Friday, June 20, 2008
Fringe players likely to earn a look versus Barbados
Ives Galarcep, Special to ESPNsoccernet
How much pressure can there be in the second leg of a home-and-home series when your team is already up by eight goals? That depends on whether or not you are one of the players who just might get an opportunity to play and who might not otherwise have come.
Chicago's John Thorrington was a surprise call-up. (Icon SMI)
There isn't a lot of suspense as far as the outcome of Sunday's World Cup qualifier between the United States and Barbados, but what last week's blowout win by the Americans has done is create a rare chance for some fringe national team players to potentially make their mark in a road qualifier, yes even a road qualifier against a lame-duck opponent like Barbados.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley sent home regulars such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Steve Cherundolo and has called in a host of newcomers and young regulars who might not have otherwise been ready for a look in qualifying. There are still enough veterans to field an experienced starting lineup, but the prospect of a second blowout could afford Bradley the luxury of giving some national team novices a long look.
With the Olympics on the horizon, Bradley and assistant Peter Nowak (who also doubles as Olympic coach) could also use the match as a sort of Olympic tune-up. Consider that a midfield including Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan and Danny Szetela could take the field against Barbados, a foursome that could very well come together in Beijing this summer.
U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. Barbados
Kensington Oval; Bridgetown, Barbados 3 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic
Just who will be ready to make the most of this weekend's opportunity? Here are some players who have been called in that will be looking to earn an invite back long after Barbados is sent packing in qualifying:
Just 17 months ago, Rolfe was starting up top for the United States against Mexico. He was lining up for a big year before injuries marred most of 2007. This year, Rolfe has enjoyed a strong comeback and appears healthy and ready to return to the national team fold. Whether as a forward, or as a right winger, Rolfe's versatility, speed and finishing ability make him a quality prospect and on Sunday, this could be his first chance to show how much progress he has made.
Bob Bradley knows plenty about Kljestan, having drafted him while coach of Chivas USA and having given him his first national team caps. Kljestan is enjoying a stellar season for Chivas USA and looked sharp in limited minutes vs. Argentina. He's a creative midfielder who should also be a key figure on the U.S. Olympic team. Don't be surprised to see him earn a start on Sunday.
After moving to Italian club Brescia on loan from Racing de Santander in the winter, Szetela fell off the radar. He struggled for playing time, but eventually broke through and earned some good minutes late in the Serie B season. Another Olympic Team pool player, Szetela made a good first impression last fall in his national team debut against Switzerland and should get some minutes against Barbados to show how much sharper playing in Italy has made him.
Surely, Moor is just getting a call because Bradley needed a warm body at right back, right? Moor's last national team appearance consisted of one beautiful cross for Jozy Altidore's goal against Mexico and one shaky game at right back. He has quietly enjoyed a good season for FC Dallas, and just might get a second crack at a place in the right back pecking order.
Let's face it, if you're a right winger with a pulse and a U.S. passport you have to be on Bob Bradley's radar. The lack of natural right wing options has led to the use of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan there over the past year. Is Thorrington, a 28-year-old journeyman, really a possibility? Considering the skill and determination he has shown with the Fire this year he has definitely earned a look, particularly when you consider how thin the right wing options are.
While Sunday's qualifier might lack drama, and the level of competition will make it difficult to get a real sense of where some of these players stand, it will still provide a rare opportunity for some of these players to impress Bob Bradley enough to merit another call-up later this summer, when the opponents will be tougher and stakes higher.
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.