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In run-up to World Cup, U.S. Coach Bradley will have tough decisions to make

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010; D03

PRINCETON, N.J. -- In Italy, Fabio Grosso, a hero of the Azzurri's 2006 World Cup championship, was dropped from consideration. In Germany, supporters of the nationalmannschaft, or national team, were fretting over a replacement for injured captain Michael Ballack.

In France, South Korea and Chile, the pool of potential players heading to South Africa next month was trimmed, and on Wednesday, Diego Maradona finalized his Argentine crew.

Some teams opened training camp with just a couple slots up for grabs. Brazil didn't even bother with a selection process: Dunga named his 23-man squad last week.

Meantime, here at U.S. camp, the 30-man provisional roster is unchanged. No one has been sent home after three days of workouts. None of the injuries is serious enough to warrant early dismissal.

But with Coach Bob Bradley planning to finalize his travel party by the middle of next week, decisions are looming. The first cuts are likely to occur Sunday, when the delegation breaks camp and travels to Connecticut ahead of Tuesday's friendly against the Czech Republic at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

The final moves would then come the next day and leave Bradley with 23 players for the May 29 tuneup against Turkey in Philadelphia.

The seven who aren't chosen will become alternates and eligible for recall in case of significant injury.

"We have some ideas, for sure, but there are still some decisions that have got to be made," Bradley said. "The idea of having 30 people in camp gives people the opportunity to show where they are and also, if we had another injury, you are prepared."

Pre-existing injuries were a big reason for Bradley bringing all 30 players into camp; initially, he had planned to invite between 26 and 28. After the provisional roster was announced May 11, forward Eddie Johnson strained a hamstring while playing for Greek club Aris and defender Chad Marshall suffered a similar setback with the MLS's Columbus Crew.

Fringe candidates from the start, Johnson and Marshall have not participated in full workouts and appear to be at the greatest risk of being cut early. Marshall, a 6-foot-4 central back with 11 national team appearances, was selected to add training camp depth on the back line, which has been hampered by nagging injuries.

Probable starters Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit are recovering from abdominal strains and 2006 World Cup veteran Oguchi Onyewu is in a race to regain match fitness after rupturing a patella tendon in October. Onyewu began workouts Wednesday.

"In some [injury] cases, guys might be on the fence for the [final roster], and, yes, the idea is that we are still going to try to have our roster selected after the game in Hartford," Bradley said. "In other cases, you may feel more confident that there is time. You're going to bring a player to South Africa, knowing that, in those weeks [before the June 12 opener against England], he is ready to go."

In other words, barring late setbacks, Bocanegra, DeMerit and Onyewu will be on the final roster while Johnson and Marshall are running out of time.

If Johnson drops out, five natural forwards will be left in contention for probably four slots. The wild card is Robbie Findley, who is the least accomplished candidate but whose speed might come in handy in late-game situations.

On the back line, Heath Pearce, an outside defender who has 31 appearances and reentered the national team picture early this year, faces the longest odds. Midfield is the most congested area with two-time World Cup selection DaMarcus Beasley in competition with Alejandro Bedoya and Robbie Rogers, both 23, and Sacha Kljestan, 25, for one or two spots.

"It's a competition, but it's a healthy competition," said defender Jonathan Spector, who is almost certain to make the roster. "We're all competing for a position, first off to make that plane to South Africa and, second, for a starting position."

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