With the toughest stretch of international friendlies in U.S. Soccer history looming, U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley had two agendas. First, he had to pick a pool of players that could give his team a fighting chance against England, Spain and Argentina. Second, he had to pick a group that could benefit from the experience of playing what amounts to a "Murderers' Row" of opponents in England, Spain and Argentina.
The 33-man pool Bradley named for the upcoming friendlies beginning later this month is the deepest collection of talent an American coach ever has had the ability to call in, but it also is a group loaded with question marks and untested international prospects who will have their first real chance to show Bradley that they are worthy of being in the national team mix.
Bradley also has his veterans in the mix, with Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Pablo Mastroeni all getting nods. Hejduk is still as relentless as ever, and you get the sense he will find a role in the next round of World Cup qualifying. The same goes for Lewis, who is coming off a full season as a starter in the English Premier League.
It won't be the veterans who draw the most scrutiny in the player pool. That burden will fall on the youngsters. While some of the players called in the pool won't ever actually suit up for the upcoming friendlies (some are Olympic team prospects whom Peter Nowak and Bradley will evaluate), plenty of players will provide some answers to some burning questions surrounding the national team.
|U.S. men's schedule|
|U.S. vs. England
Wembley Stadium, London, England
3 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic
U.S. vs. Spain
U.S. vs. Argentina
Here is a look at the 10 most compelling and intriguing call-ups in Bradley's 33-player pool:
Jozy Altidore -- That Altidore was included in the pool was no surprise. What remains a mystery is just how many of the three friendlies he will actually take part in. With concerns being raised about Altidore feeling fatigue from a busy year of international and club soccer, it will be interesting to see if Bradley uses the U.S. team's best young prospect in all three matches, or if he leaves him home and uses him only against Argentina, which seems like a very real possibility.
DaMarcus Beasley -- Far from an unproven commodity, Beasley's inclusion is compelling because he has recently returned from major knee surgery that was expected to keep him out much longer. When healthy, he is one of the best players on the national team. If he is truly ahead of schedule, you can expect him to play a key role in the next round of Word Cup qualifying.
Kenny Cooper -- American fans are starving for new forward prospects to root for, and Cooper is one of the more attractive prospects in the bunch. His combination of size, technical and finishing ability make him a future national team fixture. Concerns about his ability to handle the speed of play on the international level have kept him out of the national team mix during the past year, but his early form for FC Dallas earned him a call he will need to make the most of.
Robbie Rogers -- There is little debate that left wing is one of the thinnest positions, if not the thinnest position, in the U.S. pool, and Rogers has gotten off to a fast start in MLS to force his way onto that short list. With Lewis not getting any younger and Bobby Convey proving unable to stay healthy, the 21-year-old Rogers will have a chance to prove not only that he is a serious national team prospect, but also that he deserves a place on the Olympic team.
Michael Orozco -- Unknown to American fans before his steady and impressive performance for the U.S. under-23 team in Olympic qualifying, Orozco has established himself as a regular starter in the Mexican First Division and looks like a bright center back prospect for the future. The 22-year-old San Luis defender might still be too young to be a serious national team candidate, but he will have a real chance to move up the pecking order as Bradley looks to inject some new blood in the defender pool.
Nate Jaqua -- When the 6-foot-3 striker left MLS champion Houston for an obscure team in Austria, it was believed he might not be heard from again. Five goals in 10 matches later, Jaqua's professional prospects are looking up. After helping SC Rheindorf Altach avoid relegation, Jaqua is now a free agent who did enough to catch Bradley's eye. With the pool of true target forwards rather thin and untested, Jaqua will get as good a chance as any to show that he has the tools to merit a serious look.
Freddy Adu -- Talk about a roller-coaster year so far for Mr. Adu. After turning in a superstar performance in Olympic qualifying, Adu returned to Benfica to find himself out of the squad rotation. After spending the past three months without any first-team soccer, Adu still earned the call. There is no questioning his talent, and Bradley will give him a chance to show that his casting out at Benfica is no indication of where he is in his development. Adu is still one of the most dangerous players in the Olympic pool, but perhaps a super-sub type of player for the national team at the moment, which is something Bradley will need down the road in situations like tough World Cup qualifiers.
Heath Pearce -- It's no surprise that Pearce was called, but it will be interesting to see whether he really is ready to put a stranglehold on the left back position. He fought through his own rough period with German club Hansa Rostock to fight his way back into the playing rotation, and he stands as the best left back prospect in Bradley's pool. With Jonathan Bornstein injured, Pearce could get several high-level matches that not only will give him a chance to solidify a starting national team role, but also raise his profile on the transfer market.
Josh Wolff -- Out of sight but not out of mind, Wolff has been plying his trade at 1860 Munich and has done well. He is known to most American fans as a forward but has evolved into a useful right winger in Germany. He should provide some depth at another thin position for the U.S. team. The 31-year-old showed some flashes against Brazil in September and should get his chance to earn a role not only in the upcoming friendlies, but in World Cup qualifying as well.
Eddie Johnson -- Call him "Mr. Enigma." Johnson made the move from MLS to the EPL side Fulham earlier this year and performed well enough early on to merit playing time and even a few starts. He didn't dress for the Cottagers down the stretch, and now we are left to wonder what sort of form Johnson will be in later this month. Will he be the talent who scored a bunch of national team goals four years ago, or will he be the ineffective forward who just hasn't produced or finished many chances in his recent national team performances?
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.