Davies' injury opens up opportunities
Thirty players were named to the U.S. national team's provisional World Cup roster Tuesday. But the biggest news concerned one performer who didn't make the list: Charlie Davies.
The U.S. forward had been attempting a comeback of epic proportions after he suffered fractures to his face, elbow, femur, tibia and fibula in a car accident in October. And although the fact Davies had managed to return to full training with Ligue 1 club side Sochaux was nothing short of astonishing, his bid to gain the fitness needed to participate in a World Cup was one miracle too many.
"[The Davies decision] has been incredibly difficult," U.S. manager Bob Bradley said in a broadcast interview with ESPN on Tuesday. "Charlie has shown so much heart in his work to get back from his injuries. We've monitored all of his workouts, we've had people [in France], we've observed him, and he remained part of the consideration right up until yesterday.
"In the end of it, we also had information from his club, whereby he hadn't been given full medical clearance, and therefore was not given a full release to join the camp. And so when we put that together with everything, we just felt that right now, Charlie, it's in his best interest to continue his rehab and continue so that he can get back to the level he was playing last year before the accident."
It always seemed destined to end this way for Davies, especially after reports out of France surfaced in the past few weeks that he wouldn't take part in any of Sochaux's remaining league fixtures. That said, it seemed as though Davies would at least garner an invite to training camp, at which point it seemed likely that Bradley would choose that moment, after having seen him perform up close, to give the U.S. forward the bad news. But the fact that Davies was not medically cleared to play by his club would appear to have tied the U.S. manager's hands.
The biggest beneficiaries of Davies' omission are Herculez Gomez and Robbie Findley. The inclusion of Gomez by itself is not a surprise, especially after a season in which he tied for top goal-scoring honors in the Mexican Bicentenario. But with Davies officially out of the running, the Puebla striker has to like his chances now for making the Americans' final 23-man roster even though it has been almost three years since he last appeared for the national team.
Gomez's toughest competition figures to come from Findley, whose inclusion is something of a surprise. Granted, Findley's pace makes him a natural replacement for Davies, and he has been firmly in the national team frame ever since Davies' accident. But Findley hasn't looked sharp in his international appearances. He also has been battling an assortment of minor injuries and has yet to score this season for Real Salt Lake. Apparently, Bradley saw enough to select Findley over FC Dallas' Jeff Cunningham, and Findley can only hope he can make the most of this latest chance he's been given by the U.S. manager.
The battle for the target forward spots also revealed a minor surprise, as Conor Casey was excluded from the roster. Yet in this case, current form clearly played a role. Not only has Casey struggled in the opening weeks of the MLS season but Edson Buddle and Eddie Johnson have been shining for their club sides recently. And with Brian Ching judged to be sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury he suffered in early April, there was no room left for Casey.
The news that Johnson has shoehorned his way into the squad will no doubt cause apoplexy among certain segments of the U.S. fan base. But unlike previous times when Johnson received national team call-ups regardless of his form at club level, his three goals for Aris Thessaloniki in the Greek Super League playoffs show that his selection this time is based more on merit.
There are those who no doubt will think that Johnson's inclusion means club teammate Freddy Adu also should have gotten a look. But Adu has been far down the depth chart of attacking players for some time now. It would have been a complete shock had he been named to the squad.
Elsewhere, there were only minor surprises, but that was because Bradley ultimately opted to use every one of the 30 spots available, this after a U.S. Soccer spokesman had indicated that the U.S. manager likely would fill between 26 and 28 of the slots.
The two additional places appear to have most likely gone to the Columbus Crew duo of defender Chad Marshall and midfielder Robbie Rogers. Marshall appears to have recovered from a hamstring injury just in time, and Rogers, despite enduring an inconsistent start to the MLS season, will get a chance to burrow his way onto the final roster.
Otherwise, the roster was dominated by the usual suspects. Given the number of injuries suffered by U.S. players in the past seven months, this counts as good news, and the key task for Bradley will be to accelerate the players' bid to be fully sharp before the Americans' opening World Cup match against England on June 12.
Eyes will be trained especially hard on defender Oguchi Onyewu, who has recovered only recently from a ruptured patellar tendon he suffered in October. Onyewu was part of the travel roster for AC Milan's game this past weekend against Genoa but didn't make the game-day roster, and it remains unclear whether he'll feature in a competitive match before the end of the Serie A season. The final 23-man U.S. roster is set to be announced on June 1, so Onyewu will have to make the most of his time in training camp.
Fortunately for Onyewu and the other invitees, a little more time is precisely what they have.
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton)
Defenders (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
Midfielders (12): DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), José Torres (Pachuca)
Forwards (6): Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki)
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at email@example.com.