Lessons from 2010 say U.S. squad as much about opportunity, circumstances as youth

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Young talents like Rubio Rubin, Emerson Hyndman, and Jordan Morris gave the latest U.S. Men’s National Team roster a quality we’re usually denied. Instead of a collection of established talents battling within the margins of their established skills, players who’ve yet to define themselves will tickle our imaginations in Prague. Along with MLS talents like DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil, they’re part of the coming generation of U.S. talent, one that’s yet to show us the limits of their potential.

But the celebration of youth that commenced when Jurgen Klinsmann named today’s team warrants a few notes of caution: Eric Lichaj; Gale Agbossoumonde; Tim Ream; Juan Agudelo; Teal Bunbury. Those were some of the names that represented the United States Nov.17, 2010 in South Africa – at a 1-0 win in at the Nelson Mandela Cup. While it wasn’t the States’ first game that summer’s World Cup, the promise shown by those young guns teased hopes for the coming cycle.

Agudelo, only 17, became the youngest goal scorer in national team history. Agbossoumonde was only 18. Among Bunbury, Ream, and Lichaj, the then-Aston Villa defender (Lichaj) was the oldest, celebrating his 22nd birthday. Not only did none of them make this summer’s roster World Cup, but those hopefuls failed to play major parts while the U.S. qualified for Brazil.

Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers was on that team, too. So were Jonathan Bornstein, Logan Pause, and Robbie Rodgers. While Alejandro Bedoya and Mix Diskerud were part of the younger crew, MLS veteran Brian Carroll was there as well. Back in 2010, 2014 was still a long way off.

source: Getty Images
Juan Agudelo became the U.S.’s youngest goal-scorer in 2010. He failed to make this summer’s World Cup squad. (Photo: Getty Images)

In hindsight, 2010 provides a cautionary tale. As exciting as the prospect of an Agudelo-Bunbury tandem was at the time, there were three-plus years separating that moment from kickoff in Brazil. Agudelo (right) changed teams (and continents) in that time. Bunbury was traded from Kansas City. Ream ended up in the second division in England, while Lichaj never fully took hold at Aston Villa. When the U.S. changed head coaches in 2011, the significance of South Africa flew out the window.

The youngest players in this summer’s World Cup squad: Julian Green (19), Yedlin (20), John Brooks (21)? They weren’t even in the picture in 2013. It wasn’t until the very end of the cycle that their youth was served.

Particularly with MLS players largely excluded from the squad (save RSL keeper Nick Rimando), today’s team is as a product of circumstance as much as youth. With multiple U.S. veterans moving to MLS before the World Cup, the stock of established Americans on European soil is particularly thin. That not only means opportunities for talents like Rubin and Hyndman but also new chances for Brek Shea, Michael Orozco, and Ream.

And, as Jurgen Klinsmann implied today, opportunity is really the theme of this camp. It’s a chance for a series of young players to take advantage of the time which, had this call up happened last cycle, would have gone to a Fulham-based Clint Dempsey. Or a Michael Bradley, still in Italy. Perhaps Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones could have commanded the midfield. Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst would already be making plans for Prague.

source: Getty Images
DeAndre Yedlin was a surprise member of this summer’s World Cup squad, with Jurgen Klinsmann showing his willingness to rely on a broader player pool. (Photo: Getty Images)

2014 is a whole new, almost incomparable world; not that the situation doesn’t serve Klinsmann’s broader goals. Under his watch, expanding the player pool as been a steady goal. More talent, more options, more competition – it’s part of the reason why the U.S. boss has been difficult to read during his tenure. More than ever, the States seem to maintain a wide net when considering call ups. As 2011 illustrated, Bradley did the same, but Klinsmann’s willingness to use that net to call on Alan Gordon in qualifying or Yedlin (right) at the World Cup makes his net all the more meaningful. Once you’re in its grasp, you can be called on at any time.

That, as much as the players’ actual ages, may be the lasting impact of today’s squad. Through Sept. 3’s game in Prague, a series of new talents will have a chance to embed themselves in that grasp. Young or not, players like Rubin, Hyndman, Morris and Joe Gyau have a chance to lodge themselves in coaches’ memories, becoming the guy they call in when they need a player to do X, Y or Z. Between Gold Cups, Copa America, World Cup Qualifying, and (if all goes well) Olympics and Confederations Cups, the U.S.’s roster will be stretched at points this coming cycle. Even for relatively established players like Alfredo Morales, this is a chance to make a good early impression.

For some, it might as well be a first impression. Though the likes of Morales and Bobby Wood have been capped, the end of this summer’s World Cup may have wiped slates clean. A new cycle brings a series of new stresses, and goals. How each player can help address those will be on display next week in Prague.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

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Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

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Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]