With a single midweek date on the FIFA calendar, scheduling a match in Cape Town, South Africa removed a lot of the team building and competitive advantages of the United States' friendly versus Bafana Bafana on Wednesday. It's not reasonable for U.S. head coach Bob Bradley to call in his best team of players who play important parts in their club teams and have them fly on Monday all the way to South Africa, which could take upwards of 24 hours, and them back up on Thursday for their club matches over the weekend. From a competitive standpoint, Wednesday's match is nearly a throwaway, but with rumors floating around that South African Danny Jordaan will vote in place of one of the suspended FIFA Executive Committee members in December on the country that will host the 2022 World Cup, the sold out stadium in Cape Town to see the U.S. might be worth a vote for the United States bid.
Although the match is not a team-building exercise, it does present an opportunity for the squad to build its depth and get a look at some young players. Probably most importantly, though, the match can give a couple players the chance to prove that they can compete for time at next summer's Gold Cup at positions where the U.S. is vulnerable. Despite the U.S. not having anything resembling their best team, South Africa does so the players that see the field for the Yanks will be tested by some quality opposition.
The two most obvious areas for concern in the United States' player pool is at right back and left back. Steve Cherundolo is the class of the U.S. right backs and was one of the better Americans at the World Cup, but at 31 years old, Bradley has to find a younger option at the position if not for the 2011 Gold Cup then for the 2014 World Cup. Jonathan Spector has long been touted as the Yanks' future right back, but he is in the midst of the worst form of his life, is on the verge of being dropped by his club, West Ham, and hasn't put in a good shift for the U.S. in months. In steps Eric Lichaj, who earned his first cap last month versus Colombia as a substitute where the Aston Villa youngster showed flashes of being able to step into the position for the U.S. by next summer. Another good performance could push Lichaj past Spector on the depth chart and put his name atop the list of future right backs.
On the other side of the back line is the continued inability for the U.S. to find a quality left back. The last four years have largely been a two-man show with Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce trading bad performances that knocked them below the other until Carlos Bocanegra had to go over and spell them both. That was the case until the Americans' last two games of the World Cup when Bornstein stepped back into the starting XI and had two very good performances, making him the preferred left back option. He will be in Cape Town to try to grab a hold of the position, but he's struggled to put together a string of good matches for the U.S. since he debut in 2007 and the job would very well open up yet again. Tim Ream, the heralded rookie who plays for the New York Red Bulls, has forged himself a professional career as a center back, but he did play left back in college and Bradley has shown a willingness in the past to play players slightly out of position so it's not unthinkable that Ream gets a crack at left back in his first ever international match.
Another area where the U.S. is lacking is true wingers. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey start at outside midfield for the U.S. and both are very effective there, but Donovan is a right-footed player on the left who likes to cut in and Dempsey roams often, sometimes centrally. Neither hug the touch line and really stretch the field wide, not that it is an issue for them in particular because they are playing to their strengths. Benny Feilhaber is often Bradley's first sub used, going in on the left and like Donovan, he is right-footed and likes to cut in. Feilhaber plays well too, but Bradley could use true wingers who will stretch the field wide and change up the match some, even if it is only as a substitute. Alejandro Bedoya is a player who will get a chance in South Africa to fill that role after coming on strong for Orebro in Sweden in the last two years and being one of the last players left off of the World Cup roster. Robbie Rogers could fill that role as well, although his play has plateaued in the last couple years and some speculate a move to left back could be his best chance at an international career. If Mikkel Diskerud is deployed on the wing, he could be an answer as well, although he also plays centrally and may not get time outside versus South Africa.
After the outside back and midfield spots, there are also the young players to watch. Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury both just finished their rookie seasons in MLS and showed flashes of a bright future, although most agree they are still a couple years of development away from being able to crack the United States' roster when at its strongest. Even so, it will be each of their first matches and an opportunity to get a look at the team's possible future strikers, a very thing position for the U.S. right now. Gale Agbossoumonde has long been touted as one of the brightest young centerbacks to come through the U.S. system in a long time and after a strong performance at last year's FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Agbossoumonde will make his senior international debut on his 19th birthday should he enter the match in Cape Town.
On the whole, there isn't a lot to look for with regards to the whole team. With minimal practice time and little familiarity between the players, it is unlikely that the U.S. looks flawless, but the match is an opportunity to look at individual players who could step forward and wrest a spot even with the full team at certain positions or those who could be the future of the national team.