From 30 to 23

Reaction to Bradley’s roster

Surprised, but not shocked -- my initial reaction to Bob
Bradley’s 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, unveiled earlier today during a live
edition of SportsCenter on ESPN.

Overall the cut from 30 to 23 avoided about as much controversy
as possible. If you’ve followed the national team throughout this cycle and
watched last night’s 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, with certainty you could
have named 20 of the players unveiled today. Bob Bradley and his predecessor
Bruce Arena just aren’t as unpredictable as Steve Sampson was in 1998.

Like I did when the 30-man preliminary roster was unveiled
two weeks ago, I’ll break down this roster by position, including the reasons
the seven unlucky players were cut.

Goalkeepers: Brad
Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard

This is the easiest of the bunch. Absolutely nothing has
changed since two weeks ago and you knew it would be that way. Bradley only
called in three goalkeepers and since January, there has been little doubt this
was the group that would go to South Africa. It’s an interesting collection of
three players at different stages of their careers.

Tim Howard, 31, has been around for a while, though this is
only his second World Cup. The starting position has been his since the day
after the United States fell to Ghana in 2006 and he’s done well to stay
established as the American #1 through that time. Now in his absolute prime,
the North Brunswick, NJ product has been one of the top goalkeepers in the
English Premiership the last few seasons and if the United States makes a
successful run in this tournament, Howard’s play will be a big reason.

At 25, former Fire PDL goalkeeper Brad Guzan is the youngest
American goalkeeper named to a U.S. World Cup roster since his Aston Villa
teammate Brad Friedel was selected for the ’94 team at age 23. Guzan has served
as an understudy to the internationally retired Friedel for two seasons at
Villa and though he’s not starting, there are few better players to learn from.
The Homer Glen, IL product goes into the tournament as a solid number two for
the United States.

Number three keeper Marcus Hahnemann enters his second straight
World Cup as a strong option in case disaster occurs and as an even better
locker room guy. Hahnemann’s rise with Reading before the 2006 World Cup
brought him back into the national team fold after seeing sporadic caps since
1994. Now with Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Seattle, WA native should be
commended for his longevity and is well-deserving of this honor.

Defenders: Carlos
Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson,
Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector

 This is pretty
much what everyone should have expected. The only question for me was whether
or not Bradley would take Bornstein over Heath Pearce or even take an eighth
defender. If it was up in the air, Pearce’s play in last night’s match made the
manager’s decision much easier.

Centrally, some may be surprised by Goodson’s inclusion, but
the former FC Dallas defender has quietly risen over the last year, making the
most of his opportunities. Now with IK Start in Norway, Goodson has become a
reliable option off the bench as earlier cycle favorites Chad Marshall, Danny
Califf and Michael Parkhurst faded. Probably rated fourth out of the pure
center backs on this roster, if the U.S. makes it out of the group stage, don’t
be surprised to see Goodson take to the field for a side that has a reputation
of picking up cards in big tournaments.

While Oguchi Onyewu hadn’t played competitively since last
October, there was no realistic chance that the AC Milan defender wouldn’t be
named to this roster. The U.S. needs Onyewu to continue his recovery – he’s not
at 100% yet, but he’s sorely needed on the U.S. backline.

Who will start vs.
England?

It’s a tough question. How much faith does Bob Bradley have
in Jonathan Bornstein to defend against whichever speedy outside player England
puts on the right? Do you go with a more defensive formation and place
Bocanegra or Spector there? Aside from Onyewu’s comeback status, this is the
most pressing defensive question for Bradley.

The backline will very much depend on who Bradley decides to
place on the left. If Bocanegra is there, look to see DeMerit and Onyewu in the
middle with Spector on the right. If Bornstein is there, expect Bocanegra and
Onyewu again with Spector on the right and if Spector is there, look for
Bocanegra and Onyewu in the middle with Cherundolo on the right. Got all that?

Midfielders: DaMarcus
Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice
Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres

Sacha Kljestan really needed to play out of his skin last
night for a chance at this roster but he was mostly anonymous. The same goes
for Rogers, whose form has steadily dipped over the last year and didn’t
differentiate himself on Tuesday night. Bedoya’s insurgent run from an unknown
American based in Sweden to vying for a spot on the World Cup roster came up
just short. Had it not been for Stuart Holden’s quick recovery from a fractured
leg sustained in March’s friendly against Holland, Bedoya’s speed and offensive
prowess would most certainly be headed to South Africa.

For some, the sight of DaMarcus Beasley on this roster is
painful, but in reality all the former Fire winger had to do was play decent
last night to punch his ticket. Last year’s Confederations Cup aside, Beasley
brings big game club and international experience to this roster and has shown
up for those matches more often than not.

Stuart Holden’s speed and crossing ability on the right will
be useful if Bradley decides to utilize Dempsey up top. Torres and Feilhaber
bring skill on the ball that few on this roster posses and both could easily be
seen in at least one match during the group stage.

Who will start vs.
England?

Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan have been constants
during this entire cycle. As long as they’re healthy and not suspended they will
play all three group matches and likely, the full 90 in every one.

Two questions exist: First, will Bradley utilize Dempsey as
a second striker? If he does, Stuart Holden will start on the right, if he
doesn’t, Dempsey will be there with Holden a good bet to come on as an
offensive sub.

Second, who partners with Bradley in the middle? Ricardo
Clark was Bob Bradley’s choice with Maurice Edu’s extended injury absence. The
former Toronto FC player is the type of two-way midfielder that is needed in
the midfield “bucket” formation the elder Bradley prefers and his return to
form with Rangers while Clark played scarcely for Eintracht Frankfurt gives him
the advantage.

Forwards:

 This was the
position where everything other than Jozy Altidore’s spot was up in the air. Even
though that was the case, Brian Ching’s omission is the biggest surprise out of
today’s roster unveiling.

Side bar: Kudos to the
ESPN producers and U.S. Soccer public relations for leaving the strikers at the
very end of Bob Ley’s introductions…

 Two weeks ago
when Conor Casey failed to make the preliminary 30, I was sure that Ching had
booked his ticket as the target striker in the group. Instead, the veteran of
44 international matches was pipped by three forwards that have a combined nine
caps between them.

The insurgent strike rate of both Edson Buddle (2 caps) with
the Los Angeles Galaxy and Herculez Gomez (3 caps) with Puebla in the Mexican
First Division caught everyone off guard this year and with Charlie Davies not
ready to go following the tragic car accident in D.C. last October, Robbie
Findley (4 caps) will be looked to as the speed option in this group.

 With none of
the established U.S. strikers differentiating themselves since the last
summer’s Confederations and Gold Cup tournaments, Bradley went with the players
that were bagging goals and who could best help the team now. I give the
manager a lot of credit for choosing the in-form strikers over someone with
experience.   
  

Who starts against
England?

It is within the realm of possibility that out of this group,
only Jozy Altidore will start, paired with Clint Dempsey up top. I don’t see
any of the three outside Jozy making more than a substitute appearance against
the Three Lions, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be utilized morein the
remaining group games against Slovenia and Algeria.

Let’s remember all is not lost for those cut today. The last
two World Cups have seen the United States need to replace two players named to
their final roster.

A fixture for the U.S. during the 2002 World Cup qualifying
cycle, former Fire midfielder Chris Armas tore his ACL in one of the World Cup
sendoff matches. His replacement Greg Vanney, went down in the next warm up
match, making way for Steve Cherundolo to go to his first World Cup. The
Hannover defender was unfortunately bit by the injury bug after arriving in
Korea and was one of only two U.S. field players to not appear in that
tournament.

Four years later Frankie Hejduk sustained an ACL tear on the
weekend before Bruce Arena announced his roster. Coming into camp anyway,
Hejduk was unable to train and was replaced on the roster by Chris Albright.
Similarly, defender Cory Gibbs took a hit to his right knee in a warm-up
friendly against Morocco and was replaced by veteran Gregg Berhalter the next
day.

This is all by way of saying anything can happen and it
certainly has. Players left off this roster should stay focused and always be
ready to accept a call in case one of the 23 can’t go. 

This is the 23 we have now and it’s time to get behind all
of them.