U.S. national team makes final preparations before World Cup

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; D01

For probably one more day, the collection of U.S. soccer players that have spent more than a week together, first at Princeton University and now in Hartford, Conn., will be known by its common name: the U.S. national team.

On Wednesday, seven players are expected to depart, leaving the remaining group of 23 with the noblest of titles: the U.S. World Cup squad.

Final arguments by fringe candidates will come Tuesday night in a friendly against the Czech Republic at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. A crowd of more than 30,000 is expected at the 40,000-seat home to University of Connecticut football.

Another match is scheduled before the June 1 roster deadline -- Saturday afternoon against Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia -- but by then Coach Bob Bradley is planning to begin laying the groundwork for the World Cup opener June 12 against England in Rustenburg, South Africa.

Who won't make the cut?

The first hints will come when Bradley announces the 23-man game-day roster Tuesday. While some regulars nursing injuries -- and who are probably going to be chosen for the South Africa trip anyway -- might sit out, a healthy player (other than a goalkeeper) not chosen is probably in grave danger.

The next clue will be Bradley's choice of substitutes in the second half. He is permitted to use six, which will leave at least six players sitting on the bench.

A veteran who is passed over isn't necessarily in trouble; if Bradley has no doubts, he would prefer to take a closer look at others.

Barring significant injury Tuesday, most of the choices for the final roster are already in place. With three goalkeepers in camp and three slots to fill, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Guzan are set.

Questions still linger about the fitness of several injury-plagued defenders, but unless Bradley does not foresee full recovery in time for the World Cup, most of the group is clear: Olney's Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo and Jonathan Bornstein.

Springfield's Clarence Goodson is a good bet to beat out Chad Marshall for a reserve central role, while outside Heath Pearce would have much to prove against the Czechs. Pearce could also earn a spot at the expense of an extra forward.

Midfield locks include Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber. Jose Torres has a strong case, though not guaranteed given his inability to fit into Bradley's system the past year. He, too, will be on the spot Tuesday.

If Torres were safe, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers and Alejandro Bedoya would vie for probably one slot.

From the forward corps, Jozy Altidore is a sure thing and Brian Ching, the only true target man, is close to it. The other two slots probably come down to this: MLS scoring leader Edson Buddle or Mexican league ace Herculez Gomez, and speedster Robbie Findley or resurgent Eddie Johnson.

At Princeton, players made their case through fitness training, drills and intrasquad scrimmages. On Tuesday, they will get to make an impression against a Czech team that failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Four years ago in Germany, the Czechs inflicted a 3-0 defeat on the Americans in their World Cup opener.

On Saturday, in the first international match at Red Bull Arena in northern New Jersey, the Czechs were beaten by Turkey, 2-1. Goalkeeper Petr Cech, who helped Chelsea win the English Premier League title and FA Cup, is expected to start again.

U.S. notes: NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell was scheduled to give a motivational speech to the team after dinner Monday. . . . The squad is reportedly planning to meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday. Details were being finalized.

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