BRENT LATHAM - Wednesday, May 12, 2010
That moment U.S. fans had been waiting for with increasing intensity over the last six months finally arrived Tuesday.
The long wait to see who had recovered from injury enough to make the American 30-man provisional roster, and who would miss out, is finally over.
Believe it or not, there's really not too much to say about Bob Bradley's provisional 30-man list. Having selected his deck a long time ago, the coach played the hand he was dealt.
That hasn't stopped some from blasting Bradley, but at this point the outrage is far past the useful stage, and has reached the point of dementia.
We could debate long and hard why so many fans want Charlie Davies on this roster - the quickest explanation is that his recovery would have made a great story - but it's been clear for weeks now that news of Davies' return was mostly an invention of an overly optimistic U.S. soccer media that wanted to believe just as much as fans did.
Maybe it was a way for an overlooked sport to get some more attention. This was a big story, but it only worked if Davies would recover. But the signs have been ambiguous all along, and more attention should have been paid to that.
The recovery didn't happen, and it's not fair to blame Bradley for not choosing a player that was never medically cleared to return to the field.
At any rate, it would have been much easier to judge the coach on his stance towards Jermaine Jones. Logic dictated the German-American would be back at some point this season, and where he would fit in was set to be the best litmus test for how Bradley handles his team and lineup.
It has been interesting all along how much focus has been put on Davies' very doubtful recovery, while Jones - clearly a more pedigreed player - was virtually ignored for six months then written off well ahead of schedule, despite being closer to recovery all along.
At any rate, Jones never got healthy either, so we'll never know what Bradley might have done in midfield, at least for now.
The other knocks on this roster just don't work. Those who mention Freddy Adu really just don't get it. Edgar Castillo was probably never going anyway, but he took himself out of the conversation with a bad half-season at Tigres followed by injury.
Though no one mentions it, Castillo is really just the Mexican league twin of Jonathan Bornstein, so it's really a toss up.
The other major absences are Frankie Hejduk and Jimmy Conrad, so despite some small issues, it's clear Bradley gets a passing grade for now.
The coach also did the right thing by selecting 30 players - there was no reason to take less when it's unclear where help might be needed.
A few of Bradley's borderline selections show that there was even some wiggle room in the 30 after all. Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall for example, simply can't go to the World Cup, when they've proven against inferior regional competition time and time again that they aren't ready for this level.
It's a shame the team isn't a little deeper at this point, and for my part I would have liked to see Omar Gonzalez instead of Marshall, but that's nitpicking as neither would likely have a role to play in South Africa.
As for Rogers, the left flank is covered by Landon Donovan, with DaMarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bedoya likely battling for one spot behind him, which means Rogers has little chance of getting on the plane.
So, no shocks for now, but there will be some surprises on May 30th.
Who are the final 23? Rogers is out. Marshall is likely out, though he could feasibly take a spot from Clarence Goodson. Either way, that's 28.
A few other spots pick themselves. In defense, there's no need for two second-string left backs. Heath Pearce can play midfield, but that will hardly be useful with the midfield depth the U.S. already has. We know Jonathan Bornstein is going, so Pearce is out, which gets us to 27.
On to midfield, where Alejandro Bedoya and DaMarcus Beasley are likely battling for one spot on the left. Most fans seem to hate the idea of taking the veteran Beasley to a third World Cup, but I like it.
Answer me this: if you have to sub in a left flank player for 25 minutes and you need a goal against, say, Slovenia, who would you rather have on the field, Beasley or Bodoya? If you answered Bedoya, your response is based in blind hope rather than track record. So we're down to 26.
There are six forwards on the provisional roster, and Bradley will take four of them. This is the position at which the most will be sorted at the two-week camp and the pair of friendlies. Altidore is in, and Ching will likely be in if he can prove his fitness.
Choosing among Buddle, Johnson, Gomez, and Findley will depend on the showing of each. My inkling is that Robbie Findley doesn't have much to show right now. Then it gets a little more difficult.
Eddie Johnson has experience, and I think he nudges out one of the other two in that late 15 minute sub role. Buddle is playing with such confidence right now, and teams well with Donovan, so I think he makes the roster as well.
That leaves, Gomez, who has had almost a month of down time lately, as the odd man out, though a goal or two in the friendlies would get him Johnson's spot. And we're at 24.
The final cut will be the one that most upsets American fans. It will come from midfield, and it will come down to Sasha Klejstan and Jose Francisco Torres.
The uproar will come when Bradley leaves Torres behind. Despite his tepid play over the last year, Klejstan is a player Bradley has long been familiar with, and is the type of late game offensive substitute the coach likes to use.
So there's your final 23, barring further injury. If you thought Tuesday was controversial, just wait until the end of the month.