BRENT LATHAM - Friday, July 17, 2009
A short-handed United States team takes on Panama in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup in Philadelphia on Saturday night, as the Yanks hope to advance towards their third straight continental title.
Stuck in a situation difficult to fathom given CONCACAF's decision to allow the US a thirty man roster, the United States has made a muck of their comfortably sized team selection, and coach Bob Bradley will have only eighteen players available for selection against the Central Americans in the city of brotherly love.
A number of players have left the squad to return to Europe for preseason, including defenders Michael Parkhurst and Steve Cherundolo, and attacker Charlie Davies, all of whom departed after the final group match last weekend in Foxboro. The team had earlier lost attackers Freddy Adu and Benny Feilhaber.
Among the quandaries now faced by the coach is a lack of a right back among the five defenders left on the roster, and Bradley will likely be obligated to use Seattle Sounders midfielder Brad Evans in that role for the rest of the tournament. The rest of the defense looks more solid, with Chad Marshall and Jimmy Conrad available in the center and Heath Pearce on the left.
The US will be short handed in attack as well, with only two true forwards available in Brian Ching and Kenny Cooper. Kansas City Wizard Davy Arnaud has filled in well up front, scoring a goal his last time out against Haiti, and is likely to pair with Ching against the Panamanians.
The rest of the squad plays midfield, and the US will at least have its first choice to pick from there, with Robbie Rogers and Stuart Holden likely to man the flanks around Kyle Beckerman and Logan Pause in the center.
The US has scant other options even among the expanded roster, which now looks quite poorly thought out, so this makeshift squad is likely to be the one that takes the team as far as it can go towards lifting its third straight Gold Cup.
Of the seven players that were added after the CONCACAF ruling, only Feilhaber has appeared in a match, playing 27 minutes against Honduras in a 2-0 win.
Saturday's opponent Panama has improved in each game of the tournament, coming off a 4-0 victory over Nicaragua to close group play after sandwiching a tie with Mexico in between and opening loss to Guadeloupe.
Whether the US can get by the Central Americans, who gave the Americans all they could handle in a penalty shootout in the 2005 final, will be borne out this weekend in the Nats' first game in Philadelphia in more than four decades.
In the other match-up in Pennsylvania, Honduras takes on Canada, with the winner to face the victor between the Americans and Panamanians in a midweek semifinal in Chicago.