By Kevin Koczwara
Bob Bradley had to make a tough call the other day: he had to let seven players know they weren’t going to be traveling to South Africa for the World Cup. Bradley cut his 30-man preliminary roster down to the final 23 a week before the June 3 deadline set by FIFA.
Bradley had some difficult choices to make as he had to pear down his roster and let seven of his players know that they would not be living a dream at the World Cup. Bradley’s squad has some injury questions, most notably at the striker position with the absence of Charlie Davies from the squad because of injury and lack of match fitness.
Bradley had one definite striker already picked, Jozy Altidore, but needed to see who would be the best person to put alongside the hulking forward. Bradley went with the hot hand going into South Africa rather than experience. Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez and Robbie Findley were all selected while Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching will have to be spectators when the Yanks play, unless an injury occurs to one of the 23 players.
Buddle made his case to be in the final 23 this season in the MLS. Buddle started the season with nine goals in nine games while helping the Los Angeles Galaxy to the best record in the MLS. His good form and hard work earned him a spot on the roster over Ching and Johnson, who both have played more games on the international level, yet struggled to find their form recently.
Gomez, like Buddle, stepped up his game in his domestic league — Gomez plays in Mexico’s top-division. Gomez became the first American player to lead a foreign league in scoring this year with 10 goals in Mexico’s Primera División. That kind of form helped him cement his spot in Bradley’s final roster.
Findley, the most experienced striker of the group, selected by Bradley to support Altidore on the front line, hasn’t had his best season in the MLS scoring wise. He is coming off of an impressive season last year where he was a top scorer and his club, Real Salt Lake, made an impressive run through the MLS playoffs and eventually won the MLS Cup. His experience and goal scoring presence should give Bradley a good option off the bench when Bradley will look for a pure goal scorer.
As for Ching and Johnson, they were invited to camp because of their past international duties. Ching was a main part of Bradley’s qualifying squad, but rarely produced goals and has been hampered by an injury recently while playing for Houston Dynamo in the MLS.
Johnson showed flashes of his potential at the end of the season in Greece’s top league when scored a couple of playoff goals for Aris. But he has disappointed during much of his time in Europe. But Johnson hasn’t been consistent enough or improved enough for Bradley’s liking.
Bradley has implemented a 4-4-2 for much of his time as manager of the USMNT and will more than likely go with that formation for the World Cup, but with only four strikers to chose from he will have to pick his match-ups wisely. More than likely the final decision to as who will start alongside Altidore in South Africa will be made after Saturday’s friendly against Turkey in Philadelphia. The Yanks have one more warm up game before the tournament begins against Australia – who also qualified for the Finals.
Now it is up to Buddle, Gomez and Findley to show everyone why Bradley put his confidence in them over Ching and Johnson. The USMNT striker position has been under hot debate since the 30-man preliminary squad was announced a few weeks ago because fan favorite Charlie Davies was left off of it and so was Conor Casey, another fan favorite (Casey was a good decision to leave off, he had his chances to impress and failed to do so). And the debate surely will not die, especially if Bradley’s picks to live up to expectations.
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org