The U.S. Olympic team finally began to take shape at the recent megacamp in Germany. So what better time to start to piece together the puzzle and give you a projected lineup for the 2012 Olympic team?
Even if Olympic coach Caleb Porter was tied up with his collegiate coaching duties at Akron, the camp gave us plenty of clues to what youth technical director Claudio Reyna is thinking. Four scrimmages took place, two for the full U-23 team and two more for a team of U-20s (including a handful of older players from the last U-20 cycle). The way those teams were divided, along with the way the rest of the camp shook out, give us a sense of what the Olympic roster will look like next summer.
But first, some notes:
• Standout performers at the Germany camp included forward Terrence Boyd, who helped his stock tremendously, bagging a pair of goals in two games -- the second as a second half sub -- and defender Royal-Dominique Fennell (call him Nick, for short), who looks like a strong candidate to fill an experience void in the middle of the defense.
• Some players we might have included in the team this time last month spent the camp with the junior varsity U-20 team, suggesting a drop on the depth chart for former U-20 standouts Conor Doyle, Sebastian Lletget and Perry Kitchen. Others from that age group, including midfielder Amobi Okugo and defender Zarek Valentin, seized chances with the first team.
• There were 34 players at the recent camp, and that's a big number. However, we can't pick our Olympic team solely from this camp. A half-dozen U-23 players made the trip to France and Slovenia with the full team, and if Porter has his pick, he'll obviously include most or all of Danny Williams, Timmy Chandler, Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, Alfredo Morales and Bill Hamid in his final squad. But qualifying in March falls outside FIFA match dates, so the U.S. will almost certainly be short at least a few of its Europe-based players due to club commitments. Chandler and Williams are the most likely to be unavailable, and the list could quickly grow to include Altidore, Morales, Fennell and Boyd as well. Given those absences, the likes of Joe Gyau, Tony Taylor, and Jared Jeffrey may be called upon for qualifying but ultimately miss out on a place at the Olympics.
One of the more interesting roster spot battles will be at center forward. The coaching staff prefers a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, so there's probably not space on the 18-man roster for three big forwards. The spot behind Altidore will come down to a choice between Boyd and Teal Bunbury. It's hard to imagine leaving either out at this point, but Porter would have to drop a midfielder or winger to bring all three.
• There are still some camps to be held on this side of the Atlantic, but the large roster in Germany featured the majority of the U-23 candidates not with the full team. One absentee who sticks out, though, is Freddy Adu. With so much experience, including the 2008 Olympics, he must at least be in the discussion for the No. 10 spot. His main competition behind Mixx Diskerud would be Dilly Duka and Juan Agudelo, who has been getting some reps in this role. And taking Adu probably means leaving a winger like Taylor or Gyau at home, so the choice isn't as clear cut as it seems.
• If the U.S. makes the Olympics, the team will be allowed to add up to three over-age players, and it's always fun to speculate who might be a good fit. A central defender would be an obvious choice -- Omar Gonzalez, who misses out on the age cut by only a few months, might fit in well. With a 4-2-3-1 in mind, it would also be tempting to add some depth in defensive midfield from the long list of full national team candidates, maybe a Kyle Beckerman or even Michael Bradley. Jose Torres, who skipped the 2008 Olympics while waiting for a call from Mexico, would also make an interesting addition as a versatile attacking option in central midfield.
Now let's get to the projection.
Disclaimer: The Olympic team works with an 18-man roster (but 20 for qualifying), so the choices are even more difficult and positional flexibility is a prized asset. And we're giving you the team we project U.S. Soccer will pick for the Olympic tournament, not necessarily the one we would choose, so direct your feedback accordingly.