IN THE SHOP WINDOW
There is no time to rest for the US National Team as they have begun their defense of the CONCACAF Gold Cup trophy. So far so good with a complete victory over Grenada on Independence Day in Seattle.
Coming off a second place finish at the Confederations Cup, the team will be looking to build from their impressive displays in the latter half of the tournament and correct the flaws that had them on the brink of being eliminated early on.
However, Coach Bob Bradley will be trying to do these things without the core of his team. With most of the team from South Africa returning to their MLS clubs or taking a much needed vacation before heading back to Europe, the former Chicago Fire coach has put together what can be called an experimental squad with some international experience under their belt.
While the objective for these thirty men is to retain the cup, there is a far greater objective for Bradley and his coaching staff. There are still some players who have a shot at making the World Cup roster next year or at least playing a supporting role for the duration of the qualifiers. Just who will impress is anyone's guess.
However, over the coming days of the CONCACAF regional tournament there are seven players whom need to impress in order to stay in Bradley's plans.
The Benfica attacker is probably at the top of all fans' and critics' lists. The past two seasons in Europe have not been fruitful with a lack of playing time at his parent club and AS Monaco. Even his club future is up in the air as the Lisbon giants have hired their seventh coach in as many years. There is no telling where he could end at the start of the Portuguese league season.
However, Bradley is more than likely going to hand the keys over to the former DC United starlet and let him run the attack. It's no question that the now-20-year old is a talented player judging by his performance at some of the youth tournaments in the past, rather, the question is whether he can step up and show that potential on the senior circuit? Can he play well in spite of not see much time on the field in Europe?
This is his chance to show what he is capable of doing.
This Gold Cup is probably the last chance for the former Hansa Rostock defender to convince Coach Bradley that he can be a vital cog in the squad. Like Adu, Pearce has suffered from a lack of playing time this season and, on top of that, being released from his German club has left him in search of a new home in the upcoming season.
It wasn't that long ago when some thought the University of Portland Pilot could be the answer to the national team's problems on the left side of the backline. However, a few subpar performances, a challenge from Jonathan Bornstein and captain Carlos Bocanegra's recent move to the left by the coach has put him in a fight.
If Pearce can put together some good performances during the Gold Cup and find a place to play this season, he will not be overlooked by Bradley in the next year.
This may be a surprise to some of you as the Hannover 96 right back has always been deemed indispensable for the national team. However, Dolo has been getting challenged lately. West Ham United defender Jonathan Spector had some solid performances at the FIFA Confederations Cup which puts him in contention for a spot on the 2010, barring injury. Add the Columbus Crew's Frankie Hejduk and you've got a fierce competition between three quality defenders.
However, the San Diego native has been given the chance to prove that he no longer has any problems with the troublesome hip. He is still a huge asset to the team, but whether he will be the number one come the World Cup is uncertain.
How long have we been waiting for the FC Dallas striker to finally break out on the international scene? The former Manchester United youth player has always showed the potential to be one the most dangerous goal scorers in the region. He's got the ability to be an excellent target player like former national team member Brian McBride. He may even have more to offer to the team than the Chicago Fire hitman. However, chances have been few.
Now he has another chance to impress. With Villarreal striker Jozy Altidore on standby, Cooper should get the nod up front along with Hammarby attacker Charlie Davies. If he can score some goals and create chances for his teammates then we will not hear the last him.
One thing that separates the US National Team from others is the plethora of goalkeepers at the coach's disposal. The biggest problem has always been who to play. While it seems that Everton's Tim Howard and Aston Villa's Brad Guzan have solidified the top two spots while the third is still up for grabs.
Guzan, the former Chivas USA star, has been put on standby, but Bradley has called in three talented goalkeepers who are just as capable of securing the US goal.
Valerenga's Troy Perkins, who could get the nod in the opener, is no stranger to the Red, White and Blue jersey even though he's only gained one cap so far in his international career. Having played well so far in Norway has gotten him into the team for the Gold Cup. If he does play and plays well during the month long extravaganza then it could possibly go a long way to him getting the call to go to South Africa.
As for Luis Robles, the FC Kaiserslautern goalkeeper may still be in awe of getting called up to the team.
He may play in a match or two this summer, but I think he may be a player to watch for the future as Tim Howard may still have one more World Cup left in him after 2010 and Guzan should be the number one at Aston Villa in a season or two. He will certainly make a push to be the number one for the Nats in the future, with soccer as unpredictable as it is, it's not entirely impossible that the Arizona native could be a surprise selection.
Many of you out there would like to see the Hawaii native go away and never be considered for the national team again. I like to compare Ching to pesky little fly. Even though you try to swat him away, he just never goes away.
The Houston Dynamo striker will certainly see playing time during the cup competition. How he links up with fellow strikers Kenny Cooper and Charlie Davies will go a long way to seeing if he has a chance at going to South Africa. The task won't be easy, but Ching hasn't been one to back down from a challenge.
This may be almost an entirely different team from the one that made the miraculous run in South Africa in June. However, this is still a competitive team that can certainly make it to the final and possibly win a third consecutive Gold Cup.
The question is whether they can perform well against some of the improving sides in the CONCACAF region such as Honduras, whom they face later in the group stage. If the Nats play well and win the cup again this will not only solidify their position as the top team in the region, but it may also lead to some of the players hoping on the plane in June for a much bigger party.