Friday, October 15, 2010

Who's Next?

One of the more positive things that Bob Bradley did in his first four years as manager of the U.S. National Team was to expand the player pool.

He brought in an abundance of players to friendlies and competition matches, and a relatively large number of players earned their first caps under him.

Now in his next World Cup cycle, you can expect more of the same from Bradley. Since the World Cup, Omar Gonzalez, Brek Shea, Eric Lichaj and Jermaine Jones have earned their first appearances for the Stars and Stripes.

Bringing in new players does two things. For one, you give plenty of players the honor of representing their country and in doing so you can unearth some real talent that can develop and help in some big competitions.

Also, even if they don’t project to be World Cup-roster players, in smaller tournaments and friendlies they can give guys like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey rest without jeopardizing a win, or at least a positive result.

The following is a list of ten players that could soon be making their first appearance for the National Team.

David Yelldell

With Marcus Hahnehmann contemplating international retirement, it would be time to really test the depth of the goalkeeper pool.

Yeldell has been the first choice keeper for MSV Duisburg in the German 2.Bundesliga. He has two shutouts on the season and another in the first round game of the DFB Pokal match.

The team is 5-2 on the season and Yeldell has a 0.86 goals against average.
He is 29-years-old and doesn’t project to be a player for the long-term, but he has showed good form and could come in handy getting spot starts, providing relief to the top two of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.

Yelldell has duel eligibility with Germany, so while it is unsure whether he will accept an invitation to play with the United States, it could be good to get him cap-tied.

Sean Johnson

Johnson is a long-term project. A Generation Adidas player for the Chicago Fire, he has impressed early on in MLS.

Projected in the beginning of the season as a reserve, he has assumed the number one goalkeeper role in Chicago. He has started 12 games and has three shutouts. While, to the surprise of some, the Fire has struggled, and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Johnson himself, he has showed tremendous athleticism, making some impressive saves.

He stole the show in the five DP matchup with the New York Red Bulls, keeping Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and the rest of the Red Bulls from scoring. He was rewarded with the first of his back-to-back MLS Save of the Week awards.

Johnson is far from an established product, but he does figure to be a part of the youth team that will look to qualify for the 2012 Olympic team and he could quickly make his way to getting some senior team action.

Michael Stephens

The rookie midfielder from UCLA has been a good find for former U.S. National Team head coach Bruce Arena and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

While Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, and David Beckham get the majority of the attention for that team, Stephens has quietly put together a solid rookie campaign.
A playmaker in the midfielder he is second on the team, behind only Donovan, in assists with eight.

Stephens’ productivity has slowed down a little as the season wears on, but he still provides quality on the wing.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s learning from one of the best players in the nation’s history in Donovan.

Jeff Larentowicz

While central midfield is a position of gluttony for the United States, Larentowicz has earned his chance to put on a USA jersey.

He is a durable, hard-working player who improves every season. He is ninth in the New England Revolution record books in games started (103) and minutes played (9,305).

He is another player that had a chance when he was called-up to last year’s winter camp, but a knee injury forced him to be unable to complete camp.

This year with the Colorado Rapids he is tied for first in games played (28), second in minutes and even as a defensive-midfielder he is third in goals.

Sean Franklin

Another Galaxy player to get thrown into the Senior National Team mix, Franklin has been called up twice but has yet to appear in a game, the when he withdrew from camp because of an injury.

The former MLS Rookie of the Year has six assists this year. He is overshadowed on defense by Omar Gonzalez, but he has helped rejuvenate a once extremely poor Galaxy defense.

He’s another outside fullback that can push into the attack, and if he can stay healthy he should finally get his first cap sometime relatively soon.

Mikkel Diskerud

The 20-year-old Norwegian-American midfielder has played well this season for Stabek IF. He has contributed early, doling out two assists one week, following that up by scoring a game-winning goal the next. In 47 league-appearances since 2008, he has scored seven goals.

At 18, he played in a UEFA Champions League match. He worked his way from the bench to the starting lineup.

Marcus Tracy

The 2008 Hermann Trophy winner for being the nation’s most outstanding college player, and 2007 College Cup winner, should play himself into some call-ups for the National Team this World Cup cycle.

The striker currently is recovering from a calf injury, and in 15 league appearances for Aalborg has only scored twice, but he is still developing. He has showed promising signs though.

In his first game in the Danish Superliga he scored the game-winning goal.

Last winter he earned a call-up to the National Team’s training camp, but withdrew before the team’s friendly against Honduras because of an injury.

He is certainly talented and there is no reason to believe he won’t get more looks in the near future.

Tim Ream

A lot of folks were surprised when the New York Red Bulls drafted this Saint Louis University center back in the second-round of the MLS Draft. But head coach Hans Backe said that he felt Ream could eventually be a national team player.

He’s not only made Hans Backe look like a genius, but Bob Bradley has spoken very highly of the rookie recently.

Ream has started and played every single minute for a Red Bulls squad that has given up only 27 goals in 28 games, fourth best in the league.

He has good poise and the ball and is known for his strong passing game out of the backfield.

Many in the soccer community see Ream as a strong National Team candidate for the 2014 World Cup and he will be making his debut sooner rather than later.

Chris Wondolowski

Edson Buddle got on the World Cup roster thanks to his blistering hot start to the MLS season. He’s still the league leader in goals but Wondolowski, another striker, has been even more impressive.

Wondolowski, a two-time MLS Player of the Week, sits in second place in goals scored with 14 but it isn’t just how many he’s scored, it’s when he scores them. He leads the league in game-winning goals with eight.

His San Jose Earthquakes surprisingly clinched a playoff spot, which has made Wondolowski mentioned as a possible MVP candidate.

With a thin striker pool, Wondolowski has certainly done enough to earn a look.

Hunter Freeman

His club teammate, Clarence Goodson, at I.K. Start in Norway has played some brilliant soccer lately and continues to be further involved with the U.S. National Team. However Hunter, the other American defender for Start has also been an anchor on the backline.

He has played in 24 of the team’s 26 matches and routinely goes the entire 90 minutes. And while he may not be the goal scoring threat Goodson has proved to be, Freeman is comfortable pushing forward and getting involved in the attack and can play some midfield as well.

He’s in form and he also has gotten time with some of the youth national teams, notably with the U-23 team that qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

He has played well alongside Goodson, and it is time to finally give Freeman a go with the senior side to see what he can do.

Photo Credits.
Wondolowski: AP Photo/Stew Milne
Larentowicz: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Ream: AP Photo/Rich Schultz

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