SECAUCUS, N.J. – For the United States national team and head coach Bob Bradley, Saturday night’s match against Argentina is the true beginning of the cycle for the 2014 World Cup.
The United States have played four friendly matches since the conclusion of last summer’s World Cup, but the Argentina match represents the first real chance for the national team head coach to have close to a nearly full squad available for selection. With Bradley attempting to evaluate some new young talent, the chance to see how these players adapt and adjust with the full squad against top competition is key.
This list includes young MLS players such as Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream, as well as Europe-based call-ups like Timothy Chandler, Eric Lichaj and David Yelldell. All have fewer than five caps.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Bradley said. “We’re excited at the beginning of this cycle that we have a good group of players who have played an important role over the past few years. We’re trying to fine tune the players.”
The challenge for Bradley in a national team camp as loaded as this one is – Agudelo called the list players “heavy” – will be the issue of finding the right balance.
The desire will be there for the national team to grab headlines with a win against one of the top teams in the world. On the flip side, Bradley is also preparing for this summer’s Gold Cup, the winner which represents CONCACAF in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
“It’s both,” Bradley said of finding that balance. “Obviously there’s no getting around that the short term vision is the Gold Cup. At the back end of that vision is always the World Cup.”
A reporter at Friday’s press conference drew parallels between this match and spring training baseball, trying to underscore that this friendly is really an opportunity to gain experience and jell as a team. Bradley dismissed that comparison.
“It’s a friendly, but we want to win,” Bradley said. “Unlike preseason baseball, we don’t get to play every day, especially against Argentina.”
No fear of Messi
US and LA Galaxy stalwart Landon Donovan spoke of his healthy respect for Argentina's Lionel Messi, winner of the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or. The line has to be drawn, though, between respect and fear – the latter of which Messi often inspires in opponents.
“There’s no element of fear,” Donovan said. “There’s very few players in the world who can do what he can do. Maybe none. I’m not in awe of him [but] I’m incredibly impressed. He’s enjoyable to watch – not fun to play against. He’s a talent that doesn’t come around very often.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer