Donovan one of the logical choices in the overage slot
The U.S. under-23 national team still has one more game to play, but Thursday's win against Canada means the U-23 squad can now call itself the U.S. Olympic team and plans for a trip to Beijing can be made.
It also means we can start thinking about what the U.S. Olympic team will look like when it takes the field in China in August. Plenty of U-23 standouts made strong cases for consideration for starting roles come the summer, but the inevitable truth is that Peter Nowak is going to pick three overage players (older than 23) he will be hoping can boost the U.S. team into a medal contender.
So whom will Nowak choose? The competition is more than four months away, and changes in form and injuries can wreak havoc with the best-laid plans of any team, but that doesn't mean we can't consider the possibilities.
One potential obstacle in the way of Nowak calling up the best possible overage players is the fact that U.S. national team is set to play a World Cup qualifier on Aug. 20, likely against Guatemala. Depending on the Olympic draw and final schedule, the U.S. Olympians may or may not have access to some of the senior team's top stars.
Assuming Nowak will be able to choose from the best American players, he will have some intriguing options. To best identify what senior players may get the call, we should look closely at the positions themselves to see what areas of the U.S. Olympic team need the most help from veterans.
Jozy Altidore is the only youngster you can pencil in at a forward slot. That may be all the U.S. team needs since the squad's wealth of midfielders makes a 4-5-1 a preferable formation for this group.
If Nowak were going to look for help at this position, he might consider trying to call up a player with good skills to play in a single forward role. Eddie Johnson doesn't fit that bill, neither does Taylor Twellman really. Brian Ching would be the best candidate to fill the solo forward role, but will a player who struggles to stay healthy as much as Ching does really risk playing in the Olympics two months before the MLS playoffs?
If Nowak wants to consider a two-forward alignment, he is going to want a speedy forward who can run off Altidore. Charlie Davies and Robbie Findley are both fast, but neither exactly struck fear in opponents during qualifying. The best veteran for the job would be the U.S. national team's career scoring leader, Landon Donovan.
An Altidore-Donovan tandem could work well, particularly with Adu playing behind them. Even if Nowak didn't want to use Donovan up top, the Galaxy star would be an upgrade on the right flank as well.
What must be remembered is at that, along with the three overage players the U.S. team will have, the squad should also have the services of young midfield ace Michael Bradley. With Bradley, Maurice Edu and Freddy Adu in the fold, the U.S. team is set in central midfield. It could be even better if midfielder Benny Feilhaber regains his form.
The wings are another story. The U.S. team didn't have a natural left winger on the Olympic qualifying roster, in part because of an injury to Robbie Rogers. Stuart Holden staked his claim on the position with an impressive showing in the Olympic-clinching match against Canada. Players like Holden and Rogers are safe from the threat of an overage player because there really aren't many overage options on the left flank.
DaMarcus Beasley, a dangerous left winger who would have been very interested in playing in the Olympics after being snubbed in 2000, would have been a natural option. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely he will be recovered from knee surgery in time. If he does make it back, don't be shocked to see him considered.
Bobby Convey is another thought from the right flank, but his battle to stay healthy makes it unlikely he would run the risk of sustaining another injury to compete.
The right wing is another position where there aren't a ton of overage options to consider. Donovan could wind up in this role if called in (assuming Nowak wanted to stick with a lone striker formation). Sacha Kljestan had a strong, if turnover-filled game on the right flank in the Canada match, but he doesn't appear to be the answer there. Sal Zizzo also might be able to play his way into a starting role and Holden could very easily grab the starting job if someone like Rogers emerges to take the left wing spot.
The U.S. defense was extremely stingy in Olympic qualifying, but the talent at the Olympics will be a cut above. With that in mind, Nowak will have to think long and hard about calling in a veteran presence to lead the back line.
The best overage options in central defense are Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra, but both could be with new clubs in the summer, which may preclude them from accepting Olympic invitations. Bocanegra feels like the more likely choice to be called because of his leadership qualities and the likelihood that he will have a tougher time finding a new club (assuming he leaves Fulham). The Olympics, which will be completed before the end of the summer transfer window, could provide a showcase for Bocanegra.
Another option Nowak might consider is Steve Cherundolo, easily the best right back option in the entire U.S. national team pool. Marvell Wynne was impressive against Canada but can leave you nervous with his overzealousness, occasional turnovers and poorly timed challenges. If Wynne continues to mature for Toronto FC this upcoming MLS season, Nowak might just give him the nod and ride the depth that players such as Hunter Freeman or Kamani Hill give him at the position. You could also see Spector on the right if a player like Neven Subotic or Michael Orozco emerges as a quality starting option in central defense.
If there is a position that seems destined for an overage player, it is goalkeeper. No offense to Chris Seitz, but there are far too many established American goalkeepers not to call one in as the starter in place of a young netminder who isn't even projected to start for his MLS team.
Seitz is a quality prospect, but if he isn't expected to be playing games for Real Salt Lake (Nick Rimando is the projected RSL starter) and even if he is, Nowak will have an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Tim Howard was a member of the 2000 Olympic team, but served as the backup to then-overage player Brad Friedel. He would be the perfect fit for the Olympic team and would be Nowak's first choice, assuming Everton is willing to let him go.
If Howard is not available, the next best option will be Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a relatively young goalkeeper in his own right, but one who is several steps ahead of Seitz in terms of development. Kasey Keller might also accept a call, unless his chase for a starting role at Fulham keeps him from being considered.
With that said, who are the three best candidates to get the overage call? Donovan, Bocanegra and Howard would be able to slide right in and provide leadership and quality at key positions of need for a U.S. Olympic team that could challenge for a medal in China.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.