Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ATH: National Team v. South Africa

From the National Team Players Association

Preview: South Africa vs USA
By Clemente Lisi, 11/13/2007 9:56 AM

NEW YORK (November 13, 2007) USSoccerPlayers -- As the US Men’s National Team prepares for its final game of the year against South Africa in Johannesburg in Saturday (Fox Soccer Channel, 9am ET), coach Bob Bradley finds himself in an enviable, and unique, position.

Bradley has a player pool with more depth than any other coach in National Team history. He has just the right mix of young players for him to work with over the next few years, and plenty of veterans to give the team the stability and experience it needs as it heads into World Cup qualifying.

Both the depth and the youth are typified by 18-year-old New York striker Jozy Altidore, and many have been clamoring for Altidore’s call-up this year. Despite his age, promotion to the senior squad seemed almost overdue -- although New York had a middling season, Altidore had an excellent one. He showed maturity this summer at the Under-20 World Cup, and really came into his own playing alongside Juan Pablo Angel, scoring nine goals in MLS in his breakout season.

Bradley’s 18-man roster also includes two 2007 MLS season award winners. Brad Guzan was voted Goalkeeper of the Year in only his second season with Chivas USA, while Maurice Edu, who earned his first cap in the win last month against Switzerland, was given Rookie of the Year honors.

These additions are proof of Bradley’s wide options and the ability of Major League Soccer to produce players. This year has seen many different players don the US jersey, and after seeing a batch of both familiar and unfamiliar faces on the team over the past 11 months, Bradley knows the player pool is stronger and deeper than it has ever been.

Sure, Adu got all the attention these past three years, but the 6-foot-1 Altidore is the National Team’s future. His apprenticeship under Angel this season allowed him to mature rapidly, and it’s not out of the question that he may soon play club soccer in Europe -- if not next year, then certainly at some point in the foreseeable future.

Bradley, who is 11-5-1 this year, hopes to cap off this transitional year with a win against South Africa (coached by former Brazil and MetroStars’ manager Carlos Alberto Parreira). His roster includes just eight players from the squad that captured the Gold Cup over the summer now that LA Galaxy striker Landon Donovan -- who scored four goals at the Gold Cup, and who has nine goals in 12 games overall for the National Team this year -- has pulled out with a calf strain suffered in the Galaxy’s exhibition game in Minnesota.

Eleven of the 18 players on the roster currently play in seven different European leagues (Belgium, Denmark, England, Scotland, Germany, Holland and Portugal). Highlighting that group are Fulham’s Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey, Everton’s Tim Howard, and Glasgow Rangers midfielder DaMarcus Beasley. Also back is Bradley’s son and SC Heerenveen midfielder Michael, the only player to appear in both the Gold Cup and the U-20 World Cup. Bradley also scored the game-winner in last month’s 1-0 win over Switzerland in Basel.

So, what do we expect Bradley to do on Saturday? He will likely employ a 4-3-2-1 versus the Bafana Bafana. Howard will play in goal. On defense, Jay DeMerit’s calf injury will give Bradley another look at Danish club Aalborg’s Danny Califf, who will likely be paired off with mainstay veterans like Carlos Bocanegra on the left, and Oguchi Onyewu and Steve Cherundolo on the right.

In the midfield, Bradley will likely go with the youthful trio of Edu, Bradley and Benny Feilhaber, although the latter has not been getting any game time with struggling Derby County in the Premier League. Edu played reasonably well against the Swiss last month on his debut and will be looking to solidify his place in Bradley’s lineup, while Bradley Jr. is having an outstanding season with Heerenveen, scoring goals and helping to lift his team to fourth place in the Eredivisie.

Although all eyes will be on Altidore and Adu to energize the attack, it’s possible neither may start, and that both will enter the game in the second half to replace Dempsey and Feilhaber. The formation up front, though, could depend on whether or not anyone is called in to replace Donovan. Dempsey will play as a lone striker ahead of Beasley and whoever might be drafted in or, failing that, Adu could be handed the responsibility of his first start.

The US has played only two other games in Africa: losing to Morocco, 3-1, in 1992 and again, 2-1, in 1998. In their only previous meeting, the US defeated South Africa, 4-0, in 2000 at RFK Stadium.

Bradley said the game against South Africa will be a great way to “cap off a very productive year.” It will also a great way to show off his depth going into next year.

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