Examining the U.S. position battles

May, 13, 2010
05/13/10
4:00
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What an interesting three weeks Bob Bradley has in store. After selecting 30 players to his provisional World Cup roster on Tuesday, the U.S. coach now has the unenviable task of trimming down his squad to 23 by June 1.

While the probables fine tune ahead of the June 12 opener against England, the possibles have a pair of friendly matches in which to impress. Having said that, it is likely Bradley will learn just as much from what he sees in training sessions once his men assemble at Princeton at the start of next week. Here are a few key battles featuring players that could be vying for a roster spot:

Clarence Goodson versus Chad Marshall: assuming Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra are fit and that Jay DeMerit remains ahead of them, there could be a need for only one further central defender. Neither has totally convinced at the international level, although Bradley seems to favor Goodson.

Jonathan Bornstein versus Heath Pearce: Bornstein is another favorite of the coach but he has work to do to prove his nightmare display against Holland was not more than a blip. I don't think there is much between them in terms of defensive ability. Perhaps Bornstein is a slightly better athlete while Pearce has greater quality with his final ball.

Alejandro Bedoya versus Robbie Rogers versus DaMarcus Beasley: Youth battles experience here. Bedoya is making a surprising run at the final squad after having only debuted in January. He remains a long shot but that may change if he continues to impress. Rogers has struggled for confidence in national team colors at times but has talent as well as left-footedness. Beasley's experience makes him the most likely but he has to stay injury-free and prove he can get back to something near his pre-2006 level of play.

Sacha Kljestan versus Jose Torres: Torres has been unconvincing in his limited opportunities with the national team but is better in possession and I see him as a superior option to Kljestan who, despite having some impressive goal-scoring moments, has also lacked consistency and, at times, discipline, on USA duty.

Everyone except Jozy Altidore versus everyone except Jozy Altidore: Given that Clint Dempsey could ultimately be seen as the best option alongside Altidore, it may be that traditional strikers are not as in demand. Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez are the men in form but are unproven at this level. Bradley knows exactly what he will get from Brian Ching and his decision to omit Conor Casey makes clear who he sees as his first-choice target man. Robbie Findley will have to have an exceptional camp to force his way into the reckoning.

Disappointing for Davies

Arguably the main discussion point arising from the announcement of Bradley's provisional squad was the omission of Charlie Davies. I have read and heard some opinions criticizing the coach for this but I find it hard to apportion any blame in that direction. Why would Bradley not want a player who, prior to his injury, had established himself as the USA's No. 1 choice up front?

Unfortunately, the main issue in all this was time. Despite his Herculean efforts, Davies has not recovered to a level that would allow him to play in the World Cup. Had he made it back on to the field with Sochaux, even in just a cameo role, the decision may have been different. As we have learned, the Ligue 1 side reportedly refused to release its player on medical grounds despite Davies' return to training in March. Understandably, Davies is frustrated with his club, especially its president, Alexandre Lacombe, and it remains to be seen if this episode has a negative impact on his future with Sochaux.

For now, though, as Davies himself said, it is time to move on and use this setback as motivation on his road to full recovery. The same goes for his national team, which must learn to do without him.

A thing that made me go "Hmm ..."

Citing a desire to "provide substantially more playing opportunities while producing a fair and compelling qualifying competition," CONCACAF is proposing an overhaul of the way teams reach future World Cups.

By adapting its system more in line with that which CONMEBOL follows in South America, CONCACAF will do away with the six-team final "Hexagonal" round. In its place a 12-team competition will be implemented, in which each country plays 22 matches. Details as to how teams qualify for the final group are, as yet, unknown.

On the one hand, an increase in games -- the USA played 18 times on the road to South Africa, using 43 players in the process -- means an already cluttered calendar becomes even more congested and the demands on players are increased.

On the other, more matches means more chances for the best teams to establish themselves as such, although I doubt the USA and Mexico will see this as much consolation. Let's face it, barring a remarkable series of events, the region's dominant powers will always emerge on top, no matter how long the qualifying process.

It's interesting to compare what goes on in this part of the world with qualifying procedures in Europe. There, the big boys have to play a maximum of 12 qualifiers and even that is often seen as too many. With every cycle come complaints that minnow nations such as the Faroe Islands and Andorra, to name but two, should have to play off against one another to have the chance to take on the continent's superpowers. Don't expect UEFA to attempt to follow CONCACAF's lead any time soon!

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