For more evidence that the United States national team program marches inexorably forward, even if the results don't always bear it out, consider this little gem: Saturday's 18-man U.S. roster set to face Poland will consist entirely of players based abroad.
That's never happened before, according to U.S. Soccer. And it really does demonstrate extraordinary progress in the big picture. Consider than just 10 years ago it would have been impossible to fill out an entire 18-man roster without the use of domestically based talent.
Even five years ago an 18-man roster may have been possible, but it might have been fairly flimsy, dependent of some fellows who weren't truly national team caliber players, those still toiling anonymously in Europe's lower tiers.
But the assembly that gathered early in the week to train in Chicago is a representative group, one that can reasonably be expected to more than hold its own against a European middleweight such as Poland.
"The time has been very good and the attitude of the group really is super," Bradley said during a news conference Thursday. "You get a sense of how excited guys are to come back into the national team and catch up with some of their buddies."
The choice to go entirely with players abroad for Saturday's match at historic Soldier Field (8 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel and in Spanish on Galavision) is equal parts strategic and practical. Bradley wanted to avoid disrupting Major League Soccer playoffs races entirely, if possible. So he didn't just decline to select players from teams with something on the line, he didn't even want to disturb the domestic league process by weakening a team facing a playoff-bound side.
So, if you're a
But here's the other reason this was a coming inevitability: More and more, the program's most important players perform abroad.
What's more, plenty of U.S. players are manning critical roles for some very good sides. Bocanegra's new French club, Saint-Étienne, holds the second spot in France's top division. Edu's Rangers currently share the top spot in the Scotland's Premier League and
They'll need that quality against a Polish side that has enough Bundesliga experience of its own to cause trouble, even if the team has struggled recently under coach
So Smuda's original intent to cultivate a more attack-minded mentality through an aggressive 4-3-3 formation may be devolving into a more conventional 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2. It's important for the side to move in a positive direction before its co-host role for the 2012 European Championships. But it's tricky since these friendlies represent the only shot at improvement; as a co-host, Poland doesn't have to jump the qualifying hoops along with the rest of the European field.
The Poles latest setback was a 2-1 loss to Australia last month in Krakow. Borussia Dortmund's
While this does begin the next national team cycle for the United States, Bradley said this week that the current focus of preparation is about more than just World Cup qualifying, the front end of which is more than 18 months away. There is also an organization focus on the 2011 Gold Cup, which is priority No. 2 for the coaching staff -- even if it's a distant No. 2.
Either way, getting a couple of new faces into the rotation is important, and there are at least two intriguing figures to begin integrating. None perhaps more so than
Jones' club side, FC Schalke, is having a rough patch in the Bundesliga. However, that won't stop him from being one of the most-watched men over the coming two matches (Saturday's in Chicago and then in next week's friendly against Colombia in Philadelphia.) The son of an American father and a German mother, he lived in the United States until he was six and then grew up from there in Germany. Jones, 28, is a rangy holding midfielder and forceful tackler who gives Bradley additional options in an area of the field, central midfield, that is already a team strength.
In fact, having one additional figure there could see Bradley tweak his usual 4-4-2, perhaps deploying two defensive midfielders rather than a pair of two-way types. That would allow him to use one attacker behind a striker, forming something that looks closer to a five-man midfield or a 4-4-1-1 arrangement.
Using that as the standard,
This weekend may also see Aston Villa reserve