ON THE BUBBLE PART II
Last time out, I analyzed the chances of current, former and potential players for the US national team as we approach the 2010 World Cup. This week let's look at the other half of the group.
Coach Bob Bradley is facing several concerns as time gets shorter for him to choose the 23 men that will be tasked to lift the team out of the group stages in South Africa. Certainly at the top of the list is finding a suitable replacement for the injured FC Sochaux striker Charlie Davies. In addition to this he has to assess who is the right person to cover the left side in defense, who can provide cover in the center of defense if AC Milan's Oguchi Onyewu is not 100 percent come June and who is the best tandem to cover the midfield.
The list of players below may not be everyone's solution to these problems, but with the tinkering that has to be done between now and June, some of these players have a chance.
Heath Peace, Jonathan Bornstein and Edgar Castillo
These three are put together because they are vying for the same position in the team; left back.
Early on it seemed that the FC Dallas signee Pearce was the virtual number one for the position after some good performances in the Danish league. However, a move to Hansa Rostock in Germany was deemed a bad move as a lack of playing time on top of a dispute between management and the former Portland Pilot sucked the air out that idea. In addition, some subpar performance in recent international matches led Coach Bradley to look elsewhere.
As for Bornstein, the CD Chivas defender falls into the same boat as Pearce. With some good play at club level and an MLS Rookie of the Year award to show off calls for his inclusion into the US national team grew. However, injuries and some poor play led to him losing the position to Pearce. A game-tying goal against Costa Rica, which put him into the hearts of all Honduran supporters, seemed to have put him one step ahead in the race to be the number one, but a silly penalty given to fellow World Cup qualifiers Slovakia, among other transgressions, has put the former UCLA Bruin back on level with him.
Then there is the new guy to the team. The Tigres loanee may have caused an international incident when he switched allegiances by leaving the Mexican national team, but no one on the US side is complaining, at least not yet. He made a brief appearance for the US against Denmark, so there was not enough time to make any judgment on him (Bradley used him in the midfield though. What's up with that?) Come the New Year, there will be more chances for the New Mexico native to show what he has got.
Prognosis: Knowing the relationship that Bradley had with Bornstein while coaching Chivas it may seem that the California native may have many more chances to impress before the final roster is determined. Castillo has come in at the right moment when it is still up in the air as to who will be the starting left back. The only question is whether he gets his chances in some of the tune up matches next year. There is the possibility that he could end up like teammate Jose Francisco Torres who is still waiting to get his chance to shine for the US. The odd man out at the moment is Pearce. Although he has returned to playing regularly with FC Dallas, his back is against the wall. If Castillo or Bornstein fail to gain Bradley's confidence then he may have another shot at reclaiming the left back spot.
With regulars Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit recovering from injuries, this looked like the perfect opportunity for the two-time MLS Defender of the Year to step up and show the coach he could be a player to rely on from off the bench. However, he did not get to play in the match in Slovakia, was released by Bradley before the Denmark match and it seems that he was upstaged by Kansas City Wizard's own Jimmy Conrad. Finding effective central defenders these days for the US seems to be a problem.
Prognosis: Marshall still has a chance to book his spot on the team. However, it might do him some good to go on loan with a club in Europe for three months just so he stays in shape and in contention. There are many matches that will be played over the next few months and his performances in them, if he is called up, could be the catalyst for him earning a spot on the team.
A hat-trick against Sweden in January put the CD Chivas attacking midfielder in the news and on the fast track to competing for a spot on the World Cup team. A proposed move to Scottish powerhouse Celtic, which was turned down by MLS, seems to have affected the play of the former Seton Hall Pirate recently and his stock has stumbled as quickly as that of Lehman Brothers ever since. With Coach Bradley's options of Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Jermaine Jones and Benny Feilhaber in the center, it looks like it will be a very steep uphill climb.
Prognosis: The former All-American still has a shot, but it is dwindling very fast. His best bet is trying to make it to the bench, but with Feilhaber being injury-free and the possible return of Maurice Edu and the imminent debut of Jones, Kljestan is going to have to fight and hope for a bit of luck if he has a chance of going to South Africa. The most important thing right now is for him to start playing well again in MLS.
If anyone could fill the lead role in a remake of "The Invisible Man" it would most certainly be the former prodigy from Ghana. After finally signing with Portuguese powerhouse Benfica, it looked as though the once considered "next big thing" would be able to find success away from the spotlight in the US. However, after only playing sporadically the past three years, including stints with AS Monaco and current team Beleneses, it seems like he falling further off the radar. Now, Adu is at a crossroads because the World Cup is only a few months away and he is not making any progress by sitting on the bench and making 10 or 15 minute appearances.
Prognosis: Freddy needs to move in January, it is that simple. Benfica does not want him anymore and it looks like his recent loan is not working out either. If he wants in on this World Cup, then the former Real Salt Lake attacker needs to head back to "Estadio da Luz", sit down with former Portugal international and current director Rui Costa and demand a transfer. It is the only move he has if he wants to keep his hopes of making the team alive. Even a move back to MLS, barring a work stoppage, would be good for him.
When the former FC Dallas striker made the move to 2. Bundesliga team 1860 Munich over the summer he started to off on the right foot by scoring a goal in his very first match. He has played in his fair share of matches for the Lions, but a knee injury has put him on the shelf. However, there is no need to worry as Cooper will return in a short period of time.
When Cooper was called up to the US national team in 2007 it was hoped that he would be the perfect replacement for the Chicago Fire's Brian McBride. He is big, strong and can challenge even the best of central defenders. However, the former Manchester United player can bring more to the table, which is something that coach Bradley should not overlook when he makes his final selections. He can drift wide and run at defenders with the ball. He could possibly be the most talented striker the US national team has at the moment.
Prognosis: Cooper will certainly make the team. All he needs to do is get back in the starting line-up for 1860 Munich and, most importantly, score goals. If Bradley can see him as more than a replacement for McBride then he could be the most dangerous option the team has out there on the field. Also, Cooper's presence could push Fulham's Clint Dempsey back to the right side of the midfield where he is needed most. Maybe, just maybe, there is no need to find a replacement for Davies when there are the talents that Cooper can provide.
The race to see who will replace Davies began on a field in Bratislava, Slovakia and the first two players to try out were Fulham's Eddie Johnson and the FC Dallas man. The Jamaican born striker seemed to fair a bit better than his counterpart as he scored a goal against the Danes. It was his first goal in...well; it was his first goal ever for the US in 11 international appearances.
Prognosis: This has got to be the MLS top goal scorer's last chance at making it into the team. Right now he has got two disadvantages.
One he is not an effective goal scorer on the international scene. He just scored his first goal after a handful of games, but the question is how many chances is he going to need until he scores another? His plight is similar to that of former England international Andy Cole who after 15 appearances for the three Lions scored his first and last goal against Albania. At international level, strikers do not get many chances at goal, so Cunningham is going to have to make his count between now and the day Bradley makes his final cuts.
Two, he is on the wrong side of 30. At 33 years of age, he certainly will not be seeing anymore chances coming his way after 2010. So now is a crucial time for the former Columbus Crew man to make an impact that gets him on the plane to South Africa.
There a host of other players that still have a chance at making an impression such as Robbie Rogers, Robbie Findley, Clarence Goodson and, some of you out there will hate me for saying it, Brian Ching. I will leave them to your own judgments.
One of the biggest criticisms of the team has been its lack of depth. For far too long the team has had to make due with some guys playing out of position because one of the best players has been setback by injury or suspension. It is time that Bradley take a deeper look as to what the players can provide in order to make the most competitive team out there come June 2010. Anything less would be an early exit for the US, again and a definite firing from the brass at the USSF.