Wednesday, May 12, 2010

United States World Cup 2010: Who Will Survive the Final Cut?

Thirty days before the start of the World Cup the United States announced its preliminary 30-man roster, which will be pared down to 23-players by June 1.

The biggest move was not including forward Charlie Davies in the squad. Davies has been battling back from injuries sustained in a deadly car accident in October. His progress has been remarkable, but it wasn’t enough to convince Head Coach Bob Bradley that he will be ready to go in time for the start of the tournament, especially considering he did not receive medical clearance from his club team Sochaux (France).

Here is a look at who was named to the roster and which players will (should) be going to South Africa.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

All three were locks and will be going to South Africa. The competition will be who backs up Howard, with Hahnemann having the upper hand after enjoying a successful season in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton while Guzan got little playing time for Aston Villa backing up former-U.S. International Brad Friedel.

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

Normally teams will take eight defenders, but the majority of the United States defenders can play any position on the backline. The belief is because of their versatility Bradley will take one less defender in order to bring an extra midfielder.

Bocanegra—the captain—is definitely going to the World Cup. So are Bornstein, DeMerit, Spector, Cherundolo, and Onyewu, despite the last name not having played since October because of a torn patellar tendon. So essentially Pearce, Goodson and Marshall are up for the final defense position.

Marshall looks to be the first out from that group. He was the 2008 and 2009 MLS Defender of the Year, however injuries have hurt him. He had to leave the National Team’s winter camp and has only played in two of the Columbus Crew’s five games this season. The other two are more in form than Marshall which will leave him on the outside.

Pearce was the starting left back but lost the position because of a dip in form caused by his club team in Germany benching him. However, he transferred to MLS in September. He’s started ever since and has played well, also starring in the United States friendly against El Salvador in February. In his favor is his ability to also play as a wing midfielder.

Goodson is a solid center back who also is very useful on set pieces, something that he could offer should Onyewu not be 100%.

Pearce should be the one to come out on top. He’s getting the playing time now at the club level and is playing well. His ability to get into the offense, either playing fullback or as a midfielder, is unique and the strongest of the defenders. His versatility should serve him well over Goodson, a fine player himself, as he can slide into a number of different positions.

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Jose Francisco Torres

Two players, Donovan and Bradley, are guaranteed to be starting in June at midfield. Dempsey will also start, but he could move up top instead of playing on the wing. The biggest question will be who starts alongside Bradley in the middle.

It is a crowded field with Edu, Feilhaber, Clark, Kljestan, and Torres vying for the position. The two most qualified players to actually start are Edu and Clark. Edu, although his strength is defense, does provide more offense than Clark. However Clark has more experience starting for the national team, is a Bradley favorite, and now is getting playing time in the German Bundesliga. Both will make the squad.

Feilhaber will also make the team. He provides more creativity in the middle and could be a good compliment to Clark and allow Bradley and Edu to focus a little more on their defensive strengths.

Torres is a super-sub quality player. He provides a good spark off the bench and can make things happen. He can also, if needed, swing outside and play wing midfielder. He’ll be going to South Africa as well.

Kljestan will be the odd-man out from this group. After a hat-trick against Sweden in January 2009, a lot of people thought Kljestan had arrived, and being a guy that Bradley had coached with Chivas USA he received every opportunity to solidify that role. However, he could never reach that level of form again. He struggled mightily for both club and country, even getting benched at Chivas last summer at one point. He is looking better as of late, but it’s just too little too late at a very crowded position.

As for the wings, now that Holden is healthy and getting playing time with Bolton, he’s in and could very well start provided Dempsey starts at forward.

Bedoya has only come on recently but he has gotten good reviews. A midfielder for
Obrero SK of the Swedish Allsvenskan league (the country’s top division), the 23-year-old looks to have his name on the final roster of 23.

Beasley and Rogers will not be as lucky.

Once a prominent member of the U.S. team, Beasley’s stock faded fast. Playing time never came with Rangers and combined with injuries Beasley took a drastic drop in form. He came back into the picture with a good string of games with Rangers scoring a couple goals, but had another injury and things went back to the way they were.

Rogers was an exciting prospect for the team looking to replace Beasley. He has good pace and serves a good cross. However he hasn’t seen the field regularly for the Columbus Crew the past two seasons and his last international appearance against El Salvador saw Rogers try to do too much and hold onto the ball for too long. He just isn’t ready to be playing in the World Cup.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Brian Ching, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson

Altidore, despite his current club situation unsettled and only scoring one goal in his season with Hull in the EPL, is going to South Africa.

Bradley likes to have a holding forward on the roster and Brian Ching is the only option here, so he should be going as well. It was surprising that Bradley left new favorite Conor Casey, however Ching went to the last World Cup so with such a young group his experience could be valuable.

Without Charlie Davies Bradley looks for a “speed” option up front with Robbie Findley, who was one of the options early to replace him. However he wasn’t ever able to take full advantage of the situation earlier in the year and a knee injury has hampered his play with Real Salt Lake. It’s hard to imagine he makes the final roster.

Buddle, Gomez, and Johnson are the three most in-form forwards the nation has to offer. Buddle leads Major League Soccer with nine goals in eight games. Gomez has scored 10 goals in 14 games for Mexican club Puebla. Johnson has put away three goals in the recent Greek-league playoffs.

None of these guys were on the radar earlier in the year (Buddle and Gomez weren’t even mentioned in the U.S. media guide) but their play as of late has deservedly put them in this position.

Johnson seems to be the longest shot of the three options, but he has experience with the national team and played in two games in the 2006 World Cup. He has exhibited goal scoring abilities before and has enjoyed a small renaissance in Greece. The team is familiar with Johnson and he should squeak onto the team.

So Gomez or Buddle?

Buddle has been scoring goals in bunches, but he has never quite scored at this rate. It’s good timing on his part to be playing his best soccer now, but he has never displayed this before. He’s also only been capped once and that was way back in 2003.

Gomez has been a goal scorer in the past, he’s just had a few down seasons. He’s only had two appearances with the national team, but they were much more recent, playing in the 2007 Copa America.

Ultimately Gomez has been much more consistent than Buddle throughout his career, so he will get the nod over Buddle.

Photo Credits.
Team: AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski
Tim Howard: AP Photo/Tim Hales
Carlos Bocanegra: AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Stu Holden: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Jozy Altidore: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

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