This is the start of something, namely the 2014 World Cup qualifying cycle.
Bob Bradley's decision to bring a young, inexperienced squad play South Africa in Cape Town's Green Point Stadium on Wednesday (2 p.m., ESPN2, Galavisión) shows that the American coach has his gaze fixed firmly in the future. The group averages less than 24 years old and just over eight caps, with six members seeking their first appearance in the Stars and Stripes.
The inclusion of Juan Agudelo, Gale Agbossoumonde, and Mikkel Diskerud – the former two are still eligible for the U-20 squad – hints that Bradley is thinking at least a bit towards Brazil when the trio could star rather than about next year's Gold Cup. The focus of the 10,000-mile plus trip is to gain experience and indoctrinate some younger players, not getting a result.
Of course, a victory would be nice – it would prevent the Americans' first losing year since 1997 – and a good showing is certainly possible against the 25th-ranked side in the world. The Red, White and Blue squad is young, but a back line featuring Brad Guzan in goal and Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector in the defense has some experience. They'll be tasked with shutting down Bafana Bafana and former San Jose Earthquakes striker Davide Somma, who wants to "destroy" the US after the coaching staff didn't show interest in the Leeds United forward who moved to America when he was 12.
[inline_node:303740]The American midfield, usually a strength for Bradley, will be a mish-mash. Alejandro Bedoya and Robbie Rogers provide some measure of stability on the flanks, but the central spots are up for grabs. Logan Pause and Brian Carroll, the two oldest players on the roster, will likely begin the match in the middle, but appearances (even starts) by Eddie Gaven and Diskerud wouldn't be a surprise.
Up top, New York Red Bulls phenom Agudelo will earn his first cap less than six weeks after making his Major League Soccer debut. The striker, who turns 18 on Nov. 23, starred during the MLS playoffs and looks to cap off a year of massive improvement with a strong showing in Cape Town. The Colombian-born talent previously played for the U-17 and U-20 side, scoring against Brazil in the Copa Chivas. Robbie Findley, winner of three caps during the 2010 World Cup, will start next to Agudelo.
South Africa were the first World Cup hosts in history to not advance out of the first round, but the side has found renewed success under new manager Pitso Mosimane. They haven't lost in three post-World Cup matches, defeating Ghana and Niger while drawing with Sierra Leone.
Bafana Bafana mix experience and youth, featuring 11 members of the squad that contested this summer's tournament while also including 11 men with less than 10 caps. Steven Pienaar and Siphiwe Tshabalala – he of the wonderful strike against Mexico to open World Cup scoring – will lead the side into battle as the team uses the match to help them build momentum as they continue their campaign to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations.
Projected US lineup
Lichaj - Spector - Goodson - Bornstein
Bedoya - Carroll - Pause - Rogers
Agudelo - Findley
Projected South Africa lineup
Gaxa - Ngcongca - Sangweni - Masilela
Letsholonyane - Modise - Dikgacoi
Pienaar - Tshabalala
United States 2-2 South Africa