What Defines Success in South Africa?
Today, the US returns to the country where four months ago they experienced greatness and disappointment, and are once again being led there by Bob Bradley. This time the stakes are much lower, as the team is playing a midweek friendly with their B- or C-team. On its face, this match should only merit passing mention before focusing on the MLS Cup this weekend and the newly-announced Chilean friendly next January. But this is an important match for a number of reasons, and the US does have a bar to clear for this trip to be deemed a success.
The most obvious subplot is the political one. The vote counting is beginning, and despite having a lead in the 2022 World Cup race, the U.S. needs to lock up some votes and have the US Bid leaders spend quality time with African delegates. So the main point of this match is obviously political.
But Bob Bradley has some scouting to do during this match. As has been noted here, he has a very young squad with six players playing in their first U.S. match. The average age of the squad overall is 24 years old, so this is not an experienced team. But the experienced players, who themselves were inexperienced players during the World Cup, now have the chance to prove their leadership ability. Bob Bradley will be looking at players like Clarence Goodson to see if they can lead by example off and on the pitch; for the players it’s a chance to show not only their talent but their intangibles, the kind of intangibles that can help them make the 2011 team over youngsters.
Some of the players are looking for redemption or a second chance to impress. Robbie Findley is the most experienced forward on the team and could earn the start today. If so, it would be his chance to improve his play from the World Cup, which was less than impressive. MLS players like Eddie Gaven and Nat Borchers have a chance to impress and show they do have a role on this team going forward, despite not playing in the World Cup or being pressured by younger, more hyped players.
And of course all attention will be on the Rookie Six. While the four dual-nationality players chose to play for the U.S., they are not officially capped until they play in a qualifier. So this match is a chance for them to spend time with Bradley’s staff and the team, get a feel for the atmosphere, and hopefully cement their decision to represent the U.S. It’s also the opportunity for them to begin positioning themselves for playing time in the near future; a guy like Juan Agudelo fills a position of need on the team and could seriously challenge for minutes in 2014, if not 2012. And of course, it’s a good first chance to prove they are not high-profile busts, a Freddy Adu type that comes in excessively hyped but falls out of favor with the staff.
So don’t discount this match as a pointless friendly, and keep an eye on the players today as they face South Africa.