As far as suspense goes, the U.S. men's national team's upcoming World Cup qualifier against Cuba didn't figure to have much. After winning its first three qualifying matches, and with Cuba having lost its first three, the Americans are expected to roll, making next week's match about as anti-climactic a qualifier as you will find.
Then Bob Bradley named his roster.
The normally conservative U.S. national team coach called in a 23-man roster filled with several of the young prospects that American fans have been waiting to see. Bradley still called in his base of veteran standouts, such as Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, but the inclusion of newcomers such as Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu has turned the Cuba match into a potentially intriguing chance to catch a glimpse of the next generation of American stars.
With a chance to clinch a place in the Hexagonal round of qualifying with a victory against the Cubans, and a chance to rest starters and integrate some newcomers in the subsequent match against Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 15, Bradley has back-loaded his squad with 11 players with fewer than 10 caps. While some of them may not get a chance to play, there is a good chance that a few of them will play in one or both of the U.S. team's upcoming qualifiers.
One player who figures to see some considerable playing time is Altidore. The 18-year-old striker has struggled for playing time with Spanish power Villarreal since transferring there last summer, but he did show some glimpses of his potential in the one league appearance he did make. With the pool of American strikers failing to show much this year, Altidore has a chance to step right in and grab a hold of a starting spot that he might not relinquish.
The most intriguing call-up of the group was Pachuca midfielder Jose Francisco Torres. The Texas-born playmaker had been courted heavily by both the United States and Mexico and ultimately decided to play for the U.S. That didn't stop Mexico from making another last-ditch push for his services even after Torres was named to the U.S. squad for the Cuba match. Torres has stuck by his decision and he now gives the U.S. national team an exciting prospect capable of playing on the left flank or in an attacking midfield role.
So which of the youngsters might actually play? Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan impressed in the U.S. team's 3-0 win versus Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 10th and could earn another start. Altidore is certainly an option and he showed last February against Mexico that he can find the net on the international level.
The more likely scenario will be that Bradley goes with the same lineup that beat Trinidad & Tobago, with players such as Altidore, Freddy Adu and Torres getting looks as substitutes. The real chance for the newcomers might not come until the road trip to Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 15, but the week leading up to the Cuba game will go a long way in determining who will get a serious chance to play.
As promising as the roster is with all its youth, there were several top young MLS players who did not get calls. With MLS in the thick of a tight playoff race, Bradley left out Columbus Crew standouts Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall, FC Dallas striker Kenny Cooper and Toronto FC defender Marvell Wynne. Don't be shocked to see one or more of these players called up for the Trinidad & Tobago qualifier.
While Altidore and Kljestan have the best chances of starting among the inexperienced players, here is a closer look at five other national team newcomers to keep an eye on leading up to the Cuba qualifier:
Jose Francisco Torres
He may only be 20, but Torres plays regular minutes for Mexican power Pachuca and isn't likely to be overwhelmed if he does get a chance to play. An attacking midfielder who can also contribute on the left flank, Torres could see time in one or both of the upcoming matches.
After impressing in limited time at the Olympics, Davies has gone on to enjoy a strong season with Swedish club Hammarby. He's a speedy forward who could help fill a void in the U.S. pool for pace up front.
Why does Bob Bradley need to look at a goalkeeper? Perkins is starting regularly for Norwegian club Valarenga and, by all accounts, is playing well. There is actually a dearth of quality American goalkeepers in their 20s behind starter Tim Howard and back-up Brad Guzan, so Perkins, 27, has a chance to show, at least in national team training camp, that he has improved since leaving MLS a year ago.
He doesn't get as much attention as most of the other Americans who moved to Europe in the past year, but Szetela has enjoyed a strong start to the Serie B season with Brescia. He played every minute of Brescia's first five games before missing a match with a groin injury. Consistent playing time is something not many young Americans are finding in Europe and, if healthy, Szetela should get an opportunity to show how much his game has progressed.
It might take a while for American fans to forgive Orozco for the costly elbow he threw at the Olympics, but the young defender has moved past that error to regain his starting role for Mexican club San Luis. Smaller than your typical center back at 5-foot-11, Orozco is a tough and smart player who still has plenty of room to re-group at the age of 21. He may not see the field, but the call-up shows he has made a good impression.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also 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
Hasely Crawford Stadium; Port of Spain, Trinidad
8 p.m. ET, ESPN