Photo by ISIphotos.com
Four months from now, the U.S. men's national team will face England in the World Cup opener, and as fast as that match is approaching, there is still plenty to be settled with regard to the American squad that will be there.
The U.S. team's loss to Honduras last month helped drop the stock of several fringe World Cup candidates, but a bevy of injuries makes it tough to gauge just who will be ready when the team boards the plane for South Africa.
Charlie Davies remains a mystery, though a recent elbow surgery means he should be done with surgical procedures and can now focus on making a return to action. He is still considered a longshot to play, but can no longer simply be ruled out.
Question marks persist on defense, where depth has clearly become an issue. That lack of reliable depth is why we will make a change to our approach for selecting the defender pool for the World Cup roster.
Here is the group of 23 players we see the U.S. national team taking to the 2010 World Cup as of right now:
SBI 23 for 2010 (February 2010 edition)
GOALKEEPERS– Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann
DEFENDERS– Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson
MIDFIELDERS– Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, Robbie Rogers
FORWARDS– Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Robbie Findley
Left off last team-Edgar Castillo, Conor Casey
New additions– Maurice Edu, Brian Ching
Here is a closer look at the positions:
GOALKEEPERS– The trio stays the same and there is no reason to believe that trio won't be in South Africa. Marcus Hahnemann is playing at a very high level as starter for Wolves and leaves me wondering whether he won't push Guzan aside for the No. 2 role of he keeps it up. We will have to wait until the MLS season to get a sense of who else might be a candidate to jump in if there is an injury. As of now, Troy Perkins remains that player.
DEFENDERS– You might find it crazy to have just seven defenders on this roster, but there are three things to consider. First, the fringe candidates have been very shaky, making their inclusions highly questionable. Edgar Castillo hasn't really gotten his chance, but he is not a strong left back defensively so you wonder if he can break through in a group that already has three players capable of playing left back in Bornstein, Bocanegra and Spector.
Second, having seven defenders shouldn't be an issue if Maurice Edu is brought in. He has seen time in central defense (he looked good there on the U.S. Olympic team) and could be used there if needed. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the United States has used just six defenders in each of the past two World Cups. Both in 2002 (Steve Cherundolo and David Regis) and 2006 (Chris Albright and Gregg Berhalter), the United States had two defenders out of eight on the roster who didn't play a single minute.
It should be noted that Bruce Arena was the coach for both those teams, and Bob Bradley could prefer to have some depth among his defenders, but if Edu is on the roster, and if say someone like DaMarcus Beasley plays himself onto the squad, we can see Bradley taking just seven defenders.
We're not completely writing off Castillo just yet, but he, Frank Simek, Conrad and Marshall all need to play very well in the coming months on the club to justify being that eighth defender.
MIDFIELDERS– There were no players removed from last month's group, while Edu has been added. Dempsey and Clark are both out injured, but both should be back in action in March.
DaMarcus Beasley remains sidelined for Rangers, which keeps him off the list and keeps Robbie Rogers on for now. It will be interesting to see what Rogers can do vs. El Salvador. That friendly should also afford Sacha Kljestan another opportunity to force his name back into the conversation.
Don't forget about Alejandro Bedoya. He's a darkhorse, but someone to definitely keep tabs on. If Beasley can't regain his health/form, Bedoya could wind up swooping in and grabbing the spot from Rogers.
Freddy Adu has gotten some minutes for Greek club Aris and can't be completely written off, but for now he remains a longshot. If he settles into a starting role for Aris, and starts to produce regularly, he still has a shot.
Jermaine Jones looks like a lost cause at this point. He still hasn't returned to action, and now that his inclusion in the upcoming friendly vs. the Netherlands looking unlikely, it would appear that a once-promising candidate is now a serious long-shot. Of course, if he returns to Schalke and plays very well to close out the Bundesliga season, Bob Bradley could have a very tough decision to make.
FORWARDS– Brian Ching has battle injury issues on-and-off since last spring, but when he's healthy he's a better option than Conor Casey. We should expect one of them to make the roster and we'll include Ching for now. He should have a chance vs. El Salvador to show just where he is form-wise.
We'll continue giving Robbie Findley the nod over Jeff Cunningham, though it's close. As it stands, we can see both going if Charlie Davies can't make it back. Eddie Johnson has to be considered a candidate to challenge those two, assuming he can keep getting minutes for Aris.
We haven't forgotten about Kenny Cooper, but he needs to impress at Plymouth to have a real chance of forcing his way back onto the radar.
What do you think of this squad? Which player is missing that you would have on the team? Which player is on the squad that you wish weren't on it?
Share your thoughts below.