And so it's begun. The past few days have seen various national team coaches commence the painstaking process of culling the candidates for their World Cup squads. We've already seen some minor surprises -- Germany's Joachim Low opting not to recall the in-form Kevin Kuranyi -- and some controversial choices such as Mexico's Javier Aguirre leaving out Nery Castillo. Which brings us, of course, to the U.S. team and the preliminary roster that Bob Bradley will name on May 11, which could be as many as 30 players, but is more likely to be in the 26-28 range. However, ultimately it's all about the final 23 for South Africa, so I'm going to pick the roster that I'd like to see chosen, which isn't necessarily the group I think Bradley will take.
Goalkeepers (3) -- Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann.
The trio of Premiership keepers are an absolute no-brainer and Guzan and Hahnemann provide enviable depth.
Defenders (8) -- Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Frankie Hejduk, Edgar Castillo, Chad Marshall, Jonathan Spector.
I've never been particularly impressed with either Jonathan Bornstein or Heath Pearce. Both are shaky defensively, prone to costly mistakes and inconsistent on offense, so I'd leave them at home in favor of Edgar Castillo. He's only average defensively but far superior going forward, although realistically the chances of Bradley taking him to South Africa are slim to none. Cherundolo, Onyewu, DeMerit and Bocanegra are roster locks, with Bocanegra likely to be the starting left back. While his mobility and lack of pace could be an issue at left back against certain wingers, Bocanegra is still a far safer bet there than the other U.S. options.
Hejduk is there for his veteran experience and intangibles, something that's never to be underestimated, and let's face it, for the 22nd or 23rd man on the roster, one should be thinking more about what the person adds to team chemistry at that point. Spector has had a very rough season for West Ham, but his versatility adds value -- he can back up at right back, left back and center back if need be. Marshall is the final choice because you can never have enough dominant aerial defenders and he provides a hedge against any setbacks in Onyewu's knee injury. Why Marshall over Clarence Goodson? Well, I think Marshall is simply the better player. Although some observers have been impressed with Goodson's form for the national team, almost all of his best performances have come against second-rate opposition such as last summer's Gold Cup bar Mexico, or in friendlies earlier this year against understrength El Salvador and Honduras squads.
Midfielders (9) -- Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, Alejandro Bedoya.
It's at midfield where Bradley will likely face his most difficult cuts. I believe seven of the first nine listed should be certain of their spots, and while I would include both Torres and Bedoya, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Bradley leave out one if not both for DaMarcus Beasley or Sacha Kljestan.
Forwards (3) -- Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez.
I expect Charlie Davies to be called up to camp and given a final chance to prove he's in game shape for South Africa. If he fails the test, I think the sensible choice is Gomez as a direct replacement and Ching as the target forward option. Altidore's obviously assured of his place, and with Dempsey and Donovan both able to play forward, it makes more sense to take an extra midfielder.
The U.S. might need to win Group C
I think if Bradley were to give an honest answer about what he wants to get out of the U.S.' Group C opener with England on June 12, he'd settle for a draw, or even a slim 1-0 loss (with the rationale being a win and a draw against the lesser lights of Algeria and Slovenia would almost ensure group qualification).
However, looking at the brackets, and projecting ahead based on the likely group winners, if the U.S. was to finish second, it would then potentially face a murderer's row of opponents in Germany, followed by Argentina and then Spain. On the other hand, if it upsets England and wins Group C, it would face an easier slate of Serbia, France/Mexico and then Brazil.
Rossi a doubt for Italy's World Cup squad
The man that some U.S. fans have loved to hate the past few years, Italy's American-born Giuseppe Rossi, was left off Italy's 29-man preliminary roster Sunday by coach Marcello Lippi. However, Rossi explained the omission on his Twitter account Monday.
"Wasnt called up w/ the national team cuz we play tuesday, therefore, Villarreal didnt let me go. May 18th is when the roster is announced." In similar vein, players from Inter and Roma were also not selected.
That said, a glance at the roster shows that Rossi is still in danger of not making the final cut. Assuming Italy takes the standard four forwards, you have to think Lippi will opt for either Marco Borriello or Luca Toni as his target man, and the in-form Alberto Gilardino and Antonio Di Natale are near certainties. The final spot therefore is likely to be a toss-up between Lippi favorite Vincenzo Iaquinta and others on the fringe, such as Rossi. While I admittedly find it stunning that Lippi holds Iaquinta in such high regard, I do think he'll choose him and leave Rossi out in the cold.
Barrios finally gets his due
One man who definitely isn't going to the World Cup is Paraguay's Salvador Cabanas, who's still recovering (miraculously) from a gunshot wound to the head, but won't be ready for South Africa. As his replacement, Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino named Argentine Lucas Barrios to the roster (Barrios qualifies for Paraguay nationality through his mother who was born in Paraguay).
With luminous talents such as Ezequiel Lavezzi and Mauro Zarate already struggling on the fringes of selection for Argentina, is it any wonder Barrios -- who has 18 goals for Dortmund in the Bundesliga this year -- opted to represent Paraguay recently instead? The real question is why it took so long for European teams to notice him. He was a veritable goal-scoring machine for Chile's Colo-Colo between 2008-09, with 49 goals in 53 games and scored in every fashion possible -- with either foot, with his head, and often placing his finishes with a calm demeanor. Dortmund snapped him up last summer for the ridiculously low fee of $5.4 million, which when you consider the vast amount typically thrown around at incompetent strikers ($13 million for Johan Elmander anyone?), it makes you wonder exactly just what criteria the scouts are measuring them on.
Pot, meet kettle
The Times reported Wednesday that Spurs manager Harry Redknapp has offered on-loan striker Robbie Keane to Everton in exchange for midfielder Steven Pienaar. This, of course, follows on the heel of a turbulent season for Keane, where he'd been played out of position on the left wing occasionally, consistently subbed off, consigned to the bench oft times and then shipped out on loan to Celtic in January. Considering that Keane was/is the Spurs captain (at least up until the loan), you could argue that it's downright hypocritical that the British media hasn't seen fit to question Redknapp's treatment of Keane. After all, when Redknapp 'rescued' Keane from Liverpool in January 2009, he said "[Keane] is a terrific player who can make all the difference."
It's even more curious when you consider Redknapp was among the many critics and media pundits who castigated Rafa Benitez for months on end for Benitez's similar handling of Keane during Keane's failed stay at Anfield. Benitez was ripped for playing Keane out of position on the left occasionally, consistently subbing him off and consigning him to the bench -- sound familiar?
"I don't think he got a great crack of the whip there but that's up to Rafa Benitez," said Redknapp to the BBC in February 2009. "He picks the team and he obviously didn't see Robbie as a player who fitted into his system or a player that he particularly wanted."
Don't just take my word for it, look at the stats. For Tottenham in the 2009/10 season, he played in 20 Premiership games between August and January in which he scored six goals (four coming in one game), was substituted 12 times and brought on four times as a sub. For Liverpool in the 2008/09 season, he played in 19 Premiership games between August and January, in which he scored five goals, was substituted 12 times and brought on three times a sub. The reality is that Keane was as equally ineffective for Tottenham as he was at Liverpool, and yet only one manager bore the brunt of the criticism for realizing it.