U.S. roster for Copa America young and inexperienced
Bob Bradley wasn't being mischievous or delivering some political statement last Thursday as he pressed the deadline, forcing fans and Copa America officials to wait until the 11th hour before revealing the U.S. roster for South America's venerable championship.
Bradley and his staff utilized every hour permissible for one simple reason: given the unwieldy pile up of factors in play, assembling the 22-man collection was, officially speaking, a real booger.
Bradley's choices for this tournament, a clear elevation in class from the Gold Cup, certainly included some surprises. But with all the (often conflicting) variables and considerations at work, surprises were assured all along. The only real mystery then: which surprises, precisely, would Bradley pull from his managerial hat?
The intriguing inclusions start at Marvell Wynne, Sacha Kljestan, Eddie Gaven and Ben Olsen. The most notable omissions are Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley.
This collection is considerably less experienced than the Bradley bunch at Gold Cup -- 16 players bound for Venezuela own 10 caps or fewer, while 14 will be under the age of 25. All of which means a couple of unpleasant baptisms could be forthcoming during tough matches against Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia. First up is two-time World Cup winner Argentina, on July 28.
Jonathan Bornstein, meet Leo Messi. Good luck, sir.
Or could Heath Pearce get the call against Argentina? He, along with Danny Califf, play in the Danish league, which remains just a rumor to most American soccer fans.
The defense looks adequate in the middle but ripe for exposure on the outside. A likely central pairing of Jimmy Conrad and Jay DeMerit seems every bit as good as Thursday's U.S. combo, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra. Or perhaps you missed their worrisome hijinks in the win over Canada. For a while back there, all that was missing was the funny circus music.
The midfield is stocked with youth who have plenty to prove. Start with Gaven, who has been nothing special lately at Columbus. He has started just one of the Crew's last four matches, in fact. Neither has Kljestan been particularly inspiring lately for Chivas USA. And even though Olsen recently cranked out a hat trick, you have to wonder how much the 31-year-old veteran will be in the picture going forward.
Ricardo Clark could have his hands full keeping the midfield from being overwhelmed.
The selection of strikers might seem a bit curious -- until you consider the alarming depth at that spot. Eddie Johnson and Taylor Twellman have been called in yet again, underscoring the lack of youngsters awaiting their chance. Kenny Cooper might have been an option but for Tyrone Marshall's rash challenge that broke the FC Dallas man's tibia.
After that? Ante Razov do anything for you?
Will the United States miss the playmaking from Donavan and Dempsey? Yep.
But Donovan said as far back as March that he hoped not to play in both summer tournaments. (For the record, U.S. Soccer officials say no player asked not to play in this tournament; every decision was made by the coaching staff.) Donovan prefers to pull his weight for the struggling Galaxy, who desperately need their primary attacking option.
Dempsey had a swell match Thursday in Chicago, even if he didn't appear in the box score. He did things off the ball that bothered the Canadians, which is exactly what you want from a forward. And his unflappable nature, his inability to be bothered by opponent or circumstance, would surely be useful against Argentina.
But "Deuce" needs his rest. He's got a glowing opportunity ahead when he reports to Fulham in July. Having struck the goal that kept the London club out of the relegation abyss and in the Premiership, he's riding significant momentum in a bid for a starting spot.
Beasley? He's already agreed to terms with a new club, although he's not saying which one. A good launch is vital; he can't report late, or tired. Besides, the dropoff currently from Beasley to Justin Mapp is nominal.
If the Copa America roster is missing anything, it's a couple more players like Dempsey -- unflappable types never undone by pressure. Kasey Keller certainly has that contagious swagger about him. Olsen and Conrad have some of it, but to a lesser extent, since they don't have the same international chops.
Where are biggest the opportunities? Obviously, it's a big moment for the three international newbies; Colorado forward Herculez Gomez, FC Dallas defender Drew Moor and speedy Toronto fullback Marvell Wynne, all of whom are in their first U.S. camp. Wynne has more international experience than the other two, having blazed up and down the right side in the U-20 World Cup two years ago in Holland.
Gomez has earned his shot; few forwards in MLS are striking a better ball right now.
This is a big chance for Gomez's Colorado teammate Kyle Beckerman, who has tiptoed the player pool periphery for a couple of years now. Beckerman has improved every year and is now in his eighth MLS season, despite only recently having turned 25.
He's not likely to lap Clark anytime soon. But while Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber have looked OK in the center of the park this year, Bradley continues probing for players who can offer different attributes.
The table of opportunity seems set for Mapp, but in another way. Mapp, 22, could reap European offers with a special performance or two in Venezuela. He's been impressive all year (albeit still prone to those confounding 15-minute spells when he's content to coast). This is a huge opportunity; turning and burning defenders from Argentina or Colombia means more than doing so against, say, Panama.
Moor is perhaps the biggest surprise on the roster. He's putting together a decent season in Dallas. But he's still adapting to a new assignment at right back, still more comfortable in the middle. Perhaps it's that versatility that made him attractive.
Then again, Ugo Ihemelu, who has already been capped, has also played on the outside and in the middle this year.
Ihemelu's exclusion probably illustrates the difficulty in juggling so many variables. Bradley wants to maintain good relationships with MLS coaches. It's fair to assume that Ihemelu might have had a better chance to land on this roster if two Rapids -- Beckerman and Gomez -- weren't already part of it.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.