Czech game is the final chance for U.S.' fringe players to impress
The U.S. faces a weakened Czech Republic team minus eight of its best players
The U.S. will announce its final 23-man roster sometime on Wednesday
Veteran DaMarcus Beasley looks to be in the driving seat for the final midfield spot
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Time is just about up for seven players who will be cut from the U.S. soccer team when coach Bob Bradley announces his final 23-man World Cup roster this week, most likely on Wednesday. And at least some of those last cuts will depend on what happens in Tuesday's friendly here between the U.S. and the Czech Republic (ESPN, Galavision, 8 p.m. ET).
The game is the first of three pre-World Cup matches for the United States, along with this Saturday's meeting against Turkey (in Philadelphia) and a friendly on June 5 in South Africa against Australia. But while those two games will focus on preparing the U.S.' likely first-choice lineup, Bradley said that Tuesday's game will be more about determining the final roster cuts.
Who's on the bubble? Let's break it down:
Forwards: Among the front-line players, only Jozy Altidore is a lock to make the final roster. That leaves five forwards jockeying for two or three spots: Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson and Robbie Findley. If Ching has fully recovered from his hamstring injury, I expect he'll make the team. One of Tuesday's big storylines could be Gomez (the surprise Mexican League golden boot winner) and Buddle (MLS's leading scorer), who will likely get their first U.S. caps since 2007 (for Gomez) and 2003 (for Buddle). Word is that Gomez has had a good camp, and if he can continue his torrid scoring pace he may well earn a spot in the World Cup.
Midfielders: Based on indications in recent days, DaMarcus Beasley appears to have gone a long way toward making his third World Cup team. A good performance on Tuesday would help as well. As it stands, Beasley's in the driving seat as one of the four players fighting for one spot: Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers being the others. Bedoya has had the least experience of the three on the national team, but he has shown potential in two U.S. games this year (including the March 3 loss to the Netherlands). Kljestan might make a late charge, though: He has a long history with Bradley, and the Chivas USA player came into camp extremely fit, judging by how he performed in conditioning drills. Rogers might be on the outside looking in at this point.
Defenders: I expect that Bradley will only drop one defender from the current camp, and the most likely suspect is Chad Marshall. Heath Pearce appears likely to have earned his way onto the team, while Clarence Goodson looks as though he has the advantage over Marshall for the last spot in the central defense.
What will the Czechs bring to the table? Perhaps not much, judging by their lame performance in a 2-1 loss to Turkey on Saturday. "The game was bad," U.S. assistant coach Lubos Kubik, a former Czech international, told me. "The Czech team comes here without its eight best players. I think for the game with us it will be a new squad, with a minimum of six or seven different players [from the lineup against Turkey]."
The best-known player on this Czech team is goalkeeper Petr Cech. Kubik said he also expects to see a Czech lineup that includes Jaroslav Plasil, Tomas Hubschman, Tomas Necid, Milan Cerny (Saturday's goal-scorer) and Rudolf Skacel. (Missing from this Czech team are Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky.)
The big news, however, is that after months of anticipation the U.S. is expected to name its final 23 on Wednesday. Here's my best current stab at the list, which I'll update after Tuesday's game:
Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan.
Defenders (8): Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector, Heath Pearce.
Midfielders (9): DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres.
Forwards (3): Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Brian Ching.