Let’s say this right away: Bob Bradley and his staff got it nearly perfect.
Once fans got over the fact that Charlie Davies was never going to be fit for this World Cup—and there were more than several hints in recent weeks—the picture became very clear.
If there is one gripe that can be made about this roster, it’s that Conor Casey did not get the opportunity to compete for a spot with Brian Ching for the target man role. Sure, Casey is not the most technically gifted player and he has only three penalty kick goals to his credit this year in MLS. But the Rapids forward got Bradley and the USA to South Africa with his goals in Honduras. For that alone, he deserved a crack to make the final roster.
Yes, seven forwards may sound excessive on the surface. However, given the doubts surrounding several of the strike force, Casey’s call-up would not have been unjustified. If he was eliminated based on form, then midfielders Sacha Kljestan and DaMarcus Beasley should have been held to the same standard. If you ask me, one of these two should have made way for Colorado’s big man.
To my mind, Kljestan is the odd-man out. He’s proven error prone and is too far down the depth chart to see time at central midfield. In addition, the much better alternatives at both right and left wing means that the Chivas USA captain has no chance at South Africa. His form alone in MLS play, which should not be confused with Chivas USA’s results, should have been enough to rule him out of contention.
Other than the Casey-or-Kljestan debate, the story lines for the next three weeks are obvious.
The goalkeepers have been set in stone for some time. No surprise there.
Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson should compete for one ticket to join the group of eight defenders. AC Milan’s training and medical resources are the best in the world and Oguchi Onyewu’s comeback, although mired in doubt, is a guarantee.
There really is only one midfield spot up for grabs among four players. Alejandro Bedoya and Robbie Rogers will battle with Kljestan and Beasley for it.
At forward, it is near impossible to see Robbie Findley making the final 23. With Davies unavailable, Findley would be a roll of the dice as the speed forward. Bradley might hope to catch lightning in a bottle, but Findley is a very different player than Davies and the training camp should bear that out.
Meanwhile Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle will compete for one spot to join Ching, Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson. Wait … Eddie Johnson? Yes, for me, he’s a lock. With the dearth of forward options available to Bradley, EJ still offers a glimmer of hope despite an inconsistent career that has frustrated fans. His seasons in Europe and his 40 caps and 12 goals in a nats jersey are the counterbalance to the underutilized speed and size.
With only two matches until the June 1 cut-off, it will be a difficult task for Bradley and his staff to get the players equal playing time under equal circumstances.
That will only make the next three weeks all the more interesting.
Simon Borg is a staff writer for MLSsoccer.com.