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.
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.