As national-team coach Bob Bradley prepares for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers, and likely the World Cup, he may decide to take a Mexico-based player or two as part of team the U.S. hopes to send to South Africa. But exactly who goes and in what capacity remains to be seen.
Here are the candidates Bradley from whom has to choose, in order of likeliest to make an impact in the near future and get some playing time in South Africa (provided the Americans reach the World Cup):
Whether Castillo is the most talented player of the quintet of Americans in Mexico is debatable, but he is the most talented American left back who plays south of the Rio Grande. His position alone has American fans salivating over the prospect of having someone come in and lock down the starting spot on the left. Bradley has cycled through several different left-back options, including Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce and DaMarcus Beasley, but none has stuck. Each player has fallen off in form at the club level and their play has been affected.
Enter Castillo. The former Mexican national-team prospect was part of El Tri's unsuccessful 2008 Olympic qualifying team but was cleared by FIFA to switch national teams under a new provision which allows such moves for eligible players. Castillo suffered through a disappointing season with América, but is much more stable now with Tigres UANL. Part of that is reuniting with former Santos manager Daniel Guzmán. Castillo enjoys the same freedoms and responsibilities he had while with Santos and has responded with a solid campaign. He has played every minute of Tigres' nine league games thus far and has one goal.
Whether Castillo plays a role in the final two qualifiers remains to be seen, but he likely will be given every opportunity to lock down the left-back spot.
The diminutive midfielder is probably the most talented player of the bunch and is the only one who has been a regular on the U.S. national team. But for some reason, Torres hasn't been able to notch much playing time. Despite his club situation, Torres has been a regular with Pachuca, one of Mexico's best clubs over the last decade, but the Longview, Texas, native hasn't been able to break through with the national team.
Part of the reason may lie in that Torres' abilities may set him apart from most of the other U.S. midfielders. But he doesn't quite fit into Bradley's system as easily as Stuart Holden or Benny Feilhaber, each of whom has seen far more playing time in recent months than "Gringo" Torres.
While Torres' talents alone should continue earning him calls to the national team, he'll have to navigate the sheer numbers the U.S. has in the midfield. In addition to Feilhaber and Holden, Michael Bradley is a lock to start any important game for the U.S. in the near future, provided he isn't suspended for the match. Ricardo Clark also has done well with his own playing time. Maurice Edu is also an attractive option when healthy, while Sacha Kljestan could get himself back in Bradley's good graces if he picks up his play with club side Chivas USA. And that's not even mentioning Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, who have seen time in the midfield as well.
The Orange, Calif., native is often overlooked in central defense as other players have established themselves with the U.S. Jay DeMerit, for instance, has taken on a greater role while Chad Marshall finally earned some playing time in important games for the U.S.
But Orozco is still an attractive option. His time with San Luis has provided him the chance to play in many important games in front of many large crowds, and such experience matters. He has also added a bit of punch to his game, with two goals for San Luis this season, already a career high.
Orozco, who played for the U.S. in the '08 Summer Olympics, has been a key part of San Luis' defense. Los Gladiadores lost 4-2 to Cruz Azul on Sept. 19, but in seven league games prior, San Luis had allowed a total of four goals. Orozco has played every minute of his club's games this season. As central defense isn't a position of depth with the U.S., Orozco likely will be given every chance to claim a backup spot and could be in a battle with Marshall and Clarence Goodson for increased playing time.
The Dallas native has played in every game for Indios de Juárez this season, but that includes a one-minute outing against Tigres and an eight-minute appearance against San Luis. Vidal, a defensive midfielder, needs to establish himself with Indios more, or perhaps with a stronger club, before he gets a look from the U.S. But he's working steadily, starting seven games for Indios this season and playing 90 minutes in six of them.
Ochoa is the only one of the group who wasn't born in the U.S. A native of Michoacán, Mexico, Ochoa starred for Riverside (Calif.) Poly High and played for the U.S. in the '05 World Youth Championship. A forward, Ochoa has appeared as a late-game substitute in three games for Estudiantes Tecos this season, but only in one since Aug. 2.
Still, Ochoa is now playing with Estudiantes' first team, and not the club's second-division sides, as he had in the past. Ochoa was a standout in the Primera A Division (now the Liga de Ascenso) but had tapped out his skills. While he may not play regularly, Ochoa is at least on the first-team roster.
However, Ochoa might be better served by playing in Major League Soccer, where he would at least get on the field regularly, provided he finds himself in the same situation in seasons to come.