Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
by FRANCO PANIZO
Whether it's a fringe player looking to cement a spot on the final 23-man roster, or a starter looking to silence his critics, the U.S. men's national team's friendly against the Czech Republic (8pm, ESPN) should provide answers for head coach Bob Bradley.
With Bradley selecting his World Cup team on Wednesday, the match at Rentschler Field will prove pivotal for bubble players such a Alejandro Bedoya, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez. A solid performance against the Czechs could go a long way in helping a player book his ticket to South Africa.
"This past week we've had training to see how we were on our running," said Jose Francisco Torres. "Everybody has enjoyed seeing each other again, but now we have an important game. Everyone is focused on that."
While everyone is in World Cup mode, it is likely that some regulars will be rested in order to make room for the numerous players fighting for the final six or seven spots up for grabs.
One regular who won't be rested is Oguchi Onyewu, who has not played in a match since injuring his patellar tendon on Oct. 14. Onyewu stated during the pre-World Cup camp in Princeton, NJ that he's fully fit and healthy, but questions remain about how his form is after the lengthy layoff.
"I'm up to par and up to game fitness right now," said Onyewu. "All that's left to see is game situations and hopefully within the next couple of friendlies I'll be able to get the cobwebs off and put to rest all uneasiness that everybody might have."
Centerbacks Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit are also coming off recent injuries, but both might be given the night off due to their status with the team. Tim Howard might also be rested as he was healing a thigh strain during training camp.
If Howard does not dress, Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann will likely split time against Czech Republic. Just exactly who is Howard's backup is uncertain, but the answer could come with a strong showing.
Of all the positions, forward is the one with the most question marks. Jozy Altidore and Brian Ching, if healthy, are locks to travel to South Africa, leaving Gomez, Buddle, Robbie Findley and Eddie Johnson to battle it out for the final one to two spots.
Gomez and Buddle are the more in form strikers out of that group, with both enjoying stellar seasons before joining the national team. Word around the team is that Gomez has enjoyed a solid camp, while Buddle has struggled a bit, especially with fitness. Buddle, however, feels up to the challenge if his number is called.
"If I get my chance, I'm just going to run with it and play hard and walk off the field knowing I gave it my all," said Buddle.
For Buddle and other hopefuls, the Czech Republic match is likely to make or break their World Cup spots. That pressure might not come close to what they will feel in South Africa if they make it, but it might be as close as one could get in a friendly.
What do you think of tonight's game? What are you keeping an eye on? Do you see Onyewu performing well? How will Buddle and Gomez do?
Share your thoughts below.