boarding passes, please

the build it up for this summer’s world cup has been, at times, agonizingly slow. this was especially true after last year’s drama-filled confederations cup and qualifying campaigns.

don’t get me wrong, i’m thoroughly enjoying this european season. there’s been an near infinite amount of drama on that front as well (where to start? ghana rushing essien back from injury to play in a mostly pointless african cup of nations, possibly screwing themselves for the world cup. the tevez/neville war of words. the mess that is portsmouth. henry’s handball. liverpool. dirty transfers and subsequent transfer bans. mourinho assulting the press. this list could go on for hours). but despite everything that happens during this european season, i’ve always got an eye on south africa.

we know that landycakes will be leading the USMNT this summer, but who will be helping him to carry the load?

and the long wait for this summer’s main event seems to be getting slower, and slower, and slower for the USMNT and it’s fans. after our astonishing run to the confederations cup final last summer, the football gods decided that the US team had had enough fun and time in the sun. it’s been steep downhill since.

serious injuries to key players has been the biggest problem for the yanks. first it was charlie davies’ horrific car crash. next came oguchi onyewu’s blown patellar tendon, just days after davies’ accident. then last week, clint dempsey’s partially torn PCL has put his participation next summer in doubt.

but there are other problems to keep in mind, too. MLS’s lingering labor issues looks likely to lead to a lockout, meaning our domestic-based players are probably facing a long period of time without team training and match fitness. additionally, a few of our other regular european-based inernationals are just returning to playing from long injury lay-offs, like jay demerit at watford or maurice edu at rangers. kenny cooper, now playing for 1860 munich, is also laid up with a what i hope is a long-term injury.

then there are also some players whose form is either terrible and/or are burried on their team’s benches. jozy altidore has seen more time as of late, though hull signing egyptian international amr zaki will definitely limit his playing time further. jonathan spector has been very suspect for west ham as of late, while eddie johnson and freddy adu are keeping each other company greek side aris’ bench.

of course there are also american’s who have just made the leap across the pond, and will be hoping to make good first impressions at their new clubs to keep their world cup hopes alive. stuart holden has been the subject of much conjecture over the last month, with on-again-off-again moves to number of european sides (burnley, sporting braga, and most likely bolton). ricardo clark just signed with eintracht frankfurt, so he’ll need to settle in. and chris rolfe has just begun training with aalborg, his new team in denmark.

so with the clock ticking on the world cup roster deadline, and no shortage of major issues to consider, manager bob bradley has some big time decisions to make. that question is mainly, who is going to get one of the 23 boarding passes up for grabs for the plane to south africa next summer? well, now you’re going to get my predictions for who i think bradley will be picking… like it or not.

we’ll break this up into five categories of players, based on their odds of making the team. so, let’s see in a few months whether or not i will be eating my words.

for sure on the plane
these are players that anyone who has a passing interest in pro soccer knows would probably know will be on the team. the shoe-ins of the team.

1. landon donovan (f – everton / la galaxy): landycakes deservedly get’s the first seat on the plane, probably sitting right next to bob so they can make out talk about strategies and such. even if his loan to the toffees doesn’t go over that well, his inclusion is guaranteed. i would even go as far to say that even if he loses a leg in a liverpool pub fight, bradley will still take him.

2. tim howard (gk – everton): timmay’s seat is almost as much of a given as donovans. he’s the undisputed number one for the USMNT, with no apparent challengers… that is, unless brad friedel pulls a shocker and unretires. sorry, tim, i’m just saying.

3. carlos bocanegra (d – rennes): as captain of the team, it would blow my mind if he was left off the team. although he’s lost some pace over the last few years, and is prone to being a re-tard from time to time, he seems to inspire confidence in the defense when he’s out there with them. i’d really prefer to see him as our starting left back, unless injuries force him to the middle. but bob will play him in the middle.

4. jozy altidore (f – hull / villareal): despite the fact that jozy can’t get consistent time anywhere he plays, despite the fact that he hasn’t really been all that productive up front, and despite the fact that he can’t ever make it a full 90 whenever he plays for the national team… he’ll be on the plane. however, he needs more match fitness and experience if he’s to make an impact next summer. asking for compassionate leave due to the haiti crisis (due to having extended family living there) probably won’t help his cause either.

5. michael bradley (m – borussia mönchengladbach): there are many that believe mike is getting a free ticket just because he’s got dad in his corner, but i’m not in that camp. he’s performed well for the national team (40 caps, 7 goals), providing the gritty toughness that our midfield usually lacks. however, he sometimes gets sucked too far up field and can be wreckless with his challenges.

6. jay demerit (d -watford): having just returned from a long injury lay-off due to an eye infection caused by his contacts, the watford captain is just regaining his form for the championship outfit. personally, i think he’s the most underrated player in our national team. he’s a solid marker, good in the air, and tends to play intelligently. his fantastic play at last summer’s confederations cup cemented his place here for me. aside from a fully fit gooch, he’s the best center back in the USMNT pool. plus, his rise to this level is quite the story.

7. jonathan spector (d – west ham): though high expectations for the former manchester united starlet may have weighed down his development, spector is still the best right back our country has ever produced. he’s notorious for being wildly inconsistent: at his best he is a phenomenal player, at his worst and he would struggle to make my sunday league team. still, he’s an excellent crosser and can provide good defensive cover… most of the time.

8. brad guzan (gk – aston villa): despite being brad friedel’s apprentice at villa and timmay’s understudy with the USMNT, guzan is definitely the #2 goalie for the yanks. in limited appearances for villa this season, he’s shown his talent in the carling cup, fa cup and europa league this season.

it’s a little worrying that of the eight guys that i know will be going to south africa, two are keepers. the injury crisis prevented me from naming at least three players to this portion of my list; let’s see where they end up below.

as much as "deuce" annoys me, i know we need him this summer.

don’t have my pass yet, but i’m pretty sure i’m getting one
if i’m a betting man, which i’m not, i would wager that these guys will make the roster. but some extenuating circumstances could prevent them from making it (injuries, performances, etc.). we shall see.

9. oguchi onyewu (d – a.c. milan): gooch, if healthy, is one of the four best players in our squad. but his torn patellar tendon has me all sorts of worried. rumor is he’s close to a return, but i have doubts about a) him rushing back from injury to be ready for the world cup, and b) whether or not milan will give him an opportunity to play. the rosaneri are in the grips of a title chase, and can’t really afford to take chances on recently injured americans (i worried about this move when it happened, as i stated in this post). we’ll be taking him either way, unless his injured knee acts up again.

10. clint dempsey (m/f – fulham): same story as gooch. if he can fully recover from his partially torn PCL, then he’ll be on the plane. hell, even if he half recovers, he’ll be on there. but i worry that he’ll lose his explosiveness or lack his cocky confidence to take players on. if he can make it back to 100% though, he likely be a major player this summer. at least if he quits being so lazy.

11. ricardo clark (m – eintracht frankfurt): i debated throwing clark into the “for sure” category, but his recent move to germany made me warry. assuming he can earn some decent minutes, he’ll make the plane. but if he gets buried on the bench, losing form and confidence, i could see bradley leaving him out of the roster. otherwise, he’s a solid player. my only real complaint about him is he tries to force too many passes from the midfield.

12. stuart holden (m – bolton): my thought process about holden is the same as it was for ricardo clark. now that he’s landed at bolton, stu needs to break into the first team. my hope is that it isn’t too late in the season for bolton to really consider giving him serious minutes (i’ve written a whole post about this very subject). i like this kid a lot, and think he could be an impact player in south africa.

13. jonathan bornstein (d – chivas usa): the mexi-jew has his good and bad moments like most of the US backliners, and he’s known to be a bit inconsistent at times. however, bob likes the kid, so i’m sure he’ll make the plane. he’s real value comes from being a versatile player, as he can play left back or on the left flank. he’ll probably be in the fight to start at left back.

14. steve cherundolo (d – hannover 96): fully recovered from a run of injuries that kept him out of contention with national team over the last year or so, he’s a dependable and experienced right back. however, i expect that he’ll be backing up spector at the start of the finals.

15. benny feilhaber (m – agf aarhus): another one of bob’s favorites. although i’m not always impressed with his play for the national team, he has loads of international experience. as long as he’s not making risky passes and plays simple, he tends to do well and can be an good addition to the team.

16. maurice edu (m – rangers): now that he’s fit and getting quality minutes again for the scottish leaders, i would fully expect edu to make the 23-man roster this summer. if the former toronto fc holding mid can regain full fitness and stay healthy, he should contend for a starting spot.

sixteen spots between the top two groups, and only two true forwards out of the bunch. this is extremely worrying to me.

yeah i think so, but…
i could see the guys in this group making the team, but i could easily see them not making the team, too. i think so much is up in the air right now, it’s likely going to be the biggest group of my list. a lot depends on injuries/recoveries, and how some guys perform in the tune-up matches and with their clubs.

17. connor casey (f – colorado rapids): the big man seems to be one of bob bradley’s favorites too, and it makes my blood boil. i can’t stand him. he doesn’t work hard enough on the field. he rarely adds anything to the game, let alone score goals. he’s slow. i hate his face. i really, really, really hope he doesn’t get picked. but i need some other guys to step up and make bob take notice. it doesn’t matter what i think, though: bob will take him anyway.

18. jose francisco torres (m – pachuca): it’s no secret that i greatly admire torres. he’s creative, can play in the middle or on the flank, and is a great distributor. if he is excluded from this summer’s team, i could be tempted to finally hire a hit man to take care of bradley once and for all.

19. damarcus beasley (m – rangers): a star of the national team dating back to the 2002 world cup, beasley’s star has fallen a long way in the 24 months. injuries and lack of first team football in scotland had greatly reduced the speedy wingers form, and i thought his extremely poor play at the confederations cup last summer were nails in his USMNT coffin. however, beasley’s cracked back in to the rangers’ line up as of late and has been playing well. if he can continue to get time, improve his form and stay fit, he could find himself back in the picture for south africa.

20. marcus hahnemann (gk – wolverhampton wanderers): the third choice keeper for the americans in germany, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fill that role again. he’s been quietly having a good season for wolves, after getting the axe from long term club reading in the summer.

21.  clarence goodson (d-start): though he doesn’t quite have the international experience that some other defenders in the pool have, he was one of the few solid performers in this past weekend’s honduras friendly. he was a calming presence for the defense, and his goal showed he is willing to attack offensively as well. his good size and speed are making me think he gets the nod over parkhurst, chad marshall or red card conrad.

22. edgar castillo (d – tigres): despite having significantly fewer caps than heath pearce, i think castillo’s a smarter defender all around. although i admit, my limited exposure to him makes me a little wary of picking him.

my surprise pick? charlie davies. the kid has magic powers or something.

23. charlie davies (f – sochaux): when i started writing this piece five days ago, i didn’t think there was a chance in hell that charlie would be making this team. i thought, “it’s too soon. he just won’t be fit enough yet.” then i read ives galarcep’s article for ESPN on davies’ recovery, and it’s completely changed my mind. did you know he’s already running? or that he fully expects to be back training with sochaux in february? this kid is blowing my mind right now. assuming he doesn’t have any set backs, he could likely play the last two months of the ligue 1 season. will he be the same player he was? i don’t know. but the fact he is already light years ahead of where he should be, it makes me believe he’s got more tricks up his sleeve. i believe in you, charlie!

i’m in… if someone get’s hurt
keep your fingers crossed boys; i’m thinking this is you’re only hope of making the squad. these guys will be competing for the three alternate places.

24. chris rolfe (f – aalborg): yes, i know i’m being a little biased here, but i legitimately think rolfe is one of the better players in our country. i know he’s better than connor casey. if chris can settle in and break in to aalborg’s line-up quickly, not to mention score some goals, he could possibly earn himself a seat on the plane. he is one of the more creative players in our pool, and can create opportunities for others just as well as he can for himself. we don’t have many guys that can be that creative.

25. robbie rogers (m – columbus crew): this kid obviously has loads of raw talent and skill, and could easily be a major player on the national team in the future. but his problem is how raw his talent is. he demonstrated that over and over against honduras. it’s like he thinks he’s ronaldo or something; he dribbles way too much. he can get away with that in MLS, but not on the international level. though, look for bob to consider him heavily if dempsey isn’t able to play.

26. kyle beckerman (m – real salt lake): i saw him play in person at the eastern conference finals against chicago last year, and he completely controlled the flow of the game. he’s quality player in the mold of a xavi or xabi alonso (obviously not quite to their calibers, though). unfortunately, he hasn’t quite shown any ability to translate that to the international stage. not that he has played horrible for the USMNT, it’s just he hasn’t controlled a game that way.

27. kenny cooper (f – 1860 munich): the former fc dallas striker is a valuable commodity due to his size, and i think he’s been more impressive than connor casey playing for the national team. he’s gotten decent minutes this year in germany and scored some goals, although he’s currently sidelined with an injury. if he can get healthy, i would choose him over a few other options (especially connor casey… i hate him).

28. troy perkins (gk – dc united): despite the pounding he took during the friendly loss to honduras last weekend, perkins was still impressive. if hahnemann doesn’t take up the third keeper spot, it will be perkin’s to lose.

29. michael parkhurst (d – nordsjælland) or chad marshall (d – columbus crew): i’m not sure which of these two would get the nod should we need more defensive cover. i could see either of them taking an alternates spot, so i’m calling it a tie for right now.

30. brian ching (f – houston dynamo): if one of the big guys up front that bradley prefers is hurt, i would expect he’ll take ching as a replacement. he likes to have a few big guys, especially since the rest of our team is so tiny. ching’s just gotten old and slow, which is the reason he’s fallen so far down the pecking order.

yeah, frickin’ right
should any of these players make the roster, i will lick my boots just like gary neville.

if adu thinks he has a shot at south africa, he's crazy.

freddy adu (m/f – aris): i never really thought that he was that special while playing in MLS, so his move to benfica was very surprising to me. since signing for the portuguese giants, adu’s been loaned out three straight years: monaco (9 appearances, 0 goals), belenenses (4 games, 0 goals), and now aris (no appearances yet). if he can’t break in at aris, then i’ll feel justified in calling him the most overhyped player ever… and that’s saying a lot.

sacha kljestan (m – chivas usa): aside from his hat trick against sweden last year, sacha has played himself out of national team contention. in all of his other 21 appearances, he was either invisible, or highly visible due to drastic mistakes.

eddie johnson (f – aris): just like his greek-side teammate adu, the man i would like to label “flash in the pan” has no business in making the USMNT. johnson was virtually a ghost after joining fulham, and made absolutely zero impact while on loan at cardiff city last year. i would imagine his ego is the only thing that is spectacular about him these days.

so 3,200 words later, you now have my predictions. i’m not saying i agree with all of these choices, i’m just saying that these are the people i expect bobby boy to be picking. i just hope i won’t have to suck on any socks or lick any boots (translation pending)!

what are your thoughts? good picks or bad? who would you rather see?

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