U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley may not be ready to admit it, but his team has essentially secured its place in the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. While there may be some crazy scenario that could see the Americans lose their final three matches and wind up not finishing in the top two of their current qualifying group, the reality is that Freddy Adu has a better chance of winning a slam-dunk contest than the U.S. has of not advancing to the Hexagonal.
With that in mind, Bradley needs to make full use of the luxury of running away with his qualifying group by using the remaining qualifiers to take a look at some of the better young prospects in the U.S. national team pool. We know about the desire among U.S. fans to see players such as Jozy Altidore, Kenny Cooper and Freddy Adu, but those aren't the only players Bradley should be considering calling up when the United States faces off again against Cuba, Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago.
Here is a "Magnificent Seven" of young American prospects who could, and should, earn call-ups this year:
1. Jozy Altidore
Altidore is ready. There is no other way to say it. If Eddie Johnson can get call-ups, then Altidore absolutely needs to be called in for the next two qualifiers. He is a more dynamic player than Brian Ching and a more imposing presence than Clint Dempsey, who only recently re-asserted his standing as one of the U.S. team's most reliable goal-scorers.
So why wouldn't Altidore get a call-up? You could make the argument that letting Altidore settle in and adapt to life in Spain with Villarreal is more important than getting him some experience in World Cup qualifying. I'm not really buying that one. If Altidore doesn't find his way into the starting lineup for any of the remaining World Cup qualifiers this year, there is something definitely wrong.
2. Kenny Cooper
No player has captured the love of U.S. fans more than Cooper, whose combination of size and finishing ability in MLS play has fans begging Bradley to call him up. So why hasn't he been called in yet? I don't think Bradley is convinced that Cooper's MLS success will necessarily translate in the international game.
The only problem is Cooper keeps scoring goals, and in impressive fashion, playing on an FC Dallas team that has been far from consistent. At the very least, he will merit a call to the January national team camp, but he has been the best striker in MLS this year and deserves to at least get a call and some minutes in the remaining World Cup qualifiers.
3. Freddy Adu
It's no secret that the U..S. national team hasn't had a truly dangerous creative midfielder in the middle of the park since before John O'Brien turned into the Howard Hughes of American soccer and disappeared amid a string of injuries. Adu has shown flashes of potentially being that type of creative force capable of helping the American attack reach a new level.
So why hasn't he had a look yet? Serious concerns about his work rate and about him being a defensive liability have plagued him with the national team and in his club career. He is still only 19, so he has time to continue growing as a player, but anyone believing he is ready for major minutes, much less to start for the national team, is misguided. That being said, he does bring skill that could make him a difference-maker off the bench, at least in the short term, and some time in the remaining qualifiers this year could give him a chance to prove he's capable of doing more than just pulling off the slick pass or move.
4. Charlie Davies
While Altidore and Cooper get most of the attention when it comes to candidates to help the U.S. national team pool, Davies has quietly enjoyed a good season in Sweden, scoring 10 goals in 19 games. His combination of speed, deceptive strength and finishing ability makes him an intriguing prospect. He went relatively ignored at the Olympics, only to come on in the U.S. team's final game and make an instant impact that left many wondering whether he should have found his way into the starting lineup earlier.
So why might Davies not get a call? There really is no good reason why not. At the very least, he should get a call for the final qualifier, Nov. 19 against Guatemala. Davies' Swedish League season will have already ended 10 days earlier.
5. Jeremiah White
One of the lesser-known U.S. national team prospects, White has enjoyed a good season with Denmark's AGF Aarhus and has established himself as a reliable goal scorer capable of playing both at forward and on the right flank. The U.S. team's lack of quality right wing prospects is one of the most glaring in the national team pool, and White's speed and goal-scoring ability should earn him a look from Bradley.
Whether that look comes this year or in January remains to be seen. White was a part of last January's camp and earned a cap against Sweden in January. He has certainly done enough in Denmark to merit a look from Bradley.
6. Chad Marshall
The U.S. national team defense has been so strong this year, it's easy to forget you can never have too many options in the back. Marshall has emerged as arguably the best defender in MLS this season. After a few years marred by injuries and inconsistency, he has regained the form that made him a quality national-team prospect four years ago.
So why Marshall? He has the size, ball skills and athleticism. He is also still just 24 years old. With Michael Parkhurst taking a step back this year, Marshall has worked his way into consideration and could draw a call-up this year.
7. Robbie Rogers
While Rogers wasn't that impressive in the Olympics, there's no denying his skills on the left flank. While DaMarcus Beasley is the unquestioned starter, he is also a player who has had his share of injuries. Rogers might not get a serious look until January, but if Bradley goes with mostly MLS squads for the final qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala, Rogers should get a call, and possibly a start. It would certainly be interesting to see how he matches up with Mario Rodriguez of Guatemala if that matchup were to happen.
There are plenty of other potential prospects who have played well enough to merit consideration, such as Edson Buddle and Bobby Boswell, but while several MLS standouts will earn call-ups to January's national team training camp, the aforementioned seven are all worthy of a look much sooner than that.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the (N.J.) Herald News and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.
|U.S. men's schedule
|U.S. vs. Cuba
RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
7 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic
U.S. vs. Trinidad & Tobago
8 p.m. ET, ESPN