ON THE BUBBLE
As we approach the end of 2009 the overall prognosis of the US National Team could be considered above average.
There were several high points with their impressive 2-0 victory over European champions Spain standing out. However, there were also a lot of low points, which brought a lot of supporters to question the coaching of head honcho Bob Bradley. A lackluster 1-0 defeat to Slovakia over the weekend and Wednesday's debacle against Denmark - both World Cup participants - didn't do much to silence those doubters.
The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is right around the corner, so this is going to be an exciting and nerve-wrecking time for coaches, players and fans alike. It is always an unknown as to whom the US will be grouped with for the international spectacular, but one thing for sure is that the players and coaches will have a lot of work to do between December and June of next year.
While there may be a few spots on the team that may be locked down already, there are still many that are open. Several players will have a lot to do over the next few months in order to be considered by Bradley and his staff. Here I have pointed out several players that need to impress before the World Cup.
Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan)
You may wonder why I have him on my list, and yes I struggled with this as well, but hear me out before you voice your opinions.
The AC Milan man had his spot locked away a couple of months ago until an unfortunate injury in the final World Cup qualifying game against Costa Rica put him out. Now, the intimidating defender is in a race against time to be considered for the team.
It is not easy recovering from knee injuries if you can remember the struggle that former US defender Marcelo Balboa had to go through just to make it into the 1994 World Cup team. However, he is already in rehab, which is a good sign and reports are saying that he is trying to cut his recovery time in half in order to get back to Italy and force his way into Leonardo's team.
Gooch will be in South Africa. When you have a player the size of the former Clemson Tiger, you just do not leave him at home. You have also got to credit him for his enthusiasm and determination during this time. Expect a Marcelo Balboa-esque return to the team in the next few months.
Eddie Johnson (Fulham)
Most of us had forgotten that Eddie was still playing. The Fulham striker has not played much since his loan move last season to Championship team Cardiff City. He is way down in the pecking order with the Londoners as Andy Johnson, Diomansy Kamara, Erik Nevland and Bobby Zamora are all ahead of him.
To add to his problems, his goal scoring abilities seem to have left him as he has not scored in a competitive match since his loan spell. The rust was definitely on display as the former Kansas City Wizard played out the string the last two matches.
If EJ is even going to be considered for the trip to South Africa he is going to have to get his club situation solved when the transfer window opens again in January. A transfer back to MLS or a loan will definitely do him some good. On top of that, he is going to have to find his goal scoring touch again. There is no way Bradley will look at him again unless he's putting the ball in the goal regularly at club level. His chances of making the team are fading fast.
Maurice Edu (Rangers)
Like Gooch, Edu has been spending most of his time rehabbing his knee since surgery over the summer. This injury meant that he missed several chances to impress over the last few months at the FIFA Confederations Cup, the Gold Cup and the rest of the World Cup qualifiers.
Meanwhile, his club team, Rangers, has been missing him as well with mediocre performances in Europe and struggles to catch cross town rivals Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. However, all seems to be going well for the former Toronto FC midfielder as he is itching to get through his injury spell and force his way back into Walter Smith's team.
Edu's chances of making Bradley's team are still very good, but he has got to get back on the field for Rangers as soon as possible. His presence will be a welcome relief to Walter Smith as well as the Scottish champions have been dealt a blow with a few of their regular players injured. The midfield machine is certainly someone that cannot be left back next summer.
DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers)
Many of us were very critical of the left winger over the summer. His lack of playing time at Rangers and a horrific performance at the Confederations Cup spelled doom for the Indiana native. He has not been called up since. He did make a substitute appearance for Rangers recently in a 2-1 victory over St. Mirren, but whether it will lead to more appearances down the line is anyone's question.
In the past critics would have the former Chicago Fire winger locked into a spot for the national team. However, this time he is struggling to even get attention from the scouts of the USSF. The only way Beasley is ever going to be reconsidered for the national team is by getting out of Scotland and playing regularly with a club that wants him.
If he can reach the level that he was playing a few seasons ago with Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven, his confidence will return. A confident Beasley is the type of person that is useful for the US. For right now, the only way he will be going to South Africa is by paying his own way there.
Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo)
The Scotland-born midfielder had a splendid coming out party for the national team at this summer's Gold Cup scoring two goals and assisting on three as the US finished second place in the regional tournament. On top of that, he has had a good season with the recently eliminated MLS Cup semifinalist. Now, there is talk of the former Clemson Tiger making a return to European shores during the January transfer period.
Holden's stock certainly increased after the Gold Cup and now he is in contention for a spot on the World Cup roster. He is in a battle with other midfielders, but if he continues to play well, then he will definitely be heading to South Africa.
As for now what may be good for him is to hook up with a European club for a few months in order to maintain his fitness and sharpness. Do not be surprised to hear that he is there come January.
Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04)
When the news came out that the German born midfielder was switching allegiances, a loud scream of joy was heard around the US soccer community.
That suddenly changed to sighs of disappointment when it was announced that Jones was injured and had to undergo surgery to take care of a leg fracture. Now, all US soccer supporters are waiting in anticipation for when the midfield lynchpin will make his anticipated debut in the Stars and Stripes. Only time will tell.
There is still no word as to when Jones will be ready to return to action, so we will just have to put his prognosis on hold for the time being.
It is no question that the midfield for the US will be upgraded with the inclusion of the former Germany international. He is going to bring some bite that has long been needed in the middle.
However, before I get ahead of myself, we have to realize that Jones has not played a competitive game in a long time, so getting back from injury and getting some quality time during the Bundesliga season will be most beneficial. If he is fit and ready, Bradley will have a ticket waiting for him.
Part two will be posted next week...