World Cup 2010: Roster spots are up for grabs at U.S. training camp

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2010

PRINCETON, N.J. -- They have arrived in this Ivy League town from pro soccer teams in England and Scotland, Greece and Germany. They've come from Scandinavia, Italy and Mexico, carrying the ailments and fatigue exacted by backbreaking work over the course of long league campaigns far from home.

Others have gone on leave from in-season MLS clubs to gather here for U.S. national team training camp ahead of next month's World Cup in South Africa.

In Coach Bob Bradley's 3 1/2 -year tenure, 91 Americans have appeared in 59 international matches, a cycle that included, among other memorable journeys, a friendly in the cold of Krakow, Poland, a qualifier in the heat of Havana and a stunning upset of Spain last summer.

Bradley invited 30 players to camp and must cut seven by June 1. Although the personnel count is Bradley's most visible task, his primary aim during a week at Princeton, followed by tuneups against the Czech Republic and Turkey, is to ready the core of his squad for the sport's grand affair and the Group C opener against England on June 12.

Most of the roster slots have been set for months, if not a year. Nevertheless, the final few seats on the May 30 flight to Johannesburg from Washington Dulles International Airport remain unassigned.

As part of the process, Bradley will also have to evaluate players who have returned from long-term injuries (defender Oguchi Onyewu and midfielder Stuart Holden) and suffered recent setbacks (defender Carlos Bocanegra and forwards Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson). Although all are almost certain to make the final roster, their preparedness for the ultra demands of the World Cup remains in question.

By position, here is where things stand:

-- Goalkeeping: There is no competition for the three jobs, and little question about the pecking order among the English-based candidates: Everton's Tim Howard will start and Marcus Hahnemann, coming off an excellent season with Wolverhampton, seems to have moved ahead of Brad Guzan, a backup for Aston Villa.

-- Defense: This is the most unsettled position. Onyewu, the team's towering center back from Olney, has not played competitively since October, when he ruptured a patella tendon in the qualifying finale against Costa Rica at RFK Stadium. He has been training regularly with AC Milan but is not in game fitness.

Bocanegra (abdominal strain) skipped the last few matches for French club Rennes and appears on track for a return, but will he play left back or center back? Jay DeMerit, a center back, is assured a role, as are outside backs Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein. Will Bradley retain both Springfield's Clarence Goodson (Maryland) and Chad Marshall as insurance in the middle? Meantime, outside back Heath Pearce faces long odds.

-- Midfield: Bradley invited a dozen players, most notably Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu (Maryland). Holden and Ricardo Clark recovered from injuries to make late-season appearances for their respective clubs and are all but assured slots.

Danish-based Benny Feilhaber also appears safe, leaving Bradley to decide on MLS's Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan; two-time World Cup player DaMarcus Beasley; newcomer Alejandro Bedoya; and Jose Torres, a skilled Mexican-based player who has never seemed to fit into the system.

-- Front line: The only sure thing is Jozy Altidore's inclusion. While Ching, a target forward, will test his healed hamstring, MLS leading scorer Edson Buddle and Mexico-based Herculez Gomez will have to show their value on a higher level.

If Bradley feels the need for speed, he will choose Robbie Findley, who, despite his technical shortcomings, is probably the quickest player in camp. Charlie Davies served as the speedster -- and a goal scorer -- until suffering serious injuries in an auto accident last fall.

Johnson's scoring exploits in Greece thrust him back into consideration, but a hamstring injury last week will probably sideline him for the start of workouts.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company