Steve Davis
Friday April 16th, 2010

Before the 2002 and '06 World Cups, training camp opened rather placidly for the United States with 22 players all breathing easy about their spots on the final roster.

In both cases, injuries forced some 11th-hour tweaking. But essentially, the players who reported to camp constituted the U.S. World Cup team, and everybody knew it.

It won't be anything like that for South Africa 2010. Training camp opens on May 15 and there are many unanswered questions.

As a result, coach Bob Bradley will include 26 to 28 players -- or possibly more -- when the team reports at a location to be determined.

U.S. national team spokesman Michael Kammarman confirmed Thursday that additional players will be summoned next month, although he does not know the exact number. "Given the circumstances of several of the regular players ... the coaching staff still will use the training camp to asses their statuses," Kammarman said.

Obviously the circumstances in question are about two things: key players returning from injuries -- Oguchi Onyewu, Charlie Davies, Stuart Holden, Brian Ching and a couple of others -- and a vexing situation at forward.

This camp isn't about Bradley continuing to assess the general qualities of bubble players, guys like DaMarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan and Heath Pearce, etc. Generally Bradley knows exactly what these guys are about; he's spent nearly four years arriving at conclusions. But what can they contribute within the fluid framework of the personnel around them?

The process from here looks something like this: Most European leagues wrap up on May 8-9, so U.S. Soccer will likely announce its list of camp invitees that weekend. At worst, we'll know on May 11 when FIFA releases each team's preliminary selection of 30.

Bradley's players will begin filing into camp May 15, with all expected on site by May 17. U.S. Soccer officials have not said where the team will gather, as final arrangements continue to be worked out. But it will definitely be somewhere on East Coast, where the Americans will play two friendlies before leaving for Africa on May 30 (In Connecticut against the Czech Republic on May 25 and May 29 in Philadelphia against Turkey.)

It should also be noted that there will be no high-altitude training before going to South Africa. Kammarman said the decision was made after consultation with U.S. Olympic personnel who have studied athlete performance at higher altitudes.

Since the U.S. is arriving in South Africa more than 10 days before the first match and basing at Pretoria's 4,000-feet, it's believed that acclimatizing to the slightly thinner air at 4,900-feet Rustenburg should be manageable. Besides, Kammarman said, training at altitude in the United States would necessitate less strenuous workouts. Rather, the plan is to push hard on the base fitness work here and then taper into the acclimatization process once in South Africa.

The logistics have been worked out but not the 23-man roster, which won't be settled until right before the June 1 deadline. Onyewu is back in Italy with AC Milan. Assuming no further setbacks, the big U.S. center back will be in the U.S. camp, ready to show that he's fit and sharp. The situation for Davies remains far less clear; the speedy U.S. forward continues his quest to beat the odds with a stunning recovery.

The most crucial question is at forward. Jozy Altidore will almost surely make the roster. After that, who knows? Even the question of who to bring into camp for late evaluation is puzzling.

Jeff Cunningham, Robbie Findley and Conor Casey are playing regularly in MLS, but none have scored a non-penalty goal in 2010. Eddie Johnson is playing regularly, but in a mid-level league. Then we get to the Herculez Gomez-Edson Buddle conundrum. Both are scoring (although Gomez is frequently coming off the bench to do so.) Yes, form means something. On the other hand, little that Gomez or Buddle did over the larger sampling of four years in the World Cup cycle suggests they are capable of making an impact at the international level. They have a combined 78 minutes with the U.S. So in one sense, it's a shocker that we're even talking about them.

Landon Donovan is advocating for Buddle, but perhaps a history lesson is required here. We have lots of evidence demonstrating how guys who can score in MLS can't get it done internationally. Taylor Twellman, Jason Kreis and Kenny Cooper come to mind.

In normal circumstances even prodigious goal scoring at this point wouldn't convince Bradley to consider someone who hasn't gone through the international paces. But again, these are difficult times, and Bradley might be forced to stretch beyond the norm. It wouldn't even be ridiculous to suggest that Bradley would consider, if only briefly, approaching veteran Brian McBride.

McBride retired from international competition four years ago and he hasn't done anything particularly startling in MLS this year. So chances of this clearly are remote. Then again, Bradley's preference has always been to play with a target forward -- and he doesn't have an ideal one at the moment.

He's certainly not locked into it for South Africa, especially with the increasing likelihood that Donovan, Clint Dempsey or both will land at forward rather than driving the attack from wide spots in midfield. But that is certainly the way Bradley likes to play, with someone who can stand up top, win balls, take the punishment, initiate the defense and generally make life hard on opposition defenders.

Things are always interesting as a national team begins the serious prep a month before a World Cup. But it's usually starting spots, systems of play and even choices of TV announcers that has everyone talking. This time around, there's too much left to be decided before we can even get there.

Do not let Thursday's result at BMO Field fool you. Toronto is a mess right now, never mind the 2-1 win over 10-man Philly on the new grass at BMO -- a.k.a. the least deserved win in MLS this year. (By the way, will the new field in Toronto always play that slowly? Let's hope not.)

The lively and organized Union had things under control against Toronto, whose two best players were stationed in ill-fitting roles. DP Julian de Guzman was the attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 -- and he could barely complete a pass. Dwayne De Rosario was the lone striker. He's a lot of things, but a target man isn't one of them. So it didn't work.

But Philly tough guy defender Danny Califf, an apparent MMA-wannabe, did something even sillier than when he got a yellow card 30 seconds into the season opener against Seattle. Against Toronto, he got himself thrown out of a match in which the home team had yet to threaten Philly's goal. Then goalkeeper Chris Seitz gave up a second soft goal in as many weeks and Philly lost the initiative.

Toronto coach Preki adjusted at the break, going back to a 4-4-2 and returning players to more comfortable roles. The Canadians looked better but still needed another mistake by Seitz to find the game-winner. Bottom line, result notwithstanding: Philly looked like the team on the way up. Meanwhile, there's still plenty to sort out in Canada.

The game of the weekend is in Carson, Calif., where a championship rematch between the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake takes place. The champs have done OK so far, but nothing like the Galaxy, which has been perfect in three games. Buddle is ringing the bell on offense while goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts has three clean sheets at the other end.

Elsewhere, Chicago plays at D.C. United, a side now desperate for goals and points. If Curt Onalfo's D.C. team emerges from its fourth match without a point, well, we'll need to get the local high school math team involved, but making the playoffs will already begin looking like a statistical long shot.

Dallas travels to New Jersey, where the Texans will be the second MLS guest inside the country's latest and greatest dedicated soccer facility. Keep an eye on Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel, who has yet to register a goal and, truth be told, has done little to contribute to the team's surprisingly strong start.

And speaking of strong starts, the Wizards have looked terrific over two home wins in their new 4-3-3. The system gets its first road test in Seattle on Saturday night.

A few key dates for U.S. fans to keep an eye on:

May 11: Teams must submit a provisional 30-man list from which the final roster will be selected.

May 15: U.S. players begin reporting to pre-World Cup training camp.

May 17: first team practice.

May 25: U.S. vs. Czech Republic friendly, East Hartford, Conn.

May 29: U.S. vs. Turkey friendly, Philadelphia

May 30: Team leaves for South Africa

June 1: Final 23-man roster submitted to FIFA

June 5: pre-World Cup friendly vs. Australia

June 12: United States' World Cup opener vs. England

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