BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, May 24, 2010
After a full week of training at Princeton University, the US national team will play the first of three pre-World Cup friendlies when they take on the Czech Republic on Tuesday night at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.
US head coach Bob Bradley admitted last week that the game against the Czech Republic will be balanced between two separate goals.
The first is getting the first team players valuable minutes together to build up chemistry. The second goal is to use the game to make one last evaluation of players on the fringe of making the final 23 man World Cup roster.
Bradley said that final cuts would be made after Tuesday's game.
At the forward position, Jozy Altidore is widely expected to start the game as he is considered part of the first 11. Exactly who would partner up with him up top has been an issue of great debate ever since Charlie Davies suffered a serious injury last October.
One such option has Clint Dempsey moving from his usual right-midfield spot to forward where he has occasionally played for his club, Fulham.
The remaining options at forward are either Brian Ching or Eddie Johnson, who both fell out of favor with Bradley last year during the second half of World Cup qualifying.
The other options are Herculez Gomez or Edson Buddle who both earned surprising invitations to World Cup camp with strong play in 2010.
Among the six forwards on the 30 man roster, Bradley is expected to take only three or four and Tuesday's game will play an important part of which two or three players are cut.
In the midfield, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are expected to be a part of the starting lineup at the outside positions.
In central midfield, Michael Bradley should find himself in his usual starting role. Who Bradley starts with, however, is very uncertain.
For the first time in nearly a year and half, both Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark are healthy and playing regularly. One of these two is likely to start and attempt to make a case as to who will be the top choice to pair with Bradley heading into the World Cup.
Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres and Benny Feilhaber are all strong possibilities to see action as substitutes during the game. All three are probably safe bets to make the World Cup team as well.
In the midfield, an interesting battle for a roster spot has emerged between DaMarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bedoya. The outside wingers will likely each see time on Tuesday to determine who goes to South Africa. It is unlikely that both will earn a spot or that both will be cut.
The US' greatest area of concern heading into the World Cup is the health of the backline. Of the five central defenders in camp, four have been injured in recent times.
Carlos Bocanegra has recently undergone a hernia operation while Oguchi Onyewu insists he is at full strength but has not played since October after seriously injuring his knee.
Jay Demerit continues to struggle with an abdominal strain and eye injury and Chad Marshall has been battling a hamstring strain in recent weeks.
The battles for the outside defensive positions will also be important on Tuesday night. On the left side, Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce will likely see time and battle for a roster spot.
Bocanegra could see time on the left where he normally plays for his club Rennes. Jonathan Spector has played left back for West Ham and could be a fourth option as well.
At right back it is uncertain whether Spector or Steve Cherundolo are the top choice heading to South Africa but Cherundolo's strong play the last month with Hannover could see him as the leading candidate.
At the goalkeeping position, Tim Howard is unquestionably the top choice but Bradley is likely to give some time to either Brad Guzan or Marcus Hahnemann to determine who will hold the second goalkeeping position.
The Czech Republic enters the game looking to build towards qualification for the 2012 European Championships. Last year their World Cup qualifying campaign ended unsuccessfully after they finished third in UEFA's group three behind Slovakia and Slovenia.
Czech Republic head coach Michal Bilek will be without injured stars Milan Baros, Tomas Rosicky and Roman Bednar. Instead the Czechs will be led by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and Anderlecht midfielder Jan Polak who is making his way back from a serious knee injury.
In the first game of their US tour, the Czech Republic were defeated by Turkey 2-1 at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey over the weekend.
The last time the two teams met was four years ago at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. In that game, the Americans played one of their most disappointing games in recent history and were easily defeated 3-0.
This US team is very different than the team that suffered that defeat in Gelsenkirchen with only five players on the current US 30 man roster having played in that contest.
Following the match, the US will return to training before playing Turkey on Saturday in Philadelphia.
After arriving in South Africa, the Americans are scheduled to play one last friendly against Australia in Roodepoort on June 5th before beginning Group C play on June 12th versus England.