In his first act as the Brazilian manager, newly appointed Mano Menezes has included only four participants from his disappointing World Cup side in the group that will face the United States at the New Meadowlands Stadium next Tuesday, August 10. With a squad heavily weighted towards players who compete in Brazil and those who were previously shunned for this summer’s tournament, such as Milan’s Alexandre Pato, Menezes is actively kicking the tires of his new team, trying to learn the depth of the program and prepare for the path ahead.
With a similar opportunity to test the depth of his squad in an utterly meaningless fixture, Bob Bradley reacted in an all-to-familiar manner in making his selections, bringing in only one new cap, Jermaine Jones, who likely would have gone to South Africa had he been fit.
Of his 18 man roster, only a paltry three other non-World Cup players have been selected for duty. Whether Bradley is exhausted by the pressure from the summer and feels compelled to try and simply ride the wave of recent soccer popularity in the US, or if he is intentionally pushing himself towards the door, this team sheet represents enormous missed opportunities, not just for those left home, but also for some players who will suit up on Tuesday.
As the European leagues complete their pre-seasons and prepare to launch their campaigns, a number of Americans find themselves battling for playing time with new clubs and trying to impress new managers. That is certainly why Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Stuart Holden (Bolton) and Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt) were not included on Bradley’s roster. But what about the rest?
Following his recent move to St. Etienne, Captain America, Carlos Bocanegra needs to be with his club, cementing his starting job. Instead, he’ll be in New Jersey.
Speaking of captains, Steve Cherundolo was recently chosen to lead Hannover 96, a role that cannot be helped by a preseason trip stateside. Sacha Kljestan, who recently scored in his Champions League debut for Belgian side Anderlecht, has seen regular starter Lucas Biglia sidelined with a serious shoulder injury. Leaving his club to compete in a friendly does nothing to strengthen Kljestan’s chances of grabbing that starting spot. Anderlecht brought him in because of what they had seen—now he needs to prove his merit on their training ground, not at the New Meadowlands.
Tim Howard’s inclusion on this list is also slightly more than perplexing and slightly less than absurd. Brad Guzan must be wondering who he pissed off in a former life to be cast permanently in Howard’s shadow. Guzan’s club manager, Martin O’Neill, would likely be thrilled to see his second stringer play 90 minutes against a strong albeit, inexperienced Brazil. On the other hand, Everton’s David Moyes can likely see no upside to Howard’s inclusion. Having his number one keeper emerge from the World Cup (mostly) unscathed is cause for celebration. To now see one of his veteran leaders taken from his preparations and thrown back into the US setup for a meaningless fixture must have Moyes tearing at his hair.
Further muddying the clarity of these selections are European-based players who should be on the roster because they are in dire need of a stage to display their abilities for potential clubs. This is exactly what Benny Feilhaber (out of contract following the relegation of Danish club Aarhus) will be looking to do. However, Jay Demerit, out of contract with Watford and Damarcus Beasley, most recently of Rangers, are not on the roster and so out in the cold, in desperate need of a home for the upcoming season.
Back home in the MLS, the current season has seen rookie sensations stealing headlines all over. From the rock solid defensive play of Rookie of the Year candidates Ike Opara (San Jose—unavailable for consideration due to a broken foot) and Tim Ream (New York), to the bright starts of midfielders Michael Stephens (Los Angeles) and Blair Gavin (Chivas USA), and the goal scoring exploits of Zack Schilawski (New England) and Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia—he’ll be an American citizen soon enough), the MLS is producing talent. Second year pros Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles) and Kevin Alston (New England), for example, started the All-Star Game.
There is no better chance to display these future stars than in a prime-time match-up with one of the world’s elites. Giving these youngsters any sort of a look would provide a valuable measuring stick to the progress of MLS as a league capable of producing high-caliber home grown talent. Bob Bradley should revel in the enormity of the US player pool, not revile it. International soccer moves at a completely different speed than the MLS—that is not news. So why would a manager not use every opportunity at his disposal to acclimate his stars in waiting to the matches they will someday grow into and help the US win? Perhaps he knows he will not be around to see it. We shall see…