It’s not too early to size up U.S. soccer team for 2012 Olympics

On Soccer

The adventure is still 19 months away, too far in the future for the men’s Olympic soccer tournament to register on the radar of most fans.

Not so for the players who hope to make it to London in 2012.

The U.S. team does not have a coach yet and the would-be Olympians have not been identified, but there are some intriguing names out there, players who will be watched closely over the coming 12 months to see whether they measure up to international standards.

Some of them will even be at the Home Depot Center starting Jan. 4, when U.S. Coach Bob Bradley pulls two dozen players into camp ahead of friendly games against Chile in Carson on Jan. 22 and against Egypt in Cairo on Feb. 9.


When he announced his camp roster Tuesday, Bradley included six Olympic age-eligible players. They are goalkeeper Sean Johnson, defender Anthony Wallace, midfielders Mikkel Diskerud and Brek Shea, and forwards Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.

There were others Bradley easily could have invited, but his gaze is fixed on the June 5-25 Gold Cup, where victory would provide a ticket to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, a dry run for the 2014 World Cup.

The first-string U.S. players, nearly all of them in Europe, were not invited to camp, but they will be called up for the Egypt game and remain Bradley’s prime concern. The Olympics are someone else’s baby.

For the moment, that someone else is Thomas Rongen, coach of the U.S. under-20 national team, whose ranks include more than a few potential 2012 Olympians.

Rongen has a pool of 70 players, but only a fraction will survive the weeding-out process and be taken to Guatemala City for the April 3-17 regional qualifying tournament for the July 29-Aug. 20 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Colombia.

Getting to South America and doing well there in a possibly hostile environment is a sure-fire way for a player to put himself in the reckoning for the Olympic team.


The last time around, when the FIFA Under-20 World Cup was played in Egypt in 2009, the Americans fared poorly, defeating Cameroon, 4-1, but suffering 3-0 losses to Germany and South Korea and failing to make it out of the first round.

Still, that team included Gale Agbossoumonde and Diskerud, both of whom made their full national team debuts against South Africa in November. In other words, they, along with Agudelo, are on an inside track to the 2012 Olympics, having already sailed over one necessary hurdle.

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup, played every two years, is a key stepping stone.

Eleven of the 18 players on the U.S. roster for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for example, played in the 2005 or 2007 editions of the tournament, in the Netherlands and Canada, respectively.

Three of the 11 — Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber — played in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Chances are that Bob Bradley might coach the 2012 Olympic team himself, but whoever has the position is going to have to deal with the interesting issue of which three “overage” players to include on a roster that otherwise must consist of players 23 or younger.

In 1996, when Atlanta staged the Summer Games and age requirements were imposed, then-coach Bruce Arena selected goalkeeper Kasey Keller, defender Alexi Lalas and midfielder Claudio Reyna as the backbone of his team.


For Sydney 2000, then-coach Clive Charles chose to take goalkeeper Brad Friedel and defenders Jeff Agoos and Frankie Hejduk to Australia as his “overage” players.

The U.S. failed to make it to Greece for Athens 2004, but did make it to Beijing in 2008, when then-coach Peter Nowak included goalkeeper Brad Guzan, defender Michael Parkhurst and forward Brian McBride on his 18-man roster.

So, the nine “over-age” U.S. players to date have consisted of three goalkeepers, four defenders, one midfielder and one forward. The American coaching mind-set: defense comes first.

The belief here is that Guzan should be one of the 2012 over-age selections. He has the experience of Beijing, performed admirably as the U.S. captain in the recent victory over South Africa in Cape Town, and, at 26, still has the best years of his career ahead of him.

Want a defender who can help in 2012 while at the same time getting invaluable international experience for 2014? How about Guzan’s Aston Villa teammate, defender Eric Lichaj? And if a central defender is preferred, the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez would make for an imposing paring with Agbossoumonde.

Finally, just to make things lively, what about including Clint Dempsey, who has played for Fulham for four years and knows London almost as well as its cabbies?