BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Yesterday Caleb Porter announced the US team that will play in the Olympic qualifiers later this month.
The roster consisted of 19 players and one player will be named later after Porter secures a release from a club. It is also known that Columbus Crew midfielder Dilly Duka was going to be on the roster but he was injured in the Crew's season opener over the weekend.
Here are some observations I have on the roster.
Kofi Sarkodie and Teal Bunbury need to have big tournaments
Teal Bunbury was once thought to be an important part of this team but he has struggled in recent months with the US national team. He was also not effective in Sporting Kansas City's opening day win over DC United and he may lose his starting spot to CJ Sapong.
There are other forwards who could take his spot should the US advance. Jozy Altidore could become available this summer while Jack McInerney and Andrew Wooten could emerge. Bunbury must perform well otherwise he is likely fall in the depth chart.
Likewise, Kofi Sarkodie is also a mystery pick given his lack of playing time with Houston. Sheanon Williams is an everyday starter for Philadelphia and his omission looms large. Sarkodie has played well under Porter at Akron but he needs to do it again.
This team has phenomenal speed on the wings.
With players like Brek Shea, Joe Gyau, and Josh Gatt on the roster, Caleb Porter has a team with tremendous pace on the wings. Gyau and Gatt in particular are two of the fastest American players at any age group. If you were to add Timothy Chandler into the mix at the Olympics, it would make this team likely faster than any team at the Olympics.
Defense is the team's soft spot
The team's starting central defenders are Zarek Valentin and Ike Opara. Opara is promising but has been injured for most of his young professional career. Valentin is fundamentally strong but has played mostly as a right back since turning professional.
Jorge Villafana is not ideal at left back and his callup is indicative of the American's lack of depth at the position. Sarkodie, as noted above, struggles for playing time at right back and Gatt has also played right back but it is far from his best position.
If the team qualifies for the Olympics the problems can be fixed with the addition of three overage players along with Danny Williams and Timothy Chandler.
If the defense plays well in the qualifying tournament, Porter will deserve a lot of credit for being able to fix a key weakness
Alfredo Morales would help this team
Porter has said one more player will be added and the player who makes the most sense for that last spot is Alfredo Morales who played well against Mexico in last month's 2-0 friendly win.
Morales brings versatility as he can play all across the backline along with right midfield and defensive midfield. Hertha Berlin may not be willing to release him for the tournament as he plays with the club's first team but even if he is allowed to play for just for the semifinal game, Morales would be a boost.
Sebastian Lletget's absence is not surprising
A few years ago when Sebastian Lletget moved to West Ham, he came with a lot of hype - but with good reason. His time with the US U-17 national team was superb in 2009.
Since then he has suffered through injuries and illnesses. He missed most of 2010 with mononucleosis and recently he picked up a concussion that kept him out of action for awhile. Despite the injuries he has yet to make the bench for West Ham's first team and it is unclear where he stands within the organization.
Younger American players than Lletget are already starting to break though. Will Packwood, Danny Potts, and Joe Gyau are showing first team progress and Lletget needs to get to that level.
Lletget is a playmaker but Porter appears to value Joe Corona, Freddy Adu, and Mix Diskerud
Michael Stephens' inclusion is the biggest surprise
Michael Stephens was not on many people's predicted roster since he is not a regular starter with the Galaxy and the team has a lot of midfield talent. But he played well in camps and showed he belonged there.
The biggest omission is Luis Gil
Gil has been a success story for MLS so far in its ability to develop young players. Since last season he has earned significant minutes with a talented Real Salt Lake team. In Real Salt Lake's opening day win over the Galaxy, Gil was indeed impressive.
Gil's club resume stacks up well compared with players like Duka, Stephens, Okugo, and even Freddy Adu. Gil is smooth with the ball and can help the team maintain possession. He creates plays and is also good on defense.
The problem with Gil is that he is very young and is age eligible for the 2013 U20 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Jurgen Klinsmann has stated that he does not want players to skip stages in their development and that is likely why he hasn't been with the U-23s. The reality, however, is that Gil helps this U23 team.
Freddy Adu has more questions surrounding him than ever
Four years ago Freddy Adu was the engine of the US U-23 team but now he arrives at qualifying with more questions surrounding him than ever.
Adu looked very good against Mexico last month in the big U-23 friendly but he is not a sure starter for this team and is not a lock to make the Olympic team if they qualify.
Adu has shown that he is capable of individual moments of brilliance but in yesterday's season opener for Philadelphia he also showed that he can be completely taken out of games for long periods of time. His defense remains suspect, his off the ball movements are still lacking, and he hasn't improved much on his ability to read the game.
Adu must perform consistently well this year for both the U-23s and Philadelphia to show that he has improved from four years ago. If he doesn't perform well, he could be overtaken by other players between now and the Olympics in July.
If the US team qualifies, expect a heavy turnover of players
The difference between an Olympic qualifying roster and the Olympics roster is significant for a number of reasons.
The first is that likely all of the best U-23 players will be available. This means Porter could have Timothy Chandler, Danny Williams, and Jozy Altidore who are the three best players in the age group
Second reason is that there will be three overage players allowed on the roster. Two of the three are likely to be on the backline.
The final reason is that the Olympic roster is 18 players and the roster for qualifying is only 18. This places a heavy emphasis on players who can play multiple positions.
So even if the team is successful in qualifying, the internal competition for an Olympic roster spot will be intense.