Who is booking an African safari for June?

US National Team coach Bob Bradley is set to make his initial selections for the world cup roster later today. This deadline marks the real start of the quadrennial soccer sensory overload that the world cup has become, and you can count the progress that the event has made in the US by the fact that at least some attention is being paid to Bradley’s selections before they are announced.

Bob says, "This is my thinking face."

Over in England, coach Fabio Capello’s selections have already almost knocked the hung parliament off the top of the London dailies, with Ledley King and Jamie Carragher in and Owen Hargreaves out.

Bradley is authorized to pick up to 30 for the pre-tournament training camp, but reports have him selecting only 26-28, to be whittled down to the mandatory 23 for the trip to South Africa next month.

In Miracle (possibly the best sports movie ever), coach Brooks tells (reasonably priced motivational speaker) Craig Patrick, “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig, just the right ones.

Bob Bradley should take that advice when he looks across the landscape of available talent in the US player pool, because he has some difficult decisions to make.

In the past, the US national team was like a Duke basketball team, there were a bunch of guys over on the sideline wearing uniforms, but everyone knew they weren’t going to play. For perhaps the first time (if you discount the Wynalda-Harkes imbroglio of 1994), there are players who could play and contribute for this team who will not make it on the plane.

Today, Bradley can survey the world football landscape and find Americans in torrid form for their clubs who’ve not really participated in the US world cup qualifying campaign. Exhibit A is Herculez Gomez, who somehow became the first American to lead a foreign club league in scoring in Mexico this spring without ever earning a cap for the national team since 2007.

Other examples can be found in Edson Buddle, who is currently lighting up MLS, and Eddie Johnson, and old US favorite who’s found new life of late in his Greek loan spell. Some have called Gomez and Buddle the two hottest goal-scorers in American soccer, which is certainly true in some literal sense, and pressure has been mounting for Bradley to put them on the team.

But, as coach Brooks said, Bob Bradley should be looking for the right players, not necessarily those who are lighting up so-so leagues with spring goals. Predictions abound, but below is my take on what Bob should do. With one significant exception, that means to dance with the one that brung you and leave Gomez, Buddle, Johnson and the like at home.

By my count, there are 13 guys who are virtual locks to make the side. They’ve largely been the stalwarts in the qualifying campaign, and most of the starting lineup for most of the games in South Africa will come from this group. They are:

Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay Demerit, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore.

Add in the two backup keepers, Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann, and you have 15 who’ll almost certainly be on the team in June if fit. That leaves 10-12 other guys who’ll be invited to camp, of which 8 will make the plane.

So, before circumstances overtake my prediction/instruction for Bradley, here’s what he should do with those 8 spots:

2 defenders – my picks are Jon Bornstein and Clarence Goodson…left off are Marshall, Pearce, Conrad and fan favorite Frankie Hejduk. I think Pearce is in if Goosdon is out.

4 midfielders – Jose Francisco Torres, DeMarcus Beasley, Benny Felhaber and Sacha Kljestan. Beasley and Torres were not fixtures in qualifying, but they have too much upside to leave home and won’t be unfamiliar faces in the locker room.

If Beasley or Kljestan doesn’t make it, Gomez may get a shot, but it is a stretch. As of this morning he’s not even listed on the USA Soccer website in the current MNT player pool, but I think he could ultimately be the last man on the team if some things fall his way.

2 forwards – Connor Casey and Charlie Davies. If Davies proves fit in camp and the pre-tournament friendlies, he seems to be a good bet. Dempsey is really a bit of a forward and will play something like that for some of the tournament games, so those three plus Altidore give you the standard compliment of 4 forwards. Left home should be Brian Ching, who has performed admirably if not exceptionally in his MNT career, including the most recent qualifying campaign, but he simply offers no upside for the grand world cup stage. I’ll take Connor Casey instead for my lumbering presence in front of goal. If Davies isn’t fit, Ching is in.

So there you have it. We’ll see what Bob actually picks live on ESPNews at 2p eastern.

1 Response to “Who is booking an African safari for June?”

  1. 1 am i the ice in your beverage May 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    i generally agree but i think gomez and ching get the nod over casey and davies. davies can do his heroic return 4 years from now and me thinks casey is even too lumbering for the lumbery role.

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