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Time to start paring Bradley’s roster

May 12, 2010 | 12:14 am No comments
By Shaun Schafer

I’m going to have to watch more Mexican soccer.

I think that is the only way I will better understand Herculez Gomez’s success this past season and find a way to grasp his inclusion on the preliminary US Men’s National Team roster for the World Cup announced on Tuesday. Among the 30 picked by Bob Bradley were some intriguing and confounding choices. Most of them at forward, starting with Gomez.

Yes, Gomez scored 10 goals for Puebla and tied for the league lead in goals. He is the first US player to lead a foreign league in scoring. He is, or at least was when last seen with Kansas City, fast.

Speed has never been the problem. The problem has been his woeful first touch, a quality that showed up repeatedly during his time with the Rapids and made him expendable when KC missed the playoff in ‘09. Somehow, he found a rebirth in Mexico and earned a spot in Bradley’s tryouts.

It’s a fantastic comeback for a determined player — with one of the coolest names ever — but it won’t take him to South Africa. He may get into practice, but he won’t be on the final 23-man roster.

In fact, the roster announced has several selections that seem like misfit choices, rather than speculative leaps. There aren’t a host of unknowns on Bradley’s list, and what we know about the players there is not particularly reassuring.

So let’s start looking for the seven who won’t be taking the field in 31 days.

Eddie Johnson: Yes, the forward found new life in Greece. Three goals for Aris in the playoffs seemed to bring him back. Why this is true, I don’t know. Name the great forwards playing in Greece this season and you’ve got me. Still, Johnson’s not one of them.

Johnson mesmerized in his debut for the national team, and has done less every year since. I really can’t see using a roster space for someone who vanishes on the international stage. Johnson has had his chance and come up short. Again and again.

Perhaps someday, but not today, and not next month. Johnson’s staying home. (Please let Bradley agree with me.)

Robbie Findley: He’s played well for Salt Lake. But, South Africa well? No.

Brian Ching: This is the challenging one. Bradley likes a forward who is good in the air, and Ching has been the Brian McBride replacement. However, he’s coming off an injury, and he has always been less than McBride.

If he’s healthy, Ching’s probably going. He’s one of the few who could go to the World Cup on the strength of coming practices. If he’s not healthy, he’s staying home.

Now Boarding: Edson Buddle and Jozy Altidore should go ahead and book tickets. Buddle is hot and playing well with Landon Donovan. Complementing your best distributor makes Buddle worth the chance. Altidore, after taking a battering for Hull in the English Premier League, is due for a breakout. If it comes in this World Cup, let’s all plan to watch the quarterfinals.

Three Down: After the forwards, we only have four spots to drop (Please, drop Johnson). None of the drops are likely to come in the back.

 Bradley will stay conservative and go with three goalkeepers. Tim Howard is a lock to start. Marcus Hahnemann is likely there as the number three choice, although the US has a host of good ‘keepers who could take that spot. Still, I’ve always liked the way Hahnemann approached the game. The guy is a grinder, and he could handle anything thrown at the back.

I’ve always thought Brad Guzan overrated. I will concede, that Bradley knows a great deal more about the game than I. Clearly, he sees something in Guzan that I have missed. Hopefully neither Bradley nor I will have to see who is the better choice at No. 2 than Guzan, as Howard will start, stay healthy and play every minute.

Middle Men: OK, the roster still needs to lose at least four players. How about the midfield? Several look ripe for the drop.

Sacha Kljestan: Chivas USA drifts in miasma, and Kljestan along with it. Kljestan has the ability, but does he have the mentality?

He’s floating. His inclusion on the roster is baffling. He’s showing nothing for club and very little for country. I cannot foresee a renaissance in the next few weeks that will correct at least two years of stagnation and decline. Bradley may love him, but he needs to find ardor for someone living up to his promise.

Jose Torres: And is this that someone? Is the time now? I love the inclusion of Torres on the preliminary roster, but I fear that it is just a tease. Torres is skilled on the ball and comfortable holding it. I would love to see him on the field helping kill off a tight game.

I just worry that Torres is still a cycle away from making an impact. I don’t know if it’s the coach, the system or the national team culture. I just don’t feel confident that he will make it to the World Cup. I would love to be wrong, but I don’t see him going.

Robbie Rogers: See Findley above. Not going.

One More: Let’s say we are up to at least five and maybe six now (plus, if Ching is unfit, we are hitting seven). Let’s not stop. Bradley could drop another midfielder, but that seems unlikely. Defenders are all that’s left, and the last cut or two is likely there.

Oguchi Onyewu: Like Ching, he’s battling back from injury. He’s also a lock if he’s healthy. If he’s not, this list gets very interesting. Figure on seeing Onyewu in the middle and some ABC commentator remarking that “Gooch is big enough to play linebacker.”

I would like to be wrong about the ABC commentary. Unlikely.

Last Battlers: If Onyewu is in the middle, expect Bocanegra, Bornstein, Cherundolo and either DeMerit or Spector on the field. This leaves Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, Heath Pearce and Jonathan Spector on the roster with one and maybe two cuts to make.

Marshall is likely staying in Columbus in June. The remaining three are a difficult lot. None are so tremendous as to be undeniable nor so sub-standard as to be dropped. Spector is probably in on the strength of past appearances with either Goodson or Pearce the odd man out.

To Review: Gomez and Findley are out. Johnson should be out. Ching is in pending his health. Rogers is out and Kljestan should be as well. Torres is the X factor and his fate could impact others. Marshall and either Goodson or Pearce join the unlucky seven.

Now let’s see what Bradley does.

Bradley’s Roster: Here are the 30 on the preliminary roster. The coach will take 23 to the World Cup, and they are all likely on this list.

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton), Tim Howard (Everton).

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Heath Pearce (Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham).

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus), Jose Torres (Pachuca).

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Hull), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles), Brian Ching (Houston), Robbie Findley (Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Eddie Johnson (Aris).

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