It’s 31 days away. The best month every four years is literally just a month from our grasps and the excitement for the 2010 World Cup raised a level yesterday when the qualified nations announced preliminary, and even final rosters for the tournament.
A self-admitted U.S. Men’s National Team junkie, this roster is mostly what anyone would expect – Charlie Davies omission notwithstanding. To be clear, Bob Bradley doesn’t necessarily have to choose his final 23 players from this list, though it’s inconceivable that anyone outside the 30 will be headed to South Africa as a member of the United States’ squad.
Here’s my reaction to the list by position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton)
Easy. When I say that, I mean there was literally no question that these would be the three goalkeepers selected. Bob Bradley has been consistent in his selection of Tim Howard and Fire PDL alum Brad Guzan in pretty much every important U.S. match the last three years. Howard has been the undisputed starter since the U.S. loss to Ghana in 2006 and Guzan’s move to Aston Villa cemented his place as the American number two.
The third goalkeeper role is maybe the most intriguing on every team’s World
Cup roster. Never very likely to play, team’s sometimes elect to bring a young
keeper that shows potential to be a starter one day, giving them “World Cup
experience” without having to experience any of the pressure. This hasn’t
really been the case for the U.S. in a while. Unless there are no huge
surprises, at age 37,vMarcus Hahnemann will almost assuredly be the oldest player on this U.S.
roster. Earning his first appearance over 15 years ago, the veteran keeper has
15 caps to his name and goes along as a “good locker room guy” and a reliable
backstop if disaster occurs.
DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
Locks: Bocanegra, Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Spector.
The center back tandem of Onyewu and DeMerit emerged during last year’s Confederation’s Cup and Bradley has kept Bocanegra on the field lately by playing him as a left back. Some question Bocanegra’s speed as an outside back and its certainly valid, but compared to Pearce and Bornstein he is the best pure defensive option at the position. Though he won’t be swarming up and down the flank, his inclusion with Onyewu and DeMerit make the U.S. a very dangerous team on set pieces.
Jonathan Spector and Steve Cherundolo will duke out the starting role at right back in this camp. The veteran Cherundolo has lost a step over this cycle but is still dependable going up the right and defending his side. Spector impressed many at last year’s Confederations Cup and provides more physicality at the position than the 11-year Hannover player.
The Battles: Pearce vs. Bornstein at left back and Goodson vs. Marshall in central defense
I think there’s a likelihood that three of the four names above will be on the final 23-man roster. There’s also a chance that the winners of those two battles will fill out the defensive corps for Bradley. FIFA doesn’t mandate any number of defenders, midfielders or forwards – they leave the tough decisions up to national team coaches, who’s decisions are based on player versatility and team matchups.
The battle at left back has been back-and-forth throughout this World Cup cycle, beginning with Jonathan Bornstein’s burst onto the national team stage in January 2007. Over time it seemed Heath Pearce won the position but a few bad performances combined with a lack of playing time with Bundesliga club Hansa Rostock re-opened the door for Bornstein.
The Chivas USA defender’s performance against Holland in March raises questions of his ability against top teams, though if all things shake out equally, history suggests Bornstein, as a former player under Bradley, more likely to find his name on the final roster.
Clarence Goodson has quietly emerged as a serious option at center back since moving to Norway’s IK Start in 2008. His performances for the U.S. over the last year put him in front of Columbus’ Chad Marshall entering this camp, but this battle may not end up having a loser as both could reasonably make Bradley’s squad for the World Cup.
Given the U.S. penchant for picking up cards in big international tournaments, it would be wise to bring eight defenders to the World Cup, but Bradley will also take into consideration the versatility of Bocanegra and Spector along the backline as well as midfielder Maurice Edu’s ability to play as a center back in his decision.
IN THE END: If I’m picking winners of the above battles, I'd bet on Bornstein and Goodson to fill out the defensive corps.
MIDFIELDERS (12): DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya
(Örebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht
Frankfurt), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy),
Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Sacha
Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), José Torres (Pachuca)
Locks: Bradley, Clark, Dempsey, Donovan, Edu
The reason you take only seven defenders is so you can provide for this team’s depth in midfield. At the bare minimum Bradley will take eight midfielders, more likely nine, and possibly even 10. There is no question about the above five making the roster, but elimination is a big reason why the elder Bradley makes the big bucks!
The Battles (Wingers): DaMarcus Beasley vs. Alejandro Bedoya vs. Stuart Holden vs. Robbie Rogers
Alejandro Bedoya has emerged as the dark horse, seemingly coming out of nowhere to challenge in the roster race for the World Cup. After impressing during his first U.S. appearance against Honduras in January, the Swedish-based winger could be the player with the fewest caps on the final roster on June 1.
Bedoya’s story is very similar to that of DaMarcus Beasley’s, who’s selection to the 2002 team after only a handful of appearances was a surprise to many in American soccer.
Beasley’s case is one of the most interesting out of the 30-man list. The former Fire winger has been in-and-out of Glasgow Rangers' lineup all season, dealing with injuries and a drop in form for club and country.
The Case for Beasley: He’s still a youngish player that’s already been to two World Cups and has big game experience from his time with PSV Eindhoven during their runs in the UEFA Champions League. His play for the U.S. against Holland in March was one of the few shining performances taken away from that game and Beasley is one of Bradley’s guys.
Able to play on both flanks, Beasley’s chances looked to take a boost when Stuart Holden went down injured in the March friendly against Holland. Out for two months, Holden made his competitive return in Bolton’s 2-1 win over Birmingham City this past weekend.
All three players have very good chances of making Bradley’s roster,
unfortunately for Robbie Rogers, who’s recent play for the U.S. has been
sub-par, Holden’s reemergence has made his ticket to South Africa an unlikely
The Battles (Central): Benny Feilhaber vs. Jose Francisco Torres vs. Sacha Kljestan
Sacha Kljestan has an uphill battle in this fight. Though not gritty, Torres and Feilhaber provide technical skill on the ball that is lacking among most of the other central midfielders on the list. Like other players on the 30, Kljestan does have the advantage of playing for Bradley with Chivas USA, but his form for the U.S. hasn’t been great ever since his hat trick against Sweden in January 2009.
I think it likely both Feilhaber and Torres go. They bring intangibles that many others on this list just don’t possess.
IN THE END: All five of the guys I predicted above could go, though it may only be four. Like I said mere seconds ago, Feilhaber and Torres are in. I think the cut among my picks comes from one of Beasley, Holden and Bedoya. Please don’t ask me who Bob leaves stateside though, its way above my pay grade.
FORWARDS (6): Edson Buddle Los Angeles Galaxy), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki)
THE LOCK: Altidore
Some might even say Jozy isn’t locked in, though I will. Forget the way he ended the league season in Hull, Jozy’s physical presence and speed are absolutely needed for this team to succeed.
The biggest surprise to me is not that Charlie Davies was left off, though there is some disappointment. It’s the omission of Conor Casey, who’s two-goal performance last October against Honduras qualified the U.S. for their sixth consecutive World Cup. Casey’s spot wasn’t guaranteed then, but to see him missing from Bradley’s list of 30 is surprising…
As for the rest, I’ll opine that Bradley called the other five in to earn a job over the next two weeks.
If you have a political mind like myself, Ching and Johnson are the establishment, incumbent candidates. They’ve both been to a World Cup, were both involved in qualifying before this cycle and share 84 caps between them. They’re safe, reliable bets – strikers that you’re familiar with and know what to expect from on the international level.
Then there are the upstarts, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez. One named after a soccer god, the other after a Greek god – both an afterthought in Bradley’s plans before the last few months. Who could have predicted either’s rise in form?
Buddle, a player with one international cap, seven years ago, has nine goals in eight matches with Los Angeles this year. Gomez, with two caps to his name, tied for the goal scoring lead in the 2010 Mexican Clausura after going off Bradley's and Major League Soccer's radar.
Robbie Findley may play spoiler, after being granted a reprieve by Bradley, having failed to find the back of the net this season. The RSL striker is still in with a shout of the U.S. squad, but is as far outside as any player on the 30-man roster.
IN THE END:
It’s all up for grabs after Altidore. I don’t dare predict the exact strikers we’ll see go to South Africa but it seems likely one of the establishment: Ching or Johnson and one of the upstarts: Buddle or Gomez, will be there…