Head coach Bob Bradley's clock is ticking. With the start of the 2011 Gold Cup less than three weeks away, he's expected to announce his 23-man roster sometime in the next week.
So many questions to ponder. Let's address five ...
1. Maurice Edu or Jermaine Jones?
We're fairly certain Bob Bradley will start his son, Michael Bradley, at central midfield. The younger, but still hairless, Bradley hasn't had the season he likely hoped for when transferring to Aston Villa of the English Premier League in January. He logged 10 minutes in Sunday's win over Arsenal, which increased his grand total to 27 this season. Ugh. But, he's been one of the true constants for the USMNT in recent years, leading the team in minutes played in the last three seasons. In that span, which includes 36 games played, he's been paired centrally with players such as Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Pablo Mastroeni, Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres and recently, Jermaine Jones.
Assuming Bradley stays with a 4-4-2, will it be Edu or Jones that gets the nod? Both players are coming off above average seasons -- Edu with back-to-back-to-back champion Rangers and Jones with Blackburn, which is still in a relegation fight. Honestly, I like both players. Both are tough defenders that play 18 to 18. Jones is older, but Edu has more USMT experience. I think it's a flip of the coin at this point. I know it's common to give the younger player the nod, but I'm curious what Jones could bring to the team in the next three years, assuming he's got at least World Cup cycle in the tank.
2. Who's backing up Howard?
I know, I know ... who cares? Tim Howard is still the man between the pipes, so let's not split hairs over the guy who may get some PT in the Americans' third group-stage game against powerhouse Guadeloupe. Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann, the same guys who saw zero minutes of action in South Africa, would be the easy choice. I've heard conflicting reports about Guzan's looming wedding affecting his chances at a roster spot. If he's passed on, expect David Yelldell to step in. Honestly, I know next to nothing about Yelldell, who plays professionally in Germany. OK -- one thing.
3. How many forwards should Bradley select?
It's either three or four. Having both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey at his disposal as attacking midfielders, Bradley could easily just go with three: Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo and Edson Buddle/Teal Bunbury/Herculez Gomez. None of those three stand out to me, so it may not be worth bringing more than one of them. Unfortunately, Charlie Davies may have lost his opportunity when he suffered a hamstring injury, while Bradley watched, last weekend. Tough timing for the even tougher Davies.
Bradley's startling decision to include striker Robbie Findley on his World Cup roster may signify he values that extra forward who could come on in the final minutes. I've only seen clips of Bunbury's play, but I'm eager to see more. Buddle or Gomez? I'd give the nod to the latter.
4. Who is Jonathan Spector?
Spector was Team America's right back until Steve Cherundolo reclaimed the position months before the World Cup. Cherundolo is still the man back there, and now Timmy Chandler is his understudy, and a promising one at that. But, Spector had an interesting season for his recently relegated West Ham squad. He played midfield ... and wasn't bad. He even scored twice in a Carling Cup match against Man U. Spector, a former striker, may have reinvented himself with the recent switch and can only hope Bradley noticed. Will it be enough to warrant a roster spot? We'll see.
5. Defense -- out with the old?
It would be silly not to include Red Bulls defender Tim Ream (pictured) on this Gold Cup roster. The kid deserves a shot to not only play, but start -- especially with the recent injury woes of Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu. Clarence Goodson, who didn't see the field in South Africa, should also get some time. The aforementioned Cherundolo and Chandler will provide depth on the right, and that leaves the left, as always, open for discussion. Should captain Carlos Bocanegra slide out there, or is his speed a liability? Can Eric Lichaj handle the left side -- as he has adapted to recently overseas for Leeds? Will Bradley go back, once again, to Jonathan Bornstein?
I've got nothing against the older guys -- I still think Cherundolo and Bocanegra are integral to the States' success this summer -- but the team needs new blood back there. Imagine a scenario where Bradley threw the young guns into the fire (against Spain's vaunted attack) on June 4 for the first half (From left, Lichaj, Goodson, Ream and Chandler) just to see what happened? In the second half, he could give the elder statesmen a run (From left, Bocanegra, Onyewu, DeMerit and Cherundolo). Which unit would yield less goals? Of course, injuries and common sense would overrule that little game, but it's fun to think about anyway.