Agudelo, Bunbury stand out as best prospects from disjointed display against Chile.United States coach Bob Bradley completed a three-week scavenging mission with Saturday night's 1-1 draw with Chile.
Like most of its January predecessors, this friendly offered little in terms of preparations for the highest level. Neither side offered much in the way of cohesiveness or intensity during the tepid affair, though the U.S. perked up considerably after conceding shortly after halftime.
Although the response to the deficit will no doubt please Bradley, it did little to aid him in his true quest to find potential contributors to the full squad among this crop of players. Under that particular metric, the exercise supplied little more satisfaction than its denouement because few, if any, players made a viable case for inclusion in the next full squad Bradley assembles.
Admittedly, the difficult circumstances did not offer the aspiring regulars much of an opportunity to shine. This January camp always taxes players because of its placement prior to the start of MLS preseason, but Bradley increased the inherent difficulty by eschewing several seasoned MLS options to evaluate players with an eye toward the 2012 Olympics.
While Bradley and the U.S. must look ahead to potential candidates for the London tournament, the emphasis on evaluating new talent left the current crop of hopefuls without the proper touchstones to smooth their path into the international game. The lack of seasoned operators left this group with little chance of constructing a consistent team performance at a higher and quicker standard of play.
Despite the inherent foibles of evaluating individuals within such a disjointed performance, the match provided enough evidence to suggest a rather truncated list of players will merit the chance to test their wares with the full squad.
New York striker Juan Agudelo looms as the most promising prospect of the group. One impetuous run to set up Teal Bunbury's penalty kick served as Agudelo's calling card on the night, but it is his overall skill set that should prove enticing to Bradley. The 18-year-old forward offers an alluring mix of pace and power, but his meager pair of first-team matches with the Red Bulls means Bradley will need to usher him along slowly to aid his transition to more rigorous affairs.
Agudelo's development must be managed carefully over the next year at the club and the international level. Bradley has taken pains to ease the promising striker into the national team setup, but the clamor for his inclusion for sterner tests will only increase after his performance against the Chileans. Bradley would do well to resist the urge to throw Agudelo into the deep end against Egypt, Argentina or Paraguay over the next few months as he finds his feet at club level.
While Agudelo represents a shining beacon in the barren wasteland known as the U.S. striker corps, Bunbury offers a bit more of a practical option. His first two appearances displayed a measure of composure sure to inspire hatred in the Great White North. Given the currently meager standard for frontrunners in the American pool, Bunbury's earnest work rate and robust approach could earn him consideration for first-team time. Bunbury doesn't appear to possess Agudelo's upside at the international level, but he looks like he could develop into a useful option off the bench with the full squad if he continues to hone his skills.
Most observers expect Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream to merit similar consideration in the near future, but neither player mounted a strong case for inclusion with the full squad against the Chileans. Gonzalez continues to excel at the MLS level, but he still needs to answer questions about his distribution and his lateral movement. Ream's impressive passing ability once again masked his occasionally spotty positioning and tackling. While both players loom as potentially promising additions to the pool at some point if they can meet the requisite physical demands, it is too soon to ask them to bear any sort of weight against sturdier opponents.
After the four players previously mentioned, Bradley probably won't find much in terms of immediate help in this particular player pool. Stand-in captain Dax McCarty earned man-of-the-match honors for his energetic display, but he faces a long haul to even wedge himself into the discussion in the crowded central midfield confines. Alejandro Bedoya and Mikkel Diskerud will hope their consistent club form in Scandinavia obscures a failure to meet expectations in this outing, while younger players like Sean Johnson and Zach Loyd will have to wait their turn in the queue after solid debuts.
It is the same queue Bradley will watch intently as the road to Brazil 2014 continues. There is plenty of time between now and then to add to a squad in need of reinforcements at the back and up front. The current hunt for Olympic lynchpins and squad hopefuls may have concluded momentarily with the draw against Chile, but rest assured the search for viable contributors will churn onwards as Bradley attempts to increase his options for the greater tasks that lie ahead.Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com follow him on Twitter by clicking here.