Soccer America
Tuesday July 21st, 2009

Not for declaration and certainly not for vindication, here's a rundown on the status of certain MLS players as they vie for spots on the 2010 World Cup squad of 23.

Much more will be known next month when coach Bob Bradley picks his squad for the qualifier against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca on Aug. 12, and whether Mexican-leaguers José Francisco Torres and perhaps Edgar Castillo -- if he successfully applies to switch national teams -- wilt under public pressure to not play against Mexico for the U.S. in a game that counts.

Troy Perkins has done nothing at the CONCACAF Gold Cup to lose the No. 3 goalkeeper shirt, and Bradley won't pick an MLS keeper to sit on the bench behind Brad Guzan and Tom Howard. Unless Perkins suffers through a shocker, the job is his if he wants it.

Left back is up in the air. Heath Pearce has a shot, assuming he can find a club. Unless Jonathan Bornstein can make a strong push, the Chivas USA man won't make the cut, though his left-sidedness keeps him in the picture.

Crew defender Chad Marshall has a good chance, though Jonathan Spector can play in the middle as well as at right back. That brings the probabilities for Marshall down a bit, as well as those for teammate Frankie Hejduk, who has experience, energy and endurance.

Hejduk and Steve Cherundolo can only play right back, so if Spector is the starter, can you take both of them? And if both of them go, there probably aren't enough slots for both Marshall and Jimmy Conrad. Should Conrad prove to Bradley that his 2006 play can be replicated in 2010, Conrad may go at the expense of one of those aforementioned players. The odds for Marvell Wynne and Danny Szetela (who was just signed by D.C. United) are slim.

Playmakers and game-breakers are in short supply, so Stuart Holden is in the mix, possibly at the expense of Sacha Kljestan. Holden is more consistent, stronger on the ball and better defensively than Robbie Rogers. However, Rogers' speed is hard to overlook and left mid is subject to review. In addition, Holden has played on that side far less frequently than Rogers.

There might be enough room for both Holden and Rogers, but with three keepers and (probably) eight defenders to be selected, that leaves only 12 slots, with maybe three or four set aside for wide mids, where Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey currently have first call. The logjam on the outside also may shut out Santino Quaranta.

The U.S. is overloaded at center mid, but I've been impressed with Kyle Beckerman since he moved to Real Salt Lake two years ago. Tough, relatively quick, good feet, excellent engine, decent shot. He might ace out former Rapids teammate Pablo Mastroeni, assuming Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber all make the cut along with the Schalke guy, Jermaine Jones.

I must admit I'm a bit bemused at all the fuss about Jones. Yes, he has played three times for Germany and in 96 Bundesliga games, yet at age 27, that's hardly a glittering résumé. He may indeed turn out to be capable at the international level, yet right now, his reputation is riding on that peculiar wave of "players we haven't seen must be better than the guys we have" that so many fans and journalists churn up on the Internet.

Jones is a rugged holding mid prone to fouls and cautions (nine in '08-09, plus two more yellow-reds, along with three goals). Schalke has hired a new coach, Felix Magath, who just led little Wolfsburg to its first Bundesliga title.

The grass on the other side of the hill isn't always greener, especially for American soccer. Remember all the pre-'98 World Cup hoopla regarding David Wagner and Michael Mason? They played in Germany, too, debuted with great fanfare and didn't impress all that much. Jones is injured and still needs his application to be processed and approved; hopefully Bradley will get enough time to know if he's closer to Thomas Dooley than Mason or Wagner, and better than what's currently available.

Though remote, there's always a chance another David Regis will come out of the woodwork. And wouldn't it be ironic if Castillo did come on to the scene and heat up the competition in that same position, left back, that Regis played, and/or knock Torres and/or Michael Orozco out of the picture?

Brian Ching made the team in '06 but didn't play. The question is still whether he can contribute in a World Cup, but he's tough, honest and determined, and still holds an edge over Kenny Cooper. A good game in the Confederations Cup would have raised Ching's stock. If Cooper goes to Europe and plays and scores consistently, he can move up the depth chart.

Much depends on how much and how well Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore play this season, pertaining to numbers as well as personnel. With Charlie Davies in the picture and the latter two in the mix, Bradley may take only those three as "forwards," with Dempsey and Donovan as options up top as well as midfield locks.

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