Wednesday, June 30, 2011
Posted: 12:56 p.m.
By Dave ZeitlinCSNPhilly.com Contributor
CHESTER, Pa. In the wake of the Philadelphia Unions 3-2 win over Chivas USA on Saturday, Danny Mwanga was gushing about a brilliant goal.
Only, the Unions second-year striker wasnt talking about his own well-struck ball that catapulted the Union to victory minutes earlier. Instead, he was looking up at the television in the home locker room, where Gio Dos Santos had just sealed Mexicos 4-2 win over the United States in the Gold Cup finals with a ridiculous chip shot.
Did you see that goal? Mwanga exclaimed in the direction of teammate Amobi Okugu. Like Mwanga, Okugo was also watching the game. So were other Union players, who, while changing into street clothes and talking to reporters, had their eyes on the TV to watch the U.S. mens national team play their biggest rival with a championship trophy at stake.
Some of those players like Danny Califf, Brian Carroll and Justin Mapp already know what its like to play for the United States Senior Mens National Team (USMNT). Others like Faryd Mondragn, Carlos Valds, Carlos Ruiz, Veljko Paunovi and Keon Daniel have played (or currently play) internationally for their own native countries. And then there are others still that hope to one day be called upon to represent their countries, an ambitious goal that fuels their fire each day in training.
When youve been through the youth teams, you aspire to be at the highest level, said Okugo, a 20-year-old midfielder. A bunch of guys have gone through the same passage we had with residency and youth national teams and starting in MLS and playing abroad, so you know theres incentive to keep working hard because theyre watching us.
One thing is clear: After a disappointing runner-up performance at the Gold Cup, the United States can certainly use a boost of young talent. And while there are many sensational up-and-comers around this league and others, the Union also have their fair share of American-born rising stars.
That said, there is no clear-cut favorite as to which current Union player will get there first, so, with the help of my Twitter followers, Ive put together a list of who on the club has the best chance to join the U.S. senior national team in the coming years. Heres what we came up with:
(Note: These odds arent meant to indicate a players chances of making the national team, but instead who, among only Union players, has the best chance to get there next.)
(Another note: I really dont know how to set odds.)
(The last note: You know what, dont pay very much attention to the odds.)
Sheanon Williams 5:1
The 21-year-old is fast developing into the best right fullback in the league. And luckily for him, the Americans looked vulnerable on the backline during the Gold Cup, especially when aging right back Steve Cherundolo had to come out vs. Mexico with a twisted ankle. Considering Williams wasnt even playing in MLS a year ago at this time, his rise has been meteoric, but its not as if hes completely come out of nowhere, having previously played for the U-17 and U-20 national teams. Twelve different Twitter followers mentioned Williams when I posed the question, receiving more votes than anyone on the team but for one player (more on that one player later).
Amobi Okugo 6:1
The defensive central midfielder, who started for the U-20 team at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship a couple of months ago, is on the right path. His next goal is to play for the U-23 team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. If he makes it there and does well in London the senior national team could be the next rung on the ladder.
Zac MacMath 7:1
Like Okugo, MacMath was a starter at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship team. And even though that squad flamed out and didnt qualify for the U-20 World Cup, the 19-year-old Union rookie was strong in net and is viewed by some as the next great American goalkeeper. The United States are typically loaded at the position, but current starter Tim Howard is 32 and not getting any younger.
Danny Mwanga 8:1
If not for the pesky issue of when he gets his United States citizenship, this 19-year-old phenom would easily top the list, as his 13 Twitter votes indicate. Mwanga, who obtained his green card in 2007 shortly after fleeing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, should be in line to get his citizenship shortly, but even then he still must decide if hed rather suit up for his native Congo or wait for the call from the United States. Another Congolese player in Major League Soccer Seattles Steve Zakuani opted for the former. Union and U.S. fans hope Mwanga chooses differently.
Jack McInerney 10:1
Although not as far along as Mwanga, McInerney is another young striker with big things in front of him. Since being drafted right out of high school last year, the 18-year old has been a solid goal-scoring threat off the bench for Philly, although hes been held in check this season. McInerney is still a long way off from being on the senior national teams radar, but his potential excites Union fans perhaps more than any other players. He got six Twitter votes, just behind MacMaths eight and Okugos seven.
Justin Mapp 12:1
Hes only 26, is in the midst of a strong season and has earned caps in the past with the UMSNT. But the outside midfielder hasnt been called up since 2007, which probably seems like a lifetime ago. Still, if Mapp continues to play as well as hes been playing, he may have a shot to get back into the picture. Plus, he was the Twitter choice of Mondragn, who you dont want to disagree with.
Danny CaliffBrian Carroll 15:1
Califf and Carroll are among the steadiest players in the league and both have fairly recent experience playing for the senior national team. So if the USMNT were looking for a veteran presence for an upcoming camp or qualifying game, theyd be wise to look to either of these two. But at 31 and 29 respectively, Califf and Carrolls days of representing their country may be in the past.
Zach Pfeffer 25:1
The 16-year-old was the fourth-youngest player ever to sign an MLS contract, and the Union coaches believe he can one day be a superstar. But that day is a long way off. The crafty, technically sound midfielder was also left off the U-17 World Cup roster, which may slow down his progression. The only way hes the next Union player to play for the USMNT is if his older teammates miss out on getting the call.
Michael FarfanGabriel Farfan 30:1
These twin brothers are not on the USMNT radar right now, but theyre just too skilled and creative to be left off the list. First, the rookies must try to earn consistent playing time for the Union, because when they are healthy and on the field, they can do things with the ball most players cannot.
Well, there it is a list you the fans helped create. (So feel free to blame yourselves if you think someone is in the wrong spot). While its certainly fun to think about this stuff, it should be noted there are many other factors at play and, lets be honest, some luck when it comes to who makes it to the highest level.
It should also be noted that I listed all but three of the Unions American-born players above, and two of the others midfielder Kyle Nakazawa and defender Jordan Harvey have represented the U.S. for youth national teams in the past.
So if theres one conclusion we can draw from this whole exercise, its this: the Union are blessed with a lot of young talent. How and where that young talent develops, of course, remains to be seen.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.