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Just a few months ago, United States Men's National Team coach Bob Bradley felt compelled to start Ricardo Clark at center mid in the World Cup's Round of 16. The decision was seen as one that nearly cost him his job. Part of the problem, though, was that Bradley's options were limited. Although Maurice Edu was eventually brought on, and Benny Feilhaber's addition to the lineup helped improve the USA's play that day, it was a lineup that hadn't been used much prior to the Ghana match.
About six months later, Clark might not even be among the USA's top five center mids. As Daily Soccer Fix's Steve Davis points out, we are seeing a host of quality emerge in the middle of the field for the U.S.
In the fall, you would have called Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones the top central midfielders available to Bob Bradley’s national team. And those were two pretty reasonable choices, although Jones’ relationship with his Bundesliga club was turning sour, and that’s never a good thing. The depth soon fell off after that.
But the calendar turned, there was a little development here, a little switcheroo there and … voila! You can’t swing a corner flag around a U.S. national team practice now without hitting an in-form center mid.
Stu Holden, who barely even got on the field during the World Cup, suddenly looks like a clear starter for the USMNT as he continues to impress at Bolton. Mikkel Diskerud hadn't even suited up for the U.S. until late 2010 and now is emerging as another legitimate starting option as soon as this year's Gold Cup. Dax McCarty has been largely praised as the USMNT's best player against Chile and also deserves consideration. Even Jonathan Spector seems to be a legitimate option since moving from right back at West Ham.
The best part of all of this for U.S. fans? Jones (29) and Feilhaber (26) are the only two players among this group older than 25.
It was an up and down performance from the USMNT in the so-called "Camp Cupcake" match, but there were plenty of positives to take out of their 1-1 draw with Chile. Some players put in so-so or even poor performances to rule themselves out of competitive United States teams in the near future, but there were just as many players who put in positive performances that make them appear to be viable options for the senior squad.
The first half was rather uneventful, with Dax McCarty creating the United States' best chance on a 30 yard shot where he attempted to catch the Chile keeper off his line, which was saved. MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski was often isolated up top and failed to make an impact on the game. Sean Franklin was the player who hurt his stock and the team the most in the first half, getting caught out of position and committing silly fouls on more than one occasion.
Chile opened the scoring in the second half through Esteban Paredes, thanks to some poor defending by Marvell Wynne. Zach Loyd was not completely blameless for the goal either, as the left back was turned around and provided little opposition to Chile's cross into the box. This would not be the last error for Wynne, who was substituted on for Omar Gonzalez, in the center of defense.
That goal prompted Bob Bradley to bring Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury into the game for struggling players Brek Shea and Chris Wondolowski, and they made an immediate impact.
Eventually, their impact lead to a goal as Agudelo drew a penalty. Though he embellished the contact, it appeared that he was, indeed, fouled. Teal Bunbury stepped up to the spot and buried the penalty kick, tying up the game at 1-1.
Bunbury and Agudelo were among the best players for the United States, and their performances has probably cost Chris Wondolowski any place in the team in the near future. Dax McCarty and Tim Ream were also very good for the United States. Zach Loyd, while he made a few mistakes, looked very promising and provided the team with a lot of energy. All in all, while some players disappointed, there were more positives than negatives tonight from a young, inexperienced United States squad.
80:00 - Goal Chile...or not. It looked like Esteban Paredes had his second goal of the match through a header, but he was just barely offside. Marvell Wynne did poorly to not step up and allow it to be a close call.
82:00 - Since the United States equalizer, it's been mostly one way traffic with Chile controlling the play. Sebastian Toro just ruined one of their moves, though, diving when he probably had a shot if he stayed up. He was shown a yellow card. John Harkes said he would have sent the player off. Rules, who needs them?
83:00 - FC Dallas youngster Eric Alexander has been substituted on for Alejandro Bedoya, who was limping. Bedoya was on the fringes of the World Cup squad, but he did not have a very good match tonight.
84:00 - Sean Franklin commits a terrible giveaway in the middle of the field, not his first of the night. He has looked like a shell of the player who had a spectacular season for Los Angles Galaxy.
85:00 - Juan Agudelo has another chance after getting sent through by Teal Bunbury. Unfortunately, Agudelo's shot goes right to the keeper. Bunbury and Agudelo look very confident as a pairing and they have changed the game significantly since they have come on.
88:00 - Though he might have won the MLS Golden Boot, Chris Wondolowski's future USMNT place has been killed tonight, but by no fault of his own. Teal Bunbury is killing it, showing off some nice skills. He hit a backheel flick out of the air to play himself into space.
89:00 - Esteban Paredes dives again. He is not sent off, because that would be outrageous. Once again, John Harkes is displeased about this.
90:00 + 1 - Dax McCarty takes a rip from 25 yards, but his shot is blocked by a defender. He's had a very solid match in the middle of the pitch.
FULL TIME: United States 1-1 Chile. A solid showing from some youngsters, and some damning showings from some others. Teal Bunbury's substitute appearance was probably the highlight of the match, while Tim Ream and Dax McCarty put in great 90 minute shifts.
61:00 - Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo are on for the USA in place of Brek Shea and Chris Wondolowski, and the young forward pairing shows their potential to cause Chile problems, as the Americans break quickly down the right but fail to produce a good opportunity. Both Agudelo and Bunbury like to attack down the left, so this pair of substitutions could make the US even more left-side dominant.
64:00 - There's a fluke chance for the US as Alejandro Bedoya breaks through, the Chilean goalkeeper Garces comes to claim the through ball but drops it, and the ball's momentum carries it through. Bedoya was already beyond the goalkeeper and wasn't able to take advantage of the chance, but the USA could have taken advantage if anyone had been making a late run into the box
73:00 - After some back-and-forth attacks, Juan Agudelo breaks into the penalty area and is clipped -- the referee points to the spot, penalty to the USA! It's a very soft one, as the defender barely makes contact, but Teal Bunbury doesn't care, he steps up and scores his first senior international goal to level the score at 1-1.
46:00 - The United States has made two substitutions to start the second half. Marvell Wynne of the Colorado Rapids will replace Omar Gonzalez in central defense, while young Sean Johnson of the Chicago Fire replaces Nick Rimando in goal, as expected. Wynne is a much different player than Gonzalez, so this might be as much about figuring out Tim Ream's best partner as it is about seeing Wynne. Gonzalez is a towering, slower player while Wynne is smaller and blazing fast.
53:00 - We're now off the mark in finding the answer -- Chile go 1-0 ahead through Esteban Paredes after a horrendous error from Marvell Wynne. Meneses got past Zach Loyd on the Chilean right wing and laid the ball out for Felipe Seymour, whose cross eluded an overcommitted Wynne. Alejandro Bedoya was back defending alongside Ream and Wynne, but the ball got past him as well and fell for Paredes, the only member of this Chilean side who was in South Africa during the summer.
34:00 - When Chile seems interested in keeping the ball, the United States doesn't look like they have any chance to win it back. Fortunately for them, Chile's been trying a fair amount of long ball. Against a team they're more skilled than and much smaller than. Yeah, I don't get it either.
37:00 - Chris Wondolowski has not been impressive, but it's hardly by any fault of his own. He's getting frustrated at his lack of touches, and he just committed a foul while tracking back to try to find the ball. Hopefully he doesn't start drifting, because the United States will need him to be in position if they actually do get an attack together. After a solid start, it' been all Chile for about 10 minutes.
43:00 - This match has settled down a bit with not a whole lot happening. Chris Wondolowski has remained isolated, Brek Shea has struggled, and Jeff Larentowicz has not had a major impact on the game. Like I noted in an earlier update, the right sided players are not playing well. Still, there are positives. Dax McCarty, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Nick Rimando have all been superb. Mikkel Diskerud has been neither good, nor bad. Zach Loyd, while he has shown his age at times, has shown more promise than problems.
Halftime: Bob Bradley has some decisions to make, and we'll likely see multiple substitutions after the break.
15:00 - This is hardly Chile's best team, but it has to be said that the central defense pairing of Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez has been impressive up to this point. Chile's only opportunities have been set pieces and long shots.
17:00 - A Chilean defender is shown a yellow card for a trip on Brek Shea out on the wing, and it was probably a smart foul. Shea was off to the races. One of Chile's assistant coaches protests the decision and is sent off.
21:00 - Unfortunately, Mikkel Diskerud and Chris Wondolowski have not been on the same page. Every time they have tried to connect with each other, it's just been a little bit off. If they had any kind of chemistry, the United States might have a couple more good scoring opportunities at this point.
23:00 - Zach Loyd continues to play extremely jacked up and he's paid the consequences, picking up a yellow card.
26:00 - Chile has a free kick from 25 yards and the free kick is curled around the wall but saved comfortably by Nick Rimando.
30:00 - Good news for D.C. United fans. Other than the central defenders, Dax McCarty is probably the best player on the pitch. The right side of the pitch has done nothing for the United States. Alejandro Bedoya has been invisible and Sean Franklin has not been dangerous going forward like he is for the Los Angeles Galaxy. After a solid start, the United States has been incredibly predictable lately.
4:00 - Both teams are failing to settle into the match, but in the opening minutes of a match between two teams of players who have never played together, this is hardly surprising or concerning. Most of the United States' play is coming down the left hand flank to start the match.
5:00 - Sean Franklin of the United States commits a very silly foul on the edge of the box after getting thoroughly schooled on the wing, very close to a penalty. In a real game, Franklin would have seen a yellow. On the ensuing free kick, Nick Rimando makes a nice save on a curled attempt.
8:00 - Zach Loyd is looking extremely lively on the left side, but he seems a little too jacked up to be getting his first cap. His effort is admirable, but his play is a bit sloppy.
9:00 - Dax McCarty takes a long free kick from 45 yards out, sending the ball into the box, but the team is unable to do anything with his quality delivery.
12:00 - Zach Loyd is continuing his impressive effort, both killing and creating attacks. His jacked up play has been both positive and negative. A heavy first touch on the wing caused him to lose the ball at the end of a nice move, but he won it back to start the move again. Unfortunately, nothing came of it.
13:00 - Dax McCarty almost scores on an audacious 35 yard effort! He caught the keeper off his line, but the keeper eventually recovered and tipped the ball over the bar for a corner, which nothing came out of.
14:00 - Chris Wondolowski gets a shot on target, but it didn't have a lot of power and was saved easily.
0:00 -There was a problem with the lights just before the match, causing it to be delayed by 10 minutes. MLS fans will recall a similar incident where the lights went out at the Home Depot Center during an MLS Cup playoff game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo. Some Dynamo fans cried conspiracy in that match, as they had the momentum before the problem occurred, but this should put an end to the conspiracy theory that Don Garber flipped a switch and give birth to a new one that the Home Depot Center is secretly run by Enron.
As the players walk out onto the pitch, it's hard not to notice that the United States' starting goalkeeper, Nick Rimando, is shorter than their captain, midfielder Dax McCarty. If you are not an avid follower of United States soccer, that is ridiculous.
1:00 - The first 10 seconds were some of the sloppiest football...ever. Chill out boys.
There was some speculation based on the personnel available for Chile that Marcelo Bielsa would switch away from his preferred 3-1-3-3 formation, but he appears to be playing the classic attacking tactic. Fun for us!
USMNT coach Bob Bradley has gone away from his most commonly used 4-4-2 formation yet again, continuing to mix up his personnel post-World Cup 2010. For tonight's USA vs. Chile match, San Jose Earthquakes striker and MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski will start up top on his own, despite playing most effectively either on the right wing or with a strike parter in the most recent MLS season. To the displeasure of many fans, this means that youngsters Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo have been excluded from the starting lineup.
The other most interesting lineup choices include Mikkel "Mix" Diskerud behind Wondolowski as a No. 10 and D.C. United's newly acquired man Dax McCarty starting in the center of midfield and wearing the captain's armband. Nick Rimando starts in goal; him and Sean Johnson will likely see 45 minutes each. Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez make up a balanced quick distributor/big bruiser central defense combo. Here's the full lineup.
United States lineup (4-2-3-1, L to R): Rimando ; Loyd, Ream, Gonzalez, Franklin ; McCarty, Larentowicz ; Shea, Diskerud, Bedoya ; Wondolowski
The match starts at 10 pm ET on ESPN3 and we'll have minute by minute coverage here at SBNation.
The U.S. Men's National Team blog has revealed the 18-man dressed roster for tonight's match against Chile. The friendly is the culmination of the training camp that has taken place in Carson over the last two-and-a-half weeks, with only five of the camp's 23 trainees failing to make tonight's team.
Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson and Nick Rimando are in, with Bob Bradley's past tendencies hinting the Real Salt Lake veteran will get the start. Johnson will likely get his first senior national team cap just over one year after being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Missing out on tonight's selection: Dominic Cervi and Matt Pickens.
Defender: Three Los Angeles Galaxy players will dress tonight: Omar Gonzalez, a likely starter in central defense, A.J. DeLaGarza, and Sean Franklin. They'll be joined by two Colorado Rapids - Marvell Wynne and Anthony Wallace - as wall as Zack Loyd and Gonzalez's likely partner, Red Bull Tim Ream. Halmstad's Ryan Miller was not selected.
Midfield: MLS Cup Final star Jeff Larentowicz will likely get his first cap for the national team. The 27-year-old Rapids stalwart will be joined by fellow, potential debutant, Eric Alexander. Alejandro Bedoya and Dax McCarty are the only midfielders selected who have more than one cap, while Brek Shea and Mikkel Diskerud ("Mixx") will look to build on their late 2010 debuts. San Jose Earthquake midfielder Sam Cronin will sit the match out.
Forwards: Tom Tomsk attacker Yavgeni Starikov was the only forward not chosen to dress. MLS golden boot winner Chris Wondolowski could see his first cap, with Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury hoping to reforge their tandem that was so successful in the South Africa friendly.
Tonight's match kicks-off at 10 p.m. Eastern from Home Depot Center in Carson, California. It will be televised on Telefutura, with a feed also available via ESPN3.com.
Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando
Defenders: A.J. DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez, Zach loyd, Sean Franklin, Tim Ream, Anthony Wallace, Marvell Wynne
Midfielders: Eric Alexander, Alejandro Bedoya, Mikkel Diskerud, Jeff Larentowicz, Dax McCarty, Brek Shea
Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Chris Wondolowski
One of the things about Saturday's match that leave some viewers disappointed is that they aren't likely to see most of the players in the match for the United States playing for the national team anytime soon when the team's top players are available for selection. Only four players who were on the roster for last year's January friendly made the World Cup roster and one of those players, Clarence Goodson, never even saw the field in South Africa.
While some have found it difficult to drum up excitement for the match because the U.S. is without most, if not all, of their top players, there is still a handful of players to keep a close eye on for the immediate future. The U.S. is squarely focused on the Gold Cup in 2011 and to be completely realistic, there are six players who will have an opportunity between now and June to make their case for a spot on the tournament roster for head coach Bob Bradley's squad.
Of course, the six players above aren't the only ones who can make the Gold Cup roster. With six months to go until the tournament there is plenty of time for anyone to take a dramatic step forward, but the six above are the only ones who appears to have a somewhat realistic path to a roster spot in June. The entire roster for the match is as follows:
It's that time of year again, when a group of United States players who play in MLS and a few in Scandinavia get together, call themselves the U.S. National Team and play some team that is equally weakened without its top players at the Home Depot Center. This year, the opponent is Chile, ranked 15th in the world (when they have their best players, which they won't on Saturday) and unbelievably entertaining under manager Marcelo Bielsa who probably can't spell any other word other than attack.
Unless you're a super duper extra crazy diehard fan, you probably will not watch this match, but there is a segment of crazies out there as well as the Southern California locals who think soccer equals beer and soccer plus beer equals fun so they'll go to match. Truth be told, there is probably more to be gleaned from this year's January training camp and friendly, affectionately dubbed Camp Cupcake by United States supporters, than there is in most years.
This time around, head coach Bob Bradley went exclusively with youth and/or inexperience with his January roster. Because there is not a FIFA international date in February, Bradley can only call players in whose clubs are not playing, which limits him to MLS players and those in Scandinavian leagues. He cut that pool even further by omitting some players like Jay DeMerit, Landon Donovan and others who have experience to get a look at younger players. In fact, Alejandro Bedoya is the most experience Bradley called in with all of six caps to his name.
The youth on the team is what makes Saturday's 10 pm EST friendly versus Chile so interesting though. Not only is the team young, but its full of talent that isn't fresh out of college. For the most part, the young players with the U.S. have been in a professional set up for several years and are more equipped than past U.S. youngsters to compete at the international level. The young players are sound, dynamic and a few might even be playing with the full national team before long. In fact, a couple already have.
With the U.S. having not gotten a goal from a striker in a World Cup since 2002, the focus on youth development often is up top where fans are looking for the next young forward to bang in some goals. Right now, there are two young hopes in Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.
Agudelo gained fame by scoring in his first match with the senior team back in November at the tender age of 17, becoming the youngest player to ever score a goal for the U.S. senior team. The smooth and skillful now 18-year-old who plays for the New York Red Bulls has been one of the more impressive players in training. His calm in front of goal has been praised by many who have grown accustomed to seeing young strikers get overly excited with scoring opportunities and blast the ball over the net. What opened the eyes of many though is his skill on the ball and ability to not only finish, but create in the final third. This was never more evident than in the MLS Playoffs when his made a bursting run to get onto a ball and then played in inch perfect cross to Juan Pablo Angel for a New York goal. Keeping Agudelo's feet on the ground and his head level with all of the hype surrounding him recently is a priority for Bradley and he is still being eased into the system so it wouldn't be a surprise if he came off of the bench, but he will be one to watch when he sees the pitch.
When the U.S. went down to South Africa in November, Agudelo got most of the praise for his game-winning goal, but that overshadowed some fantastic work by his strike partner Bunbury. More physical than Agudelo, Bunbury also showed great technical work when he took a ball on his left foot in that match and opened his hips well to turn and get a shot away. While the shot didn't scare the keeper, the technique he flashed to get the shot away is something many American strikers lack and at 6'2'', Bunbury is much more adept to play alone as a striker, something that will appeal to Bradley. Whether he can make the most of his opportunities and show the smarts to play alone up top while remaining involved and active will be a good test for the Canadian-born Bunbury who opted to play for the Yanks.
For all the talk of the two young strikers, the most important part of the match for the U.S. will come at the back. The World Cup scoring drought by U.S. strikers has been repeated ad nauseam and it is not as if the Yanks are blessed with forwards, but what has gone understated by many is that in four World Cup matches last summer, the U.S. allowed five goals. In the final round of World Cup qualifying, the U.S. allowed 13 goals in 10 matches. For all of the talk of the Yanks' needing strikers, keeping the ball out of the net has been the biggest problem for Bradley's squad.
The central defense pairing that most expect to see on Saturday could be the fix the U.S. needs to stop the barrage on their goal and also provide the team a stout backstop for years to come. Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream are two of the United States' and MLS' brightest young defenders. Gonzalez has been praised for his strength and at 6'5'', Gonzalez is a force in the air. Ream isn't quite as big, standing 6'1'', but he's as good a distributor out of the back as the U.S. has. Both Gonzalez and Ream have only made one appearance for the Yanks and Chile will test the pairs' biggest weakness.
If one was to go looking for questions in Gonzalez and Ream's games, it would be one big one and it would be whether or not the pair are competent enough defenders when forced to cover space and run. Both were asked to do that in their final MLS Playoff matches and both failed spectacularly. In the matches in which Gonzalez's Galaxy and Ream's Red Bulls were eliminated, both were exposed for their lack of pace and quickness to run with attacking players in space. Chile are among the most attacking sides in the world and will put Gonzalez and Ream in situations where they have to turn and run with Chileans. Whether or not they can handle the Chileans will be another opportunity to gauge whether either has the movement necessary to play at the international level.
There are a host of other intriguing players and questions about where they will play. Mikkel Diskerud is a highly skilled midfielder who has played in Europa League matches for his club, Stabaek, but when he got his first cap against South Africa he was deployed on the wing. Where Bradley utilizes him on Saturday could be an indicator of where Bradley sees Diskerud's international future. Anthony Wallace is the only left back in camp for the U.S. and since the team has lacked a quality left back for nearly a decade now, all eyes will be on whether the 21-year-old can step forward and make a case for being the left back of the future. If Wallace does not play all 90 minutes, Zach Lloyd, who seemingly can play every position on the field, will likely get a look at the position and see if he can make a case for staying in the mix at the position.
More than anything, the last two weeks of training and Saturday's match present these young players the opportunity to see what it is like to play with the national team. Since being named head coach for a second World Cup cycle, Bradley has begun to implement a more possession based style with the U.S. This has included a move from the 4-4-2 formation that Bradley used at the World Cup to a 4-2-3-1 or hybrid 4-3-3 formation that emphasizes the midfield. In all likelihood, Bradley will use a five man midfield to see where the young players can fit in in such a formation if they're to get called up to the full team.
Two things are readily apparent in the style Bradley is trying to implement with the Yanks. First is that he wants to improve the team's passing beginning along the back line. The U.S. has long been content to boot the ball deep with their defenders, but Bradley is now asking defenders to be calmer on the ball and initiate the attack from the back four. Because of that, Ream and his excellent distribution will likely be focused on and Gonzalez, whose distribution is shaky at times, will have to prove to Bradley that he can pass the ball well enough to merit call ups with the full team.
The second thing that Bradley has begun to do more of is play with a single striker. Many will question where that idea was at the World Cup when Bradley's insistence on playing with two strikers put Robbie Findley in the starting XI, while one of the more productive midfielders sat on the bench to begin, but the change in underway now. That change is why Bunbury is likely to start and Agudelo is likely to find himself on the bench to begin. A bigger and stronger player, Bunbury's style is more conducive to playing alone up top. That said, in a friendly like this, Bradley has enough substitutions that he will likely show other formations in the second half in an effort to get several players onto the field. When Bradley begins to make his substitutions, it is then that Agudelo will likely be introduced, possibly to play alongside Bunbury in what some overly optimistic fans have already pegged as the starting frontline of the future for the U.S.
Even without their top players, Chile has more experience on their roster than the U.S. and would have to be tipped as favorites. However, the scoreline is hardly the most important thing when the two teams take to the Home Depot Center Field. It is not that both sides won't want to win because all teams always want to when, but the teams will really be looking at individual players and how they cope in an international match. If Bradley can come away from the match with the notion that a handful of players are capable of playing with the full team right away and a few other of the younger ones can be impact players in two years when the team begins to really gear up for the 2014 World Cup, the match with be a smashing success regardless of the score.
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