AMSTERDAM — With US manager Bob Bradley carrying three uncapped players in tow to tackle friendly guests Poland and Colombia in the coming week, observers are wondering what the newcomers have to offer.
Most notable among the newbies is veteran Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones. The gung ho two-way player made an official FIFA switch from Germany to the United States last fall, but a nagging leg injury has kept him out of the side until now.
Along for the ride are a pair of young players loaded with potential and impressing enough at the club level to earn a look: Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj and FC Dallas attacker Brek Shea.
While Jones has the most clear role in Bradley's set-up and is the only one competing for a starting place, all three will be eager to put their international promise on display.
The 28-year-old Schalke man will be auditioning to partner Michael Bradley in central midfield. Even if the coach does shift the formation's shape, I'd imagine he'll be sticking with two defensively capable midfielders.
As evidenced by his red card this past weekend, the Miners midfielder can get a bit too stuck-in. He is a destroyer by challenge mindset, but he also loves to gallop forward into attack.
Jones will move forward in any of the three central channels, so Bradley will need to adjust his placement when left sitting back.
Defensively, Jones hurries to close space and jumps passing lanes much like Maurice Edu does, but he adds that extra menacing physical dimension.
When the Nats are transitioning forward, he is likely to defer to Bradley on outlet passing. Jones prefers to keep it simple or work the gut.
I'd imagine Jones is set for at least one start in the two games. It would be very interesting to see him run out against Colombia, who more closely resemble the CONCACAF style, one somewhat unfamiliar to the midfielder.
The Aston Villa apprentice loves to get up and down the flank. When forward, his crosses and shots are often dangerous.
Though still untested in the Premier League, the right back has largely held his own defensively in a handful of cup and friendly showings.
As a player, Lichaj fits well into the "empty bucket" set used predominantly over the recent World Cup cycle and the 4-5-1 set many observers are hoping to see next.
Naturally, he needs experience and this represents a new level of competition—but that's why he's here, isn't it? I'd really love to see him start one of the games.
Bradley, who prizes versatility, will have plenty of options for using the FC Dallas attacker. Shea can operate as a left midfielder, a winger or a target man. He's even lined up in the backline now and then for FCD.
Though none of his top skills are fully honed, the youngster can run at defenders on the ground and compete in the box aerially.
He will need to raise his game on the backtrack and be more careful with his build-up passing. However, the abnormally long in-season FIFA break camp will offer plenty of time for Shea to absorb help on such matters.
It's difficult to say which role best suits Shea at the international level, so it seems wise to give him a couple of different sub assignments.