to jog around and seem disinterested.  

    Bob Bradley really wants to use the 4-5-1 formation.  To date, the only person somewhat capable of commanding the lone forward position has been Altidore.  More recently the United States has been using 4-4-2 with Altidore paired up with someone quicker.  Ideally, Juan Agudelo or maybe even Clint Dempsey can fit that creative and fast player to compliment Jozy, but that chemistry hasn't happened quite yet.

    Jozy Altidore needs more consistent minutes with his teams, along with a positive growth focused culture.  He feeds off of good vibes, and sulks with bad ones.      

    Let's hope for more strikes like this.

Teal Bunbury

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    Age: 21

    Position: forward

    USMNT Profile: two appearances, one goal

    2011 Club Profile: Sporting KC, 15 appearances, three goals

    Teal Bunbury barely missed being named to the United States Gold Cup squad last month.  Despite that, he has a bright future.  His playing style combines speed and strength.  Basically, he is a combination of Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore.

    Over at ESPN, Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote an article about how Ajax wants to expand its presence and style in the United States.  Ajax uses a 4-3-3 attacking and touch pass style of football, and the hopeful soul in me wishes that Jozy Altidore, Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo could all play at the same time.  Nevertheless that would crowd our midfield, and one of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden would be left out.

    Bunbury has played well in his time at Sporting KC, and if he continues his growth he will be on the U.S. roster during all of World Cup 2014 qualifying and beyond.  

    Here are two Bunbury goals.

Mixx Diskerud

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    Age: 20

    Position: midfielder

    USMNT Profile: two appearances, zero goals

    2011 Club Profile: Stabaek in Norway, six appearances, two goals

    This Norwegian-American has very little experience with the U.S. Men's National Team, but in his little time he has shown some creative flashes.  For example, he assisted Juan Agudelo's goal against South Africa.

    He plays in the top league in Norway, which by all accounts is a very competitive league.  However, it is not one of the top leagues in the world.  Mixx needs more competition for him to improve at the national level. 

    Landon Donovan is 29 and Clint Dempsey is 28. Those two cannot play forever for this team, and Landon Donovan seemed a step slow during the 2011 Gold Cup.  Mixx will get his chance, and hopefully he makes the most of it.     

    Hard to find video evidence, but he makes a nifty pass to Agudelo here.

Timothy Chandler

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    Age: 21

    Position: defender 

    USMNT profile: two appearances, zero goals

    2011 Club Profile: Bundesliga, FC Nurnberg, 14 appearances, one goal

     Chandler was perhaps the biggest omission from the U.S. Gold Cup squad.  He is fast.  He makes long attacking runs and has the talent to create numerous opportunities for the national team.  The U.S. has long had defender issues, and if he can continue to provide speed and solid defense he should team up well with the pass first Tim Ream.  

Tim Ream

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    Age: 23

    Position: defender

    USMNT Profile: six appearances, zero goals

    2011 Club Profile: MLS, New York Red Bulls, 11 appearances, zero goals

    Ream currently has the highest potential among the up and coming U.S. defenders.  Ream's best quality is his passing out of the defense.  The U.S. National Team under Bradley often plays the bend-don't-break and counterattack style of offense.  Ream's passing can lead to wide-open runs by the midfielders.  

    However, Ream still has some work to do.  He may have a lot of talent, but his youth is his biggest crutch. This was very evident during the Gold Cup.  Ream started the first few matches up until the Guadalupe game.  His poor performance against Panama, including giving up a penalty, helped the United States lose that match 2-1.  

    After that game, he did not play at all.  Hopefully, Bob Bradley doesn't hold a grudge, because Ream is a defender of the future.    

    These highlights were from some time ago.

Eric Lichaj

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    Age: 22

    Position: right back/left back

    USMNT profile: seven appearances, zero goals

    2011 Club Profile: on loan to Leeds United, zero goals 

    The most tumultuous position for the United States has been the left back.  Eric Lichaj seems to be an option going forward.  He played in the final four games of the Gold Cup and held his own for the most part.  

    My favorite random skill of his is his sideline passing.  He can thrown the ball in to the middle of the field from the sideline.  It is almost like a free kick.

    Given the opportunity, his unique skills will be invaluable going forward.   

Honorable Mentions

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    Freddy Adu: the original US soccer prodigy.  He had a revival in the Gold Cup, but he needs more consistent playing time at the club level.  

    Omar Gonzalez: This big defender for the LA Galaxy has been good thus far and will see some time for the national team in the future.  

    Brek Shea: Both he and Mixx Diskerud are the current heir apparents to Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

    Jose Torres: He still needs to choose between the U.S. and Mexico, but he will have a better opportunity with the U.S.