In preparing for the US-Sweden game, I wondered just how many of the guys we'll see on Saturday will really make an impact for the US national team in 2009 and beyond. This game after all is not a tune-up for Mexico; it's not a reflection on the strength of the US; and it's certainly not a measure of how the US fares against a second-tier European side. The result is not going to matter in the least but how the players perform will ultimately determine the usefulness of this match.
Now, one way to compare the potential impact of this game is to look at how other January games at Home Depot Center have worked out. Save for 2005 when labor strife threatened to derail the US national team, the US has played a January match at Home Depot Center each year for the last five years.
Mostly, it's yielded little in terms of great finds and mostly mixed results.
2004: US 1, DENMARK 1
First, the lineup.
USA: 1-Jonny Walker; 5-Chris Albright (2-Frankie Hejduk, 79), 23-Eddie Pope (capt.), 3-Nick Garcia, 15-Bobby Convey; 12-Steve Ralston (17-Chris Klein, 62), 8-Richard Mulrooney (13-Kerry Zavagnin, 71), 13-Chris Armas (11-John Wolyniec, 88), 7-DaMarcus Beasley; 9-Ante Razov (16-Josh Wolff, 62), 10-Landon Donovan. Subs not used: 22-Kevin Hartman, 4-Ritchie Kotschau.
US Goal: Donovan (78th)
Not a lot of diamonds in the rough here. Players like Nick Garcia and Richard Mulrooney never took that next step to get called up again consistently, Steve Ralston and Kerry Zavagnin were serviceable players at best during their US careers but they were pretty much at that point there. The only true impact players there were Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Pope and to a lesser extent Frankie Hejduk, Bobby Convey and Josh Wolff, while Christ Albright and the aforementioned players also made the World Cup 2006 roster (technically Albright replaced Hejduk). Wolyniec? Kotschau? Yeesh.
2006: US 5, NORWAY 0
USA: 22-Kevin Hartman; 3-Todd Dunivant, 12-Jimmy Conrad, 23-Eddie Pope (4-Ugo Ihemelu, 83), 2-Frankie Hejduk; 5-Kerry Zavagnin (14-Ben Olsen, 79), 13-Pat Noonan (17-Chris Klein, 77), 8-Clint Dempsey (21-Santino Quaranta, 70), 10-Landon Donovan (capt.);16-Josh Wolff (19-Nate Jaqua, 67), 20-Taylor Twellman (11-Brian Ching, 83). Subs not used: 24-Matt Reis.
Goals: Twellman (5), Twellman (17), Pope (67), Twellman (76), Klein (87)
This is probably the most telling match in terms of how insignificant friendlies can be. Taylor Twellman was on the fence for a roster spot on the 2006 World Cup team. He scored three goals and had a magnificent performance. Brian Ching replaced him with seven minutes remaining and, well, who can remember those minutes? Yet it was Brian Ching who nabbed a forward spot over Twellman. Now, there were other factors involved of course. It was not just contingent upon this game. But how you perform in this game does not necessarily lead to furhter call ups to the national team, a point we will see in the 2007 game. One player who did shine and was poised for a breakthrough was Todd Dunivant. The then-Galaxy player had a great match and seemed to have given then-coach Bruce Arena a viable left back option. Instead, Dunivant was hurt in March, an injury which knocked him out of any possibilities for Germany. By June, new Galaxy coach Frank Yallop shipped Dunivant off to New York and he's never been close to being the same player he was in 2005 and early '06.
2007: US 3, DENMARK 1
USA: 24-Matt Reis; 5- Chris Albright (6-Bryan Namoff, 63), 12-Jimmy Conrad (capt.), 23-Bobby Boswell (4-Dan Califf, 89), 3-Jonathan Bornstein; 25-Pablo Mastroeni (14-Kyle Beckerman, 86), 13-Ricardo Clark, 10-Landon Donovan, 17-Chris Rolfe (19-Heath Pearce, 74); 9-Eddie Johnson (20-Kenny Cooper, 63), 11-Nate Jaqua (21-Justin Mapp, 46). Subs not used: 1-Joe Cannon.
US Goals: Donovan (44), Bornstein (57), Cooper (80)
Here's a case of where this game produced some instant impact players. Jonathan Bornstein and Ricardo Clark played well in Carson that day, as Bornstein got the game-winning goal in his US debut. Both players were important in 2007 with helping the US win the Gold Cup and each played well in Copa America, though the US did not. Kenny Cooper had a goal as well, also in his first US game, but two years later we're still waiting for Cooper to have a legitimate shot at starting. That may soon change as he did well in last year's final qualifier and is ready to go for Saturday's match. Other players with some decent potential have thus far not realized them on the national team, such as Kyle Beckerman, Nate Jaqua, Chris Rolfe and Justin Mapp, though Dan Califf and Heath Pearce have taken greater roles since then.
2008: US 2, SWEDEN 0
USA: 18-Brad Guzan; 15-Drew Moor, 8-Eddie Robinson (16-Michael Parkhurst, 46) 12-Jimmy Conrad (7-Clarence Goodson, 46), 6-Ramiro Corrales; 10-Landon Donovan (capt.) (23-Jeremiah White, 81), 13-Ricardo Clark, 19-Maurice Edu, 22-Brad Davis (26-Sacha Kljestan, 72); 20-Taylor Twellman (14-Josmer Altidore, 46), 11-Pat Noonan (17-Chris Rolfe, 63). Subs not used: 1-Steve Cronin.
US Goals: Robinson (15), Donovan (48)
Impact players for 2008 include Brad Guzan, who saw his fair share of time in goal and even got in some qualifiers; Jozy Altidore, Maurice Edu and Sacha Kljestan... though they were more part of the Olympic effort in 2008 and, of course, Landon Donovan. It's too soon to tell how many of those guys will ultimately become important pieces of the US team going forward but others seem to have fallen off the radar, such as Pat Noonan, Eddie Robinson (even though he scored a goal) and Jimmy Conrad, surprisingly enough.