INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE CONFEDS CUP
The US will have stiff competition in South Africa
BRENT LATHAM - Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The US is headed to South Africa. And Yanks Abroad is going too.

Not for the World Cup - not yet. But the upcoming Confederations Cup, which begins Sunday, will prove a big test for the Americans after a harrowing week of qualifying and travel.

I'll be in South Africa beginning this week to follow the team for the duration of their African adventure. Whether that trip lasts a glorious two weeks or a less spectacular eight days remains to be seen.

You can follow me even more closely on the YA twitter account, where I hope to be updating frequently, and giving a little play by play analysis from the matches.

In the meantime, starting today, I'll be keeping this YA Confederations Cup blog up to date with all the latest news from South Africa and the US camp. You can check this spot daily- or even hourly, depending on what sort of internet connection I have access to - to find out the latest news.

So here's what I'm thinking about the Confederations Cup, beginning today:

Monday, June 8th. 3:00 PM local time - Dakar, Senegal

Yes, Dakar. I'm still here at home; flying to South Africa on Wednesday.

The Roster

In the meantime, the US has officially announced its Confederations Cup roster, and there are few surprises, but there is some interesting news.

It is confirmed that Brian Ching and Frankie Hejduk will both miss out due to lingering injuries. More surprising is that Pablo Mastroeni is being left home. It's not clear whether that is a technical decision having to do with his recent play or some sort of agreement with Colorado following the enlistment of Conor Casey, but it seems like good news in some respects for the US.

Mastroeni is another one of those veterans whose years are starting to show. He played poorly in both of last week's qualifiers, and it is not clear what he brings to the team anymore among the litany of qualified holding mids Bradley has to choose from. It's good to see players like Rico Clark, who was a motor in Saturday, and Jose Francisco Torres, who in my opinion was a bright spot in the first half against Costa Rica, getting a chance to travel.

Casey travels as well, which I also like. Both fans and the media seem to be down on him already after Saturday, which is grossly unfair. The former Mainz man was thrown into the fire on very short notice and performed decently - though he definitely should have done better with the one clear chance he had. Casey and Josmer Altidore remained starved for quality service, but both showed a lot of grit and determination in tracking back and fighting the Hondurans for possession, which was key to the way the game turned midway through the first half.

Casey, the May MLS player of the month, will likely have a chance to prove himself against some quality competition in South Africa, since Altidore and Charlie Davies are the only other true forwards on the roster.

Another interesting name on the roster is that of third string ‘keeper Luis Robles. Robles told YA last month that he had expected to be on his honeymoon around now, so this trip must come as at least a slight surprise. Clearly Bradley and company are paying attention to the increasingly large and dispersed pool of Americans abroad, and it is good to see someone like Robles, who has won his position the hard way, taken into consideration for an event of this stature.

Overall, the roster is a young one, but quality enough. Most of the Americans' hopes for the future, including guys that will need to play well for the US to do well next year in South Africa, are included. Maurice Edu would be the key missing factor in that equation.

Expectations

All three games will be tough, but unlike many analysts, I expect the US to put a quality side on the field, and be in the mix at least for the semi-finals. For one thing, these games won't be any more pressure packed than the last two, and the US will take the field Monday in Pretoria against Italy with the cohesiveness of a team already well into a tournament, considering the qualifiers and Confederations Cup as one longer group of must win games.

Saturday's win on short rest against a quality Honduran team should not be underestimated. When it would have been easy to give in - witness the look on Clint Dempsey's mug after the Honduras goal - Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and company showed their mettle, and put some space between them and that dangerous fourth place position that would lead to a complicated home and away with South America's fifth place team.

Now, under less pressure, more rested, and with the knowledge that the road to qualifying is likely just a matter of beating El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago the second time around, the team can really let loose and enjoy their soccer.

CONCACAF

The US can look forward to the Confederations because they took care of business against Honduras. Any other result would have made this trip a much less enjoyable one.

Mexico, on the other hand, is a team that refuses to put its shop in order. Even with their new (old) coach, the Mexicans still looked like a bunch of individuals playing against a concerted El Salvador team which won deservedly Saturday night at home. After the Salvadorans ambushed the US, there's no way Mexico should have been surprised like that.

So Mexico is second to last for now, but their panic is still without too much cause. Mexico has played only one home game so far. Wins at El Azteca - against last place T & T and then the US in August - would put them right back in the thick of things. That means taking a point from Mexico in August could be huge for the US, but that is getting ahead of ourselves.

More importantly, the US will want to keep space between themselves and the third place team. The Americans would love a tie between Honduras and El Salvador in the other game Wednesday. At any rate, the mathematics at this point look good for the American chances of avoiding that dangerous fourth place spot that would lead to that unwanted playoff with a South American country in November.

Am I the only one who thinks it would be interesting to see Mexico end up in that series?