With one of the toughest stretches of matches in U.S. national team history fast approaching, the countdown to June is well under way for coach Bob Bradley.
Bradley is about a month away from calling in the training camp roster that will prepare the U.S. team for this summer's opponents -- a series of matches that includes World Cup qualifiers against two of the toughest opponents in the region, Costa Rica and Honduras, followed almost immediately by the Confederations Cup, which will feature matches against Brazil, Italy and Egypt.
The demands of those five matches (which will be played over three weeks) will make Bradley's selection of a squad that much more important. Not only will the strength of the U.S. team be tested, but so will the depth. The frequency of matches coupled with the quality of opponents means this won't be a stretch of games during which to try new faces or lean on players who aren't in form.
With that in mind, it is time to start thinking about the 23-man roster Bradley will take with him to South Africa for the Confederations Cup. It will be a group that first will have to navigate through a qualifier in San Jose, Costa Rica, and a home match in Chicago against a Honduras team coming off a 3-1 thrashing of Mexico. With only a month to go, Bradley has to be in the midst of trying to piece together the group that will be best suited to handle the upcoming stretch of matches.
Here is a breakdown of the locks, the probable picks and the outside possibilities for the U.S. national team's roster for the Confederations Cup and its upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
GOALKEEPERS: Locks -- Tim Howard, Brad Guzan. Projected -- Marcus Hahnemann. Possible -- Troy Perkins.
Howard is the unquestioned No. 1 while Guzan has established himself as a solid backup. Hahnemann makes the most sense as the No. 3 goalkeeper. Those hoping to see an MLS goalkeeper make this cut will have to wait for the Gold Cup.
DEFENDERS: Locks -- Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Frankie Hejduk. Projected -- Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Michael Parkhurst, Jonathan Bornstein. Possible -- Dan Califf, Heath Pearce.
The biggest question mark at this point regarding the U.S. defense is whether or not Cherundolo will be back from hip surgery in time to be ready for the June matches. If he can't be back, Bradley might have to consider Toronto FC right back Marvell Wynne. Left back seems like it is up in the air as well, particularly with Pearce's recent demotion at Hansa Rostock, but Bornstein is showing signs of being in good form and DaMarcus Beasley is a very good bet to see time there.
While Bocanegra and Onyewu are the lock starters in central defense, determining the No. 3 center back on the depth chart isn't as easy. Califf had been getting the calls in that role, but his poor performance versus El Salvador and subsequent benching (he didn't dress versus Trinidad and Tobago four days later) leave you wondering just where he stands now.
That leaves DeMerit and Parkhurst, who has settled in and is playing regularly for Danish club FC Nordsjaelland. Califf doesn't make this projected group, but with both Cherundolo and Spector question marks due to injuries, he easily could make this cut.
MIDFIELDERS: Locks -- Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, Jose Francisco Torres, Pablo Mastroeni, Maurice Edu. Projected -- Sacha Kljestan, Freddy Adu. Possible -- Robbie Rogers, Jeremiah White.
The first six choices in midfield seem like easy enough calls to make. Torres has shown more than enough to be considered, particularly given Mastroeni's strong performance versus Trinidad and Tobago and Edu's form for Glasgow Rangers.
While Kljestan might seem like a lock, his recent form for the national team drops him down a notch. He still is a good bet to go but not quite a lock. That leaves one more midfield position, which you would think would go to a natural wing player. Rogers might be a good call but he has been hampered by hamstring injuries early in the MLS season.
Which brings us to Adu. There are questions as to whether he is someone you need on the roster when you have Torres, but he still has to be considered. Someone who might deserve even more consideration is White, who has enjoyed a strong season with Danish side AGF Aarhus. His goal-scoring ability and versatility should earn him strong consideration, but he hasn't played for the national team since a 10-minute cameo in January 2008.
FORWARDS: Locks -- Landon Donovan, Brian Ching. Projected -- Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies. Possible -- Eddie Johnson.
Who knew that toenails could be so important to the state of the U.S. national team? Altidore's recent toenail surgery has him sidelined for a month, and while he should be back in time to join the U.S. team, questions about where his fitness and form might be are natural. If he's healthy, he is a lock and would be a key figure throughout June.
That would leave the fourth forward spot, for which Davies seems perfectly suited. He has enjoyed good form in Europe with Swedish side Hammarby and is poised for a move to a bigger league. He is the perfect speed option off the bench, even if he did look shaky in his January performance versus Sweden.
Davies' stiffest competition for that final forward spot is Johnson, who has to be considered on the radar after establishing himself as a regular contributor (although not a starter) for Cardiff City. Johnson has the edge in experience on Davies, but Davies is the better finisher and should get the edge. If Altidore isn't available, it's probably a safe bet they both will go to South Africa.
|U.S. men's schedule
|U.S. vs. Costa Rica
At Costa Rica
U.S. vs. Honduras
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.