Projecting an ideal 23-man U.S. World Cup roster for South Africa
Herculez Gomez should be placed on the U.S. roster if Charlie Davies isn't fit
Second-place in Group C might not be enough if the U.S. wants to make a run
Spurs' treatment of Robbie Keane is no better than that of Liverpool's
And so it's begun. The past few days have seen various national team coaches commence the painstaking process of culling the candidates for their World Cup squads. We've already seen some minor surprises -- Germany's Joachim Low opting not to recall the in-form Kevin Kuranyi -- and some controversial choices such as Mexico's Javier Aguirre leaving out Nery Castillo. Which brings us, of course, to the U.S. team and the preliminary roster that Bob Bradley will name on May 11, which could be as many as 30 players, but is more likely to be in the 26-28 range. However, ultimately it's all about the final 23 for South Africa, so I'm going to pick the roster that I'd like to see chosen, which isn't necessarily the group I think Bradley will take.
Goalkeepers (3) -- Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann.
The trio of Premiership keepers are an absolute no-brainer and Guzan and Hahnemann provide enviable depth.
Defenders (8) -- Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Frankie Hejduk, Edgar Castillo, Chad Marshall, Jonathan Spector.
I've never been particularly impressed with either Jonathan Bornstein or Heath Pearce. Both are shaky defensively, prone to costly mistakes and inconsistent on offense, so I'd leave them at home in favor of Edgar Castillo. He's only average defensively but far superior going forward, although realistically the chances of Bradley taking him to South Africa are slim to none. Cherundolo, Onyewu, DeMerit and Bocanegra are roster locks, with Bocanegra likely to be the starting left back. While his mobility and lack of pace could be an issue at left back against certain wingers, Bocanegra is still a far safer bet there than the other U.S. options.
Hejduk is there for his veteran experience and intangibles, something that's never to be underestimated, and let's face it, for the 22nd or 23rd man on the roster, one should be thinking more about what the person adds to team chemistry at that point. Spector has had a very rough season for West Ham, but his versatility adds value -- he can back up at right back, left back and center back if need be. Marshall is the final choice because you can never have enough dominant aerial defenders and he provides a hedge against any setbacks in Onyewu's knee injury. Why Marshall over Clarence Goodson? Well, I think Marshall is simply the better player. Although some observers have been impressed with Goodson's form for the national team, almost all of his best performances have come against second-rate opposition such as last summer's Gold Cup bar Mexico, or in friendlies earlier this year against understrength El Salvador and Honduras squads.
Midfielders (9) -- Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, Alejandro Bedoya.
It's at midfield where Bradley will likely face his most difficult cuts. I believe seven of the first nine listed should be certain of their spots, and while I would include both Torres and Bedoya, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Bradley leave out one if not both for DaMarcus Beasley or Sacha Kljestan.
Forwards (3) -- Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez.
I expect Charlie Davies to be called up to camp and given a final chance to prove he's in game shape for South Africa. If he fails the test, I think the sensible choice is Gomez as a direct replacement and Ching as the target forward option. Altidore's obviously assured of his place, and with Dempsey and Donovan both able to play forward, it makes more sense to take an extra midfielder.
The U.S. might need to win Group C
I think if Bradley were to give an honest answer about what he wants to get out of the U.S.' Group C opener with England on June 12, he'd settle for a draw, or even a slim 1-0 loss (with the rationale being a win and a draw against the lesser lights of Algeria and Slovenia would almost ensure group qualification).
However, looking at the brackets, and projecting ahead based on the likely group winners, if the U.S. was to finish second, it would then potentially face a murderer's row of opponents in Germany, followed by Argentina and then Spain. On the other hand, if it upsets England and wins Group C, it would face an easier slate of Serbia, France/Mexico and then Brazil.