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U.S. Player Rater -- April edition

Fulham's American midfielder Clint Dempsey celebrates scoring a

Fulham's American midfielder Clint Dempsey celebrates scoring a goal during their UEFA Europa League match against Juventus at Craven Cottage. (March 18, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Let the healing begin.  

With no matches on the United States' schedule since our last player rating, one would think our current rankings relied solely on the players' recent play with their club teams. But, if you're the injury-ravaged Americans, much of the thought that went into this month's rankings deals with torn tendons, broken bones and sprained ankles -- and how much they've healed in recent weeks. 

Clint Dempsey is back delivering highlights in a big way, Oguchi Onyewu has been seen on the practice field and Charlie Davies' rehabilitation continues ahead of schedule. Those are the marquee names, of course, but a handful of other injured Americans also returned to the field in hopes of securing a spot on Bob Bradley's 23-man World Cup roster.  

Who will make it to South Africa? We'll soon find out. For now, here are the players that are in pretty good shape: 


NOTE: The latest rankings were compiled before Brian Ching's hamstring injury and recent reports of Jermaine Jones' continued struggles with his leg injury rehabilitaiton.

Next edition: May 1.


1. TIM HOWARD
Age (for World Cup): 31
Position: Goalkeeper
Club team: Everton - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 2
His story: With Landon Donovan returning to the far-less-competitive MLS, he and Howard once again swap spots atop our rankings. Although he's recently suffered "a couple of knocks," according to manager David Moyes, Howard anchors one of the best second-half teams in the English Premier League. The Toffees finished out March by conceding only two losses in their past 18 games. In five March matches, Howard posted a 3-0-2 record and a 0.6 goals against average.  

The former Manchester United keeper will aim to be on top of his game in South Africa after not seeing the field while backing up Kasey Keller four years ago in Germany. Stopping England's Wayne Rooney will be a stiff opening test. In two matches against Rooney's Manchester United squad this year, Howard and the Toffees kept Rooney off the board in both games -- a 3-1 win and a 3-0 loss. 

Status: Locked in (starter)

2. LANDON DONOVAN
Age (for World Cup): 28
Position: Midfielder / forward
Club team: LA Galaxy - Major League Soccer (USA)
Previous ranking: 1
His story: Donovan just finished two months of the best soccer of his life, so why are we taking away his No. 1 ranking? Because we just finished using the words, "just finished," that's why. Donovan played brilliantly during his 10-week loan with Tim Howard's Everton team -- even winning over rabid fans that roared "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants during some of his finer moments. But, Donovan is now back with the Galaxy in the MLS, where the competition pales in comparison to across the pond. He'll still be performing at a high level, but he won't be playing with and against some of the top players in the world on a daily basis. 

Donovan remains the heart and soul of the American team, and his versatility gives Bob Bradley a few options for this summer. In the group stage, we may even see him play on the left, the right or up top depending on the opponent. Donovan's successful stint in Europe is over. Although he has won over the hearts of many and is playing the best soccer of his life, a bigger stage in South Africa awaits. 

Status: Locked in (starter)

3. CLINT DEMPSEY
Age (for World Cup): 27
Position: Forward / midfielder
Club team: Fulham FC - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 7
His story: Is he back? If you're not sure why Dempsey has risen in our rankings, you obviously didn't see this goal. American fans are hoping Dempsey can do more of that and return to the form he displayed before a knee injury sidelined him for two months. Dempsey looks to pile up the minutes at Fulham and return to Team USA as its most dynamic and dangerous player. 

Bradley still has a tough decision of where to play him -- out wide on the right or beneath Jozy Altidore up front. If the other forward position isn't sewn up by Charlie Davies or another player by this summer, Bradley should employ Donovan or Dempsey up front. There are still several variables in play, but one thing is certain, Dempsey should be his old self in time for the World Cup and that's great news for the Americans.  

Status: Locked in (starter)
 

4. JOZY ALTIDORE
Age (for World Cup): 20
Position: Striker
Club team: Hull City - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 3
His story: Altidore was briefly sidelined with a hamstring injury for part of March, but returned to the field for a must-win game against Clint Dempsey's Fulham squad at the end of the month and looked strong up front for the Tigers in a 2-0 win. Undoubtedly, Altidore's strength is his brawn and his ability to fend off defenders with his back to the goal. His scoring touch, however, has been lacking with one goal in 23 games and that's a bit of a concern heading into the World Cup. On the plus side, he always poses a threat to draw a penalty kick, which he demonstrated in the aforementioned Fulham game.  

Altidore is the United States' No. 1 striker and that won't change in the next 10 weeks. In Bradley's usual 4-4-2, however, the other forward spot has been up for debate for some time. Altidore's recent scoring deficiency means Bradley may need a more reliable scorer, such as Landon Donovan or Dempsey, to help ease the scoring load on the attack.  

Status: Locked in (starter)
 

5. MICHAEL BRADLEY
Age (for World Cup): 22
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Borussia Moenchengladbach - Bundesliga (Germany)
Previous ranking: 4
His story: Like Jozy Altidore, Bradley seems to be a lock to start this summer, but finding his perfect pairing is still up for debate. The coach's son will help control the pace for the Americans in the middle of the field. He missed Borussia's final game in March because of yellow-card accumulation, which bit him last summer when he was sent off in during the United States' momentous win over No. 1 Spain. He missed the championship game against Brazil as a result.

Bradley is a reliable option in the middle who began playing against top European competition as a teenager. His father drafted him for the MetroStars in 2005, but he bolted to the Dutch Eredivisie the following year and developed into a goal-scoring, attacking midfielder for Heerenveen. If he can control his emotions on the field, Bradley is a dangerous weapon who won't back down from England's world-class midfielders in June. 

Status: Locked in (starter)
 

6. CARLOS BOCANEGRA
Age (for World Cup): 31
Position: Defender
Club team: Rennes - Ligue 1 (France)
Previous ranking: 5
His story: Bocanegra, who started in 21 of Rennes' first 30 games this season and every game in March, helped the team make a late run to within 10 points of the top of the Ligue 1 table. At left back, the American captain is a vital member of the French squad and will be equally important to the United States' chances this summer in South Africa. 

Bocanegra is one of the top scoring defenders in U.S. history (12 goals), and he proved why on March 3 by scoring the Americans' lone goal against the Netherlands in a 2-1 loss. The man with the arm band likely will start in the middle or out wide on the left in South Africa. It all depends on the health of ... 

Status: Locked in (starter)
 

7. OGUCHI ONYEWU
Age (for World Cup): 28
Position: Defender
Club team: AC Milan - Serie A (Italy)
Previous ranking: 6
His story: Onyewu is the United States' top defender and a key member of the 2006 World Cup team, but having not seen game action in more than four months, we can't rate him any higher than this. As a member of a top European club, many wondered if Onyewu would see any action upon his return from the patellar tendon injury he sustained last October during World Cup qualifying. A season-ending injury to Alessandro Nesta, however, opened the door slightly and "Gooch" could factor into AC Milan's April plans as they try to win the three-team race for the Serie A title.

Simply put, if Onyewu can't recover in time to start for the Americans this summer, Bob Bradley will have to wrestle with several scenarios of how to shift defensive players around to make up for life without him. He'll likely be healthy enough to start, but he will need to shake off the rust quickly for the Americans to have a chance against England

Status: Locked in
 

8. JONATHAN SPECTOR
Age (for World Cup): 24
Position: Defender
Club team: West Ham United - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 8
His story: The good news is that Spector continues to get a steady helping of minutes for West Ham United and is tested against some of the EPL's best wingers on a weekly basis. The bad news is, his time in the EPL could end after this season because the Hammers are sliding precariously close to the drop zone. 

Spector is a solid choice at right back for the American squad, although he plays on the left side for his English team. His ability to push forward and deliver a nice service from the wing makes him a nice option for Bradley's back line. 

Status: Locked in (starter)
 

9. JAY DeMERIT
Age (for World Cup): 30
Position: Defender
Club team: Watford FC - Championship (England)
Previous ranking: 10
His story: A back injury forced DeMerit out of the lineup March 19, but the Watford captain proved his toughness by getting back on the field immediately as the Hornets attempt to fight off relegation in the Championship season's final weeks. DeMerit should be the Americans' other center back -- alongside Oguchi Onyewu -- this summer. In early March, he proved his worth with a strong game in a 2-1 loss to the Dutch, who controlled the bulk of the possession but could not generate many scoring chances. 

DeMerit's grittiness and toughness is his biggest attribute. It may come in handy in the Americans' first match as they face one of the toughest forwards on the planet, England's Wayne Rooney

Status: Locked in (starter)
 

10. BRAD GUZAN
Age (for World Cup): 25
Position: Goalkeeper
Club team: Aston Villa - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 9
His story: Guzan falls in our rankings again because Villa manager Martin O'Neill really has no other choice but to start his compatriot, Brad Friedel, who's regaining his status as one of the top keepers in the EPL. Guzan simply isn't seeing the minutes he once was and things may get worse with reports suggesting that the Villans may be after Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak to heighten the competition. 

Guzan remains a valuable member to the U.S. team, it's just a shame he's not seeing the field ahead the World Cup. Third-string favorite Marcus Hahnemann is gaining ground on him for the backup role, but for now, it's his.  

Status: Locked in
 

11. MAURICE EDU
Age (for World Cup): 24
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Glasgow Rangers - Scottish Premier League (Scotland)
Previous ranking: 15
His story: Edu has climbed up our player rater and into the lead for the other starting position in central midfield next to Michael Bradley - in part due to injuries sustained by his main competition. It's still a wide open race, but Edu's form has been the best of late as the others recover from their injuries and fight for minutes in Europe

Edu continues to help Rangers to another successful run in the SPL -- gaining more playing time than fellow American DaMarcus Beasley. He played 45 minutes in the Scottish League Cup final -- a 2-1 triumph over St. Mirren March 21. Edu is a useful player for Bradley because he has experience at center back, in case the U.S. should need another defender in a pinch. 

Status: Locked in
 

12. STUART HOLDEN
Age (for World Cup): 24
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Bolton Wanderers - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 11
His story: Poor Stu. The young Scotsman had finally recovered from a hamstring injury and made two decent appearances for his new club, Bolton, but the Netherlands' Nigel de Jong broke his leg during the American's 2-1 loss to the Dutch March 3. The injury was a scary one, but a gentler prognosis put American fans at ease. Holden ditched the cast and crutches March 19 and aims to return to action in April. 

We've dropped him a few spots because of his injury and subsequent inaction, but maintain that he'll see the field this summer in South Africa. If he can recover and put on a show as the Wanderers try to stave off relegation, he can still claim the starting spot on the right flank and push Landon Donovan to the left side. For now, though, he's a sub. 

Status: Locked in
 

13. STEVE CHERUNDOLO
Age (for World Cup): 31
Position: Defender
Club team: Hannover 96 - Bundesliga (Germany)
Previous ranking: 13
His story: Cherundolo returned to action in March after sitting out a month with a shoulder injury. As the veteran captain of Hannover, Cherundolo shares some of the responsibility to keep the team out of the Bundesliga's relegation zone, which proves to be a daunting task with games against the top three German clubs slated for April. Upon his return, the team split four March games and 'Dolo recorded a game-winning assist in his second game back. In his first start March 27, he scored a free-kick goal for his first tally of the season, but it came late in a 4-1 loss. 

At this point, Cherundolo probably is pegged as more of a backup on Bradley's back line, but his experience is needed for a young American team. If Oguchi Onyewu can't get himself into game shape, however, he has a significant chance to see some minutes on the right side. 

Status: Locked in
 

14. RICARDO CLARK
Age (for World Cup): 27
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga (Germany)
Previous ranking: 12
His story: Clark has the talent and tenacity to start in South Africa, but his stock has dropped in recent months while he watches games from the sideline. A calf injury sidelined Clark soon after transferring to the Bundesliga club from the Houston Dynamo at the start of the year. Clark and Maurice Edu seem to be fighting over a starting role, and it will be a very interesting decision as to who gets the nod against England June 12. 

Clark's strength is his defense, which bodes well for his starting chances alongside Michael Bradley in the midfield against an extremely talented English midfield. However, he needs to get on the field soon to have a chance at securing that starting spot. 

Status: Locked in
 

15. BENNY FEILHABER
Age (for World Cup): 25
Position: Midfielder
Club team: AGF Aarhus - Danish Superliga (Denmark)
Previous ranking: 14
His story: If you're going to injure your ankle, at least know the proper way to spend your time off. Feilhaber damaged some cartilage Feb. 15 during training and spent part of March rehabilitating on the beaches of his native Brazil en route to a full recovery. Not bad, eh? Feilhaber rejoined his Danish squad in April and will now try to solidify his spot on the United States' 23-man roster. 

Six weeks away from the game has pushed Feilhaber farther down the depth chart of American midfielders, but he should make the team, nonetheless, and a starting role is not out of the question. The creative playmaker should see some minutes in South Africa, but how many depends his play during the crucial month ahead. 

Status: Locked in
 

16. MARCUS HAHNEMANN
Age (for World Cup): 38
Position: Goalkeeper
Club team: Wolverhampton FC - English Premier League (England)
Previous ranking: 16
His story: Hahnemann finished up last month with an all-American showdown against Tim Howard's Everton squad and a 0-0 draw is good news for fans of U.S. soccer. In March, Hahnemann and the Wanderers lost only once -- a 1-0 defeat by Manchester United -- and came away with two wins and two draws to surge into the middle of the table and away from the relegation zone. Hahnemann posted a goals-against average of 1.0 during that span. 

Hahnemann seems to be the clear-cut third keeper for the Americans this summer. Although it's been widely assumed that he's slotted behind Brad Guzan on the depth chart, there's still time for Hahnemann to convince Bob Bradley that he can be the first keeper off the bench in South Africa. 

Status: Locked in

 


 

17. CHARLIE DAVIES
Age (for World Cup): 23
Position: Forward
Club team: Sochaux - Ligue 1 (France)
Previous ranking: 17
His story: Davies is back in France and began training individually at the end of March as he continues his shocking recovery from multiple injuries sustained in an October car crash. He hopes to train with the first team and get back into action by late April. As Jozy Altidore's former partner on the front line, Davies hopes to regain the form he showed at the Confederations Cup last summer. 

Everyone is pulling for the 23-year-old New Hampshire native, but he's still a few huge steps away from proving he can contribute in South Africa. His supreme athleticism was taken away from him last fall in that horrific crash. His drive to recover should earn him a spot on the team, but at this point, it's hard to imagine him delivering anything more than some late minutes off the bench. 

Status: Inside the bubble


18. BRIAN CHING
Age (for World Cup): 32
Position: Forward
Club team: Houston Dynamo - Major League Soccer (USA)
Previous ranking: 18
His story: The MLS avoided a strike, which probably would've affected Ching more than any other player on the bubble. The Hawaiian striker improved his stock earlier this year with a goal and an assist in the United States' win over El Salvador, but he was mysteriously left off the roster for the following game against the Dutch. Robbie Findley's ineffectiveness in that game, however, enabled Ching to climb even higher up the depth chart. 

Ching's mission is simple. If he continues to score for the Dynamo (39 goals in four seasons), he'll make the team. If he struggles to find the net, he won't. The U.S. needs goal-scorers, and if Ching can't demonstrate that this April, he may be on the outside looking in come May. 

Status: Inside the bubble


19. DaMARCUS BEASLEY
Age (for World Cup): 28
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Glasgow Rangers - Scottish Premier League (Scotland)
Previous ranking: 19
His story: We're at the point in the player rater where we're picking players that may not see a minute of playing time this summer. In 2006, 17 of the 23 players saw action (four outfield players and two goalkeepers did not). Beasley may fall into that latter category because he could make the team as a much-needed veteran presence -- even at 28 years old -- but he's not exactly lighting it up in Scotland. He has failed to get consistent minutes with Rangers -- sometimes playing the full 90 and other times not seeing the field at all. 

Beasley's stock rose last month after he showed a late spark in the Americans' 2-1 loss to the Dutch. He's still fast enough to break down defenders on the wing and draw fouls within 30 yards of goal, but younger players are now pushing him farther down the depth chart. The Americans have an abundance of midfielders who are more comfortable in the middle, so Beasley's experience on the wing may play to his advantage. 

Status: Inside the bubble
 

20. JONATHAN BORNSTEIN
Age (for World Cup): 25
Position: Defender
Club team: Chivas USA - Major League Soccer (USA)
Previous ranking: 20
His story: Bornstein had a poor outing against the Netherlands last month, and we dropped him in our rankings as a result. At this point, he's hanging on to the backup role at left back. Even if Oguchi Onyewu can't start and Bocanegra slides from the left side to the middle, Bradley may move Jonathan Spector to the left and insert Steve Cherundolo intoo the starting lineup on the right. 

Bornstein proved he could not handle the Dutch's Arjen Robben, but few can. If he continues his solid work rate as co-captain of a new-look Chivas squad, a spot on the roster is his. The chance of him seeing the field against England, however, is doubtful. 

Status: Inside the bubble


21. CLARENCE GOODSON
Age (for World Cup): 28
Position: Defender
Club team: IK Start - Eliteserien (Norway)
Previous ranking: 22
His story: Goodson, a sizable yet slight center back, has come on strong in recent months as a backup option to Oguchi Onyewu, who should make a full recovery in time for the World Cup. Although Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra are the likely starters if Onyewu can't go, Goodson becomes the primary backup if one of them can't go. It's either him or midfielder Maurice Edu, who has some experience anchoring a back line. 

If the United States is 100 percent healthy, it appears likely that Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector compose the starting back line. Steve Cherundolo will make the team as an option at right back and Jonathan Bornstein should be the primary backup on the left. That leaves a seventh spot open in the middle. Goodson -- at the moment -- seems to be that guy. 

Status: Just inside the bubble


22. JOSE FRANCISCO TORRES
Age (for World Cup): 22
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Pachuca - Primera Division (Mexico)
Previous ranking: 23
His story: When Torres started for the United States in the middle of the field against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, it was a big deal. He had a chance to solidify his spot in the top 23, but he looked lost and tentative before exiting 45 minutes later. Playing alongside the coach's son, Michael Bradley, it's possible Torres was afraid of stepping on Bradley's toes, so his confidence and performance suffered greatly. 

Watching him play for Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, he's noticeably more assertive and not afraid to whip up some creativity in the middle of the field. He continues to gain valuable minutes in Mexico and is on Bradley's radar, but a crowded central midfield in the U.S. player pool may work against him. But for now, he's too skilled to leave out.  

Status: Just inside the bubble
 

23. HEATH PEARCE
Age (for World Cup): 25
Position: Defender
Club team: FC Dallas - Major League Soccer (USA)
Previous ranking: 21
His story: On a 23-man squad, with three goalies a virtual necessity, a logical breakdown for the other 20 players (with a 4-4-2 lineup) would be eight defenders, eight midfielders and four forwards -- a backup for every starter. Heath Pearce would love that logic. The truth is, however, head coach Bob Bradley may not bring eight defenders to South Africa and Pearce could be the odd man out if he doesn't. 

Pearce and Sacha Klejstan appear to be in the same boat. Both were seen as locks at their positions -- Klejstan at central midfield and Pearce at left back -- a year ago. In the 12 months since, however, they've done nothing to claim ownership of their position. If Pearce does make the team and remains behind Jonathan Bornstein on the depth chart, it will be as one of the last defenders and he likely won't see any minutes. 

Status: Just inside the bubble

 


 

24. JERMAINE JONES
Age (for World Cup): 28
Position: Midfielder
Club team: Schalke 04 - Bundesliga (Germany)
Previous ranking: N/R
His story: It's now time to start talking about Jones, who has been noticeably absent from our previous rankings. Why the disrespect to one of the Bundesliga's best midfielders playing for one of its elite teams? His leg just won't heal. Last June, Jones decided he would cut his ties with the German national team, for which he played in three friendlies, and focus his efforts on making the United States national team in time for this summer's World Cup. FIFA's approval of the transfer in October was great news for American fans, but his subsequent shin injury made us wait ... and wait ... and wait. 

Much like another rising star, Hercules Gomez, Jones could make a late run and steal a roster spot. In fact, when he made his big announcement last year, he was practically anointed a starting role in the middle alongside Michael Bradley. A very important month awaits Jones, who will try to prove to Bradley's father that he belongs in the top 23. 

Status: Just outside the bubble


25. HERCULEZ GOMEZ
Age (for World Cup): 28
Position: Forward
Club team: Puebla - Primera Division (Mexico)
Previous ranking: N/R
His story: Finally, a goal-scorer currently putting the ball in the net. In the revolving door that is the Americans' fourth "true" forward position, Gomez surely is forcing Bradley to consider him for this summer's squad. After joining Puebla in January, Gomez has seven goals and two assists in 12 games. Though he's coming on late, the United States' lack of a true goal-scoring striker leaves room for Gomez to make a late run at making the 23-man team.

Status: Just outside the bubble


11 MORE ON THE OUTSIDE:

Forwards - Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Robbie Findley (25), Conor Casey

Midfielders - Sacha Klejstan (24), Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman

Defenders - Frank Simek, Edgar Castillo, Frankie Hejduk

Goalkeepers - Nick Rimando

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