When the United States Soccer Federation announced the national team would play a meaningless, midweek match in South Africa, questions arose as to who would make the 10,000-plus mile trek.
The travel would be hard on players getting playing time on clubs in Europe, and four Major League Soccer teams would still be challenging for MLS Cup. Those restrictions ruled out virtually the entire American starting lineup.
So what did Bradley do? He took chances. He went for youth and potential. Just as he should have.The 18-man roster includes six uncapped players: Gale Agbossoumonde, Mikkel Diskerud, Tim Ream, Dominic Cervi, Juan Agudelo, and Teal Bunbury (whose decision to accept the US's call is a blow to Canada's hopes of recruiting the forward). It also features Eric Lichaj, an odds-on favorite to get a start at fullback, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who should get another chance to show the world that he can be a difference-maker in net.
Instead of playing it safe, Bradley capitalized on a golden opportunity to give players experience without any pressure. The average number of caps on the roster is barely eight. Only four members of the side – Guzan, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson and Jonathan Spector – can claim more than 15 appearances in an American jersey. Aside from the six potential debutants, another five guys have fewer than eight caps to their names.
If nothing else, this team will be refreshing and fun to watch.
And isn't that the point?
In a friendly like this, with the first real action still months away, playing pretty, cohesive soccer is irrelevant. Besides, this fixture seems to be more about securing votes for the 2022 World Cup than showcasing the US' talent and ability to win.
With no need for victory, Bradley finds himself free to start tinkering with the future of the national team. Ream, for one, understands he needs to experience the difference between the club level and the international game.
"I talked to some of the older guys on [the Red Bulls], the internationals, but it's one of those situations where you get thrown into the fire and adjust how you do," he told MLSsoccer.com.
He could've also talked to Brek Shea. The young FC Dallas winger struggled in his debut against Colombia last month but is better for having had the experience. Presumably, he'll be more prepared next time he gets another call.
If Ream, Agudelo, Agbossoumonde and the rest are going to contribute going forward, they have to get acquainted with the program at some point. Bradley, astutely, acted now.
Could a couple of the coach’s selections be questioned? Of course. The 29-year-old Logan Pause (5 caps) won't feature for the US in the future. The same goes for Brian Carroll.
But on a roster that looks firmly toward the future, there needs to be good leadership of some sort. Pause and Carroll provide some veteran stability, even if it is a fleeting moment for both.
In the end, don't expect a wonderful performance from the Nats against the Bafana Bafana. This isn't, by any accounts, a "good" team. Mainly because, with all the neophytes, it's not much of a team at all. It is, however, a promising roster with more potential than we've seen in some time. The talent is raw, but it's there, and much of it could play a vital role in the run up to Brazil.
The 2010 World Cup cycle ended prematurely on a field in South Africa. Fitting, then, that the 2014 cycle starts in the same place.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.