NEW FACES OF 2011
When it comes to introducing players into the national team, 2010 turned out to be a tough year to match in terms of the number of new national team players getting integrated into the national team system.
Last year saw the debuts of as many as eight players who will have significant roles for Bob Bradley moving forward. Most significant of these were Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, Eric Lichaj, Mix Diskerud, Teal Bunbury and Omar Gonzalez.
Bradley will most likely not be able to match getting that many new players into the system in 2011 but there are still several very important players that could emerge this year for the US national team.
I am not including the annual January camp because that doesn't really introduce players into the system since all of the key players are missing and the level of competition is usually significant weaker.
But with the first 2011 national team camp with first team players set to open in three weeks, here are some players that I can see getting introduced this year who could be key additions to the team in years ahead.
This is the most obvious player that will likely be included into the team sooner than later. The 20 year old German born player has been a standout at right back and right wing for Nurnberg since he joined the first team at the winter break.
His inclusion into the national team will give Bradley a player that he can turn to in addressing several key needs of the US team.
The first is that at right back. Steve Cherundolo is still the undisputed best right back and he is enjoying yet another solid season for Hannover. Still, he is aging and will probably need to be replaced by the 2014 World Cup.
Lichaj has shown promise but he has been struggling a bit in 2011 and is now on loan to the English Championship club Leeds United. Jonathan Spector hasn't played well for the national team since 2009 but is now playing as a midfielder for West Ham United.
As a right back, Chandler has shown to be a player with an aggressive style as he likes to push forward into the attack and use his speed to get back and defend. His positioning has been solid but sometimes he makes reckless tackles. Still at just 20 years old, he will only mature.
If Bradley uses Chandler as a winger, it will allow Clint Dempsey to move into a forward position without losing skills in the midfield. The US has been short on true natural wing players, and Chandler would be a welcome addition there.
Like Chandler, Isaac Acuna is another player that has seen his stock rise suddenly and should probably get the attention of Bradley or quite possibly Mexican head coach Josť Manuel de la Torre for whom he is also eligible to play.
The 21 year old midfielder from California is on loan to Mexican Primera club Gallos Blancos from Club America and has impressed in his first two games of the Clausura season with two goals. His latest goal against Cruz Azul was nothing short of spectacular when he hit a perfect hard-driving shot from 35 yards past an outstretched keeper.
The US midfield is indeed a crowded place these days but depth is always needed and new players must always be continuously introduced. If Acuna continues to play well in the coming weeks, it may be worth it for Bradley to bring him into national team camp in March to see what he is like in training.
Playing time would be tough for him to come by in the games against Argentina and Paraguay, but getting Acuna involved in the system could not hurt.
It is a bit of a myth that the US is endlessly deep at the goalkeeper position. It is true that Tim Howard continues to be a solid number one keeper but behind him lies players that are aging, struggling for playing time, or are young and untested.
Yelldell is quietly putting together at strong season MSV Duisburg of the 2.Bundesliga that could result in the team playing in the Europa League next year due to their run in German Cup. At age 29, he has never been capped by either the US or Germany where he was born.
Still, it is very possible that he could continue to rise above many of his competitors to emerge as the second or third choice keeper for the Gold Cup with Brad Guzan reportedly missing the tournament because of his wedding.
Aside from Howard and the internationally retired Brad Friedel, it is hard to think of an American keeper that has a better resume than Yelldell right now.
When Charlie Davies suffered serious injuries in his infamous auto accident in 2009, the US struggled to assemble a core group of forwards for the World Cup. Since then, Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury have shown great promise.
It is likely that later in the year after the Gold Cup, Bradley will continue to sort through US players and one very likely possibility is 18 year old Bobby Wood who is one of the best players on the US U-20 national team and is also getting playing time with the first team at 1860 Munich.
Wood has been exceptional with the US U-20 team and he has shown to be a forward that can either play centrally or out wide in Rongen's 4-3-3. In his most recent game at 1860 Munich, Wood showed great skill when he led a rush up the right side in the 88th minute and hit a perfect pass that would lead to the game winning goal for 1860 over Union Berlin.
Wood has been one of the top prospects at 1860 and Bundesliga clubs are rumored to be interested. It is still early in the cycle and Bradley can be more adventurous in his call-ups after the Gold Cup. As one of the top young players, Wood could earn his first cap in 2011.
When the U-20 World Cup is over in August, Bradley will likely try to work in a few of the top US U-20 players into the system. One of the players likely to be on the list is Josh Gatt who is the top winger on the U-20 team.
Ever since taking over as head coach, Bradley has had a shortage of natural wingers to use. Gatt along with U-20 teammate Joe Gyau represent a younger generation that has talented wingers. While Gyau is progressing well at Hoffenheim, Gatt is probably a little further along at the moment since he has played more first team soccer.
Now with Molde FK, Gatt should continue to develop quickly as he appears to be a big part of new head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's plans for the coming season.
Of all the uncapped players at the most recent January camp, FC Dallas' Zach Loyd impressed the most. His strong performance in the 1-1 friendly draw against Chile was particularly important because he was playing left-back which has long been the Achilles ' heel of the US national team.
Loyd's debut performance was against a under-strength Chile team, but after struggling early he went on to show good skill with the ball and solid positional awareness. After the game, Bradley went on to single out Loyd's performances as being impressive.
With a strong game against Chile, Loyd's emergence has come a particularly good time since the left-back position for the US team has been especially weak in 2011. Carlos Bocanegra remains the top choice but he will be 35 in 2014 and Bradley also likes to play him centrally. Since joining Tigres in January, Jonathan Bornstein has been moved from left-back and into the midfield.
With the normal top two options having question marks surrounding them, Loyd should continue to get more caps from Bradley in the near future. It is likely that Bradley will continue to test him in the friendlies in March. If Loyd takes advantage of these opportunities, he could fill the greatest historical weakness of the US team.