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Did the best players make the cut?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
May 26
5:52
PM ET

Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens

The U.S. men's national team has slimmed down to its fighting weight, ditching seven of its 30 players to form the team that will, barring serious injury, represent 50 states and some 310 million fellow Americans at this summer's World Cup in South Africa.

As was just announced by coach Bob Bradley, Heath Pearce, Eddie Johnson, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Alejandro Bedoya, Brian Ching and Chad Marshall won't need their passports. (See the full World Cup roster below.)

The roster threw up several surprises. Despite a recent rash of injuries to the back line, Bradley will bring only three backup defenders: left back Jonathan Bornstein, who was unimpressive in recent matches; in-form central defender Clarence Goodson; and right back Steve Cherundolo. For a coach operating with a defense-first approach, this is rather remarkable.

The roster also includes five central midfielders even though one, Michael Bradley, is virtually assured of a starting spot, meaning that holding midfielders Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu and more creative operators Benny Feilhaber and Jose Torres will all be competing to line up alongside Bradley in his father's preferred 4-4-2 lineup. Bringing that many players for a position in which the U.S. is deepest makes a certain amount of sense because it gives Bradley maximum flexibility if he does decide to tinker with his tactics.

The biggest surprises came in the front line. Houston Dynamo striker Ching, the only pure target man on the preliminary roster, was widely thought of as the backup to Jozy Altidore, the only striker assured of a starting spot. Yet Ching didn't make the cut. (U.S. Soccer did not immediately reply to an e-mail inquiring about Ching's health.)

So, besides Altidore, what will Bob Bradley's strike force look like? More surprises: He'll bring Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez. Between them, they had been absent from the national team for 10 years before being called into the pre-World Cup training camp in Princeton, N.J., last week. But Buddle and Gomez have been in torrid form for their club teams, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Puebla, respectively, buttressing calls for their inclusion on the squad.

Bradley also will include Robbie Findley in an attempt to find a worthy replacement for speedy, but injured, Charlie Davies.

With so many strikers, Bradley probably will be less inclined to move Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, who are both usually deployed as wingers for the U.S., to the front line.

Now that the team is finally in place, the two final tuneup games (against Turkey on Saturday in Philadelphia and against Australia in South Africa on June 5) can be used to get the regulars reaccustomed to playing together. It also will give Bradley a chance to pin down his front-line pairing and sort through the problems with his back line, where all four projected starting defenders have suffered from injuries or soreness of late.

Although Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to an understrength Czech Republic team in East Hartford, Conn., was useful in helping the staff whittle down its player pool, given that several players exposed their own weaknesses, not a further minute is to be wasted on trying out fringe players. No matter how much importance you ascribe to it, who actually occupies the back of the bench is largely inconsequential. In its past three World Cups, the U.S. has never started more than 16 different players, and only a handful ever makes it off the bench.

Although Bradley has been criticized in his four-year tenure for playing favorites among his players -- a charge the players vehemently contest -- he has built a well-balanced team that combines finesse with physical fortitude and blends a few veterans in with players who are young enough to play another World Cup or two.

If nothing else, the 2010 U.S. men's national team has a future.

USA's 2010 World Cup roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez

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