Caleb Porter Calls 19 for Olympic Qualifying

U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter has named his roster for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament, which kicks off next Thursday in Nashville. The former University of Akron coach selected 19 players, with one more to follow before March 20, when official rosters are due at CONCACAF headquarters.

Columbus Crew midfielder Dilly Duka withdrew from consideration after injuring his hamstring over the weekend in an MLS match against Colorado, and according to reports, German side Hertha Berlin was reluctant to release midfielder Alfredo Morales for the upcoming tournament (they’re not required to).

Most observers expect Porter to choose a midfielder—either Morales or West Ham prospect Sebastian Lletget—for the 20th spot.

The current group contains 13 MLSers and six foreign-based players, who range from Mexico to Belgium to Norway and Germany.

Here’s the complete roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS: Josh Gatt (Molde/NOR), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact), Jorge Villafana (Chivas USA)

MIDFIELDERS: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Tijuana/MEX), Mix Diskerud (Gent/BEL), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz II/GER), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund II/GER), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim II/GER), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)

A few thoughts on the roster and qualifying:

• As Abes Army pointed out recently, midfielder Joe Corona has a top-notch name, especially for a Mexican-American (and especially when you throw in his middle name of Benny).

• This team is solid, and potentially very good. They have multiple players with full national team experience, and a wealth of skill and speed. Anything can happen in CONCACAF, but they should qualify. To do so, they have to finish in the top 2 of their group, which includes Cuba, Canada, and El Salvador, then win their semifinal match against a team from the other group consisting of Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

• There are some age-eligible players—in addition to Morales—who could still be added to the side, including Jozy Altidore, Timothy Chandler, and Danny Williams, who turned 23 last Thursday. (Players born after Jan. 1, 1989 are eligible to play in the London Olympics.)

• If the team qualifies for London, watch expectations soar once the three over-23 players are named. Landon Donovan has said he wants to go, among others. He’d obviously be a great addition, but the side could also do with some help in the back. Maybe a Tim Howard and a Carlos Bocanegra (or Geoff Cameron?).

•The final Olympic roster would consist of only 18 players. So, considering the over-age players to be added, and the potential inclusions of Altidore and Co., several of the guys we’ll see next week—possibly as many as eight—could be on the outside looking in when the summer rolls around.

• Finally, we’re looking forward to seeing Josh Gatt, who missed the most recent U-23 camp, in the U.S. shirt. Here’s a reason why:

That’s some athleticism and skill right there. Gatt can play outside back, or wide in midfield, as he did here, while literally faking a defender off his feet:

The U.S. opens qualifying against Cuba on March 22 (9:00 p.m. ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo).

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U.S. Gold Cup Roster: Who Gets the Nod?

Is Ream ready?

The 2011 Gold Cup kicks off on June 5, and Mexico has already selected its team.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley’s 23 choices can’t be far behind. So which guys should get the call for the 11th edition of this tournament, which has the added importance of granting the winner a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, a dress rehearsal for World Cup 2014?

Vamanos:

Goalkeepers (3):

There will be no surprise or controversy here: Tim Howard is the No. 1, followed by Brad Guzan, followed by… David Yelldell or Marcus Hahnemann. Yelldell has been getting more playing time this season, but Hahnemann is more familiar with the U.S. setup. Pick ’em.

Defenders (8):

An abdominal injury kept Oguchi Onyewu out of FC Twente’s title-deciding match against Ajax on Sunday (Ajax won), and the hulking defender didn’t see much action down the stretch as several Twente defenders returned to health following injury layoffs. Onyewu’s status for the Gold Cup is questionable.

That should cement Red Bull defender Tim Ream’s name on the U.S. roster, but you never know—Bradley likes experienced players for tourneys like these, and Ream has just three U.S. caps.

Here are the defenders we’d like to see: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Spector, Jay De Merit, Clarence Goodson, Steve Cherundolo, Eric Lichaj, Ream, and Timothy Chandler.

That’s a little heavy on right backs—Cherundolo, Spector, Chandler, and Lichaj—but Lichaj and Spector can both play on the left if need be, and Bocanegra can be your starter there.

Other options: Jonathan Bornstein, Omar Gonzalez. Bornstein will probably get the call—he’s a natural left-sided player. Gonzalez and Ream have the inside track to be the centerbacks of the future, so Bradley could take both. But it’s not likely.

Midfielders (8):

Once again, Stuart Holden is snakebitten by injury. The midfielder who missed the U.S. run-up to South Africa 2010 with a broken leg took a gash to the knee that required 26 stitches to close this spring, thanks to a heavy challenge from Man U defender Jonny Evans. It would have been nice to see what he could do in the Gold Cup. He hasn’t played for the U.S. since making his leap forward in quality and consistency in the Premier League this season.

As with goalkeeper, the top U.S. options in midfield are pretty straightforward: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, and Benny Feilhaber.

After that group, we could see Alejandro Bedoya, who’s off to a good start in Sweden this year, and Sacha Kljestan, who went the full 90 in Anderlecht’s pivotal loss to Standard Leige on Sunday (it eliminated Kljestan and Co. from title contention).

Some other options: Mikkel Diskerud. He looked good in the U.S.–South Africa friendly this past winter but has only appeared in Cup games for [correction: tip o’ the hat to reader Susan] and is getting regular PT with his Norwegian club Stabaek this season. Geoff Cameron is coming off a minor injury, but has played very well for the Houston Dynamo in 2011.

Sidenote: This U.S. midfield is solid for the time being, but most of the first-choice guys are in their late 20s. Donovan and Dempsey, for example, will be 33 and 32, respectively, when the 2014 World Cup kicks off. Who’s coming up behind them? Robbie Rogers? Brek Shea? … we are concerned.

Forwards (4):

Charlie Davies has six goals in MLS this year, second-most in the league, and he appeared on track for a call-up—until a hamstring strain this past weekend. The dream deferred, again. But don’t bet against him appearing in a U.S. shirt in 2011.

We might have suggested Dempsey as a striker for this tournament, since he played so well up top for Fulham this season, but the lack of wingers in the U.S. pool (see above) negates that option.

Jozy Altidore has not exactly been lighting it up in Turkey (he played 16 minutes on Sunday), but you can bet he’ll be called in. Juan Agudelo is also likely to get the nod.

After that, it’s probably between Sporting Kansas City’s Teal Bunbury, FC Ingolstadt’s Edson Buddle, and Pachuca’s Herculez Gomez.

Gomez scored four goals in Pachuca’s final five games of the Mexican Clausura and has said he wants a spot on the Gold Cup roster. Hard to argue he doesn’t deserve one.

Buddle is experienced, and he scored a great, slightly lucky goal for Ingolstadt on May 8. See here (1:35 mark):

But he missed their season-capper with a minor calf injury. If he’s 100%, look for him to go.

Bunbury’s selection would crush his struggling MLS side, Sporting Kansas City, which is laboring through a 10-game road trip to start the season (they’re 1-5-1). KC will finally play a home game on June 9—and would love their most dangerous striker in the fold.

Other options: Robbie Findley. We know, we know. It could/should never happen, but he’s back healthy after a long struggle with a thigh injury, and Bradley has a stubborn, mysterious affinity for the guy.

Eugene Starikov? He was called in during the winter, and he gets regular playing time in the Russian Premier League.

What do you think? Did we miss anyone? Is Ream, who has a penchant for occasional glaring mental lapses, ready for a high-pressure  international tourney? Let us know in the comments.

Who Should Start for the U.S. against Slovenia?

The conventional wisdom leading into tomorrow’s U.S.-Slovenia tilt is that Slovenia, the current group leaders with three points, will pack it in and play for a tie.

But is there really any difference between Slovenia-packing-it-in-and-playing-for-a-tie and … Slovenia-playing?

That’s what they do—defend and try to hit their opponents on the counter.

Beyond that, a tie may not be enough for Slovenia in this game, since they can’t realistically count on getting points from their third game, against heavyweights England. The U.S. match is their best remaining chance to get the points they need to advance.

Finally, Slovene midfielder Andrej Komac went all Joe Namath/Mark Messier on Tuesday, telling reporters, “We are going to win this match.”

So the Slovenes are up for it, and they’ll attack when they have the opportunity, but their default setting will be a defensive posture designed to frustrate the U.S. and create counterattacking opportunities.

So who should the U.S. throw out there for that kind of a game, a game they have to win to advance?

Across the InterWebs this week, there has been a steady drumbeat for one player to be made a starter tomorrow: Jose Francisco Torres.

It makes sense: Torres is especially skilled on the ball, a good passer, and the kind of guy who can open up a defense with a dynamic piece of offense. He has also improved defensively.

But the bet here is that Bradley sticks with the same crew that stalemated the England midfield of Lampard, Gerrard, and Co. (the U.S. had 53% of possession in the first half).

They’re defensively sound (except for the early lapse last Saturday, of course), and in Donovan and Dempsey they have sufficient offensive firepower. Plus, they got the result against England, and will, ideally, improve with each game they play together.

We could see Torres coming in after an hour if the game is tied, but we’d wager the starting midfield is the same one that began the game last Saturday.

Up top, though, we could see Bradley making a change—namely, Edson Buddle in favor of Robbie Findley. The thinking there would be that Findley’s primary asset, his wicked (pissah) speed, could be neutralized by a team that is shortening the field and packing it in.

So you drop Findley and start Buddle, who is a goal poacher capable of scoring in a variety of ways, and should be very useful in a game where goals are likely to come at a premium. (And if Buddle doesnt find the net, you bring on Herculez Gomez in the late stages.)

That leaves Backpost’s projected starting XI looking like this:

 Howard

 Cherundolo             Onyewu            DeMerit            Bocanegra

 Dempsey            Bradley            Clark                        Donovan

 Altidore            Buddle

Final note: This is a game in which Landon Donovan absolutely has to stand up and be counted. It’s a must-win, and it’s very winnable—time for the team’s best player to deliver.

Who do you think should start tomorrow? Is our lineup too conservative? Let us know in the comments.

Czech Republic 4, U.S. 2: Staring at the Inkblot

There are few things like soccer for getting groups of people looking at the same thing and drawing vastly different conclusions. U.S. coach Bob Bradley will name his 23-man World Cup roster two hours from now, and, judging by the wildly divergent emails flooding in to Backpost HQ on the morning after last night’s tuneup in East Hartford, he’s got some very tough calls to make.

One observer said “having both Brian Ching and Herculez Gomez on the field at the same time is like having a peanut butter and peanut butter sandwich,” while another claimed, “Herculez completed his 11th labor last night (after 10 goals in the Mexican League), scoring a goal under immense pressure to perform. His 12th will be at the World Cup.” ESPN commentator Alexi Lalas said it would be “a crime” if Gomez isn’t on the plane to South Africa.

Some said Oguchi Onyewu “is done” and “we can’t risk starting him,” while one claimed “he was sharp when the ball was on the ground, but his timing on headers was just off. He’ll get it back.” A third countered: “Onyewu should play himself into shape by the 2012 Gold Cup.”

There were also split opinions on Steve Cherundolo at right back, Clarence Goodson in the middle and Edson Buddle up top.

Finally, one fan asked, “Is John O’Brien healthy yet?”

Yeah, the World Cup is getting close, and the natives are getting restless.

Here’s our take on the Rorschach test that is a World Cup tuneup—player by player, with predictions on whether they’re in or out for South Africa 2010:

Brad Guzan: Not the best outing for the apparent No. 2 keeper. Didn’t make a single save. In or Out: In, obviously, but that creeping shadow in his rearview is Marcus Hahnemann.

Steve Cherundolo: Beaten a few times defensively, but he kept possession and swing in some decent crosses. In or Out: In.

Oguchi Onyewu: Right before he was beaten in the air for the first Czech goal, he was outjumped in the exact same fashion on the right flank. After the goal, TV cameras captured him mouthing the words, “He came over my back.” No, Gooch, he timed his jump better. He beat you to the ball. You have till June 12 to sort that s*** out. In or Out: In, but starting job in doubt.

Clarence Goodson: Very solid performance—until the end when he was partly to blame for the third and fourth goals. In or Out: In, but we wouldn’t be confident with him starting vs England.

Jonathan Bornstein: He’s got blazing speed in attack, but this was a poor outing for JB. Looked lost. In or Out: In, but the U.S. has problems if he’s the starting left back.

Stuart Holden: Confident, quality performance from Stu. Great ball on the first goal. In or Out: In. And probably starting.

Jose Francisco Torres: Best we’ve seen from him. Always kept possession, even showed some bite this time around. In or Out: In.

Maurice Edu: Excellent in midfield, shaky when moved to central defense (though that may well have been because his absence in midfield created extra pressure on the backline). In or Out: In, and starting with Michael Bradley in central midfield.

DaMarcus Beasley: There was a shocking consensus from BP emailers on Run DMB: all agreed he played well, and we do too. In or Out: In, and should be a useful player off the bench.

Edson Buddle: Did some of the little things well, but never looked super threatening. In or Out: Out, just barely.

Eddie Johnson: Many thought EJ stunk it up, but we disagree: He held possession very well—a problem area for him in the past—and he combined with Buddle and midfielders. In or Out: Out, just barely.

SUBS

Heath Pearce: His errors contributed to the Czech Republic’s second and third goals—and he doesn’t have Bornstein’s speed to bring to the table. In or Out: Out.

Sacha Kljestan: His turnover led to the Czech Republic’s fourth goal, and probably bumped him off the plane to South Africa. In or Out: Out.

Robbie Rogers: Surprisingly effective outing from Rogers. Tested Peter Cech with a rocket from distance and launched knifing runs and crosses in the final third. In or Out: Out. Did well last night, but had too far to go.

Alejandro Bedoya: He only saw 24 minutes of action—we thought he might get the starting nod—but that may be because Bradley didn’t need to see more. In or Out: In. Probably more savvy than Rogers and just as good a dribbler.

Brian Ching: We’re always a bit surprised at the number of Ching-haters out there. He works hard, keeps possession, passes well, and scores the odd goal. He did all of the above last night exccept the scoring part. In or Out: In.

Herculez Gomez: Came in, looked lively, scored a big goal. What more can he do? (Okay, he could have finished his first chance, but he looked dangerous just getting it.) In or Out: In.

Davies Rips Sochaux Over World Cup Exclusion

Brutally handsome reader Mike G points us to this story on Charlie Davies’ appearance late yesterday on French radio station RMC.

Davies told the station that Sochaux president Alexandre Lacombe wrote to U.S. Soccer without informing him, telling Yank brass that Davies was not fit enough to play at South Africa 2010 and that the club would not medically clear him for the tournament. Yow.

The disappointed striker further said that he was angry, and that while he wasn’t 100% fit at the moment,

“… I feel that by the time our World Cup camp starts next week I would be at a level where I can compete for one of the forward spots. [And] by the first game against England, I feel I would be able to be at 100 percent and really contribute for the national team. So for me not being able to get a chance is very painful.”

It’s a tough one for Davies and for the U.S. national team. There is simply no one of his caliber to step in at forward. But looky here! There is still an outside chance that Davies could make the team as an 11th-hour replacement (see last bullet point, and tip o the hat to Our Man at the Valley).

Tough Luck Chuck: Davies Denied Provisional Roster Spot

Citing the fact that he was not medically cleared to play by Sochaux team doctors, U.S. coach Bob Bradley did not name Charlie Davies to the 30-man provisional World Cup roster, ending the player’s quest to reach South Africa 2010 just eight months after being gravely injured in a car wreck that killed another passenger.

We have to think that if there was any chance that Davies would be ready to play in a World Cup game in four weeks time, Bradley would have selected him. The U.S. needs at forward are that dire.

Davies only rose to prominence with the team last summer, yet he quickly established himself as the No. 1 striker—and the only forward in the national-team pool with a world-class combination of speed, skill, and finishing ability.

It’s a big dropoff from him to, say, Eddie Johnson or Robbie Findley, and neither of those guys has the capacity to trouble the backline of an England (or another WC power) the way Davies could have.

So as disappointing as this must be to the player (and fans and irate bloggers), it’s an equal blow to the U.S. team’s ability to compete next month—and we don’t think Bradley would have made the decision to leave Davies off if it was avoidable.

Let’s take a look at the roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

No surprises here, and the above listing is probably the pecking order, too, since Guzan got so few games this year.

Defenders (9): Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo

There was talk of Frankie Hejduk getting a look, and maybe Jimmy Conrad, but in the end, nothing too unexpected in this group. Onyewu’s match fitness (and sharpness) is a massive question mark.

Midfielders (12): DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Jose Francisco Torres, Robbie Rogers, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan

This is the strongest group in the team, with the majority of the players fit and getting meaningful games recently. We were surprised Rogers made the cut.

Strikers (6): Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez

Robbie Findley is the biggest surprise of the entire roster for us. Bradley has seen something we’ve missed in each of Findley’s U.S. appearances. Whatever you think of Conor Casey, you’ve got to feel for the guy: He scored two huge goals in the game that clinched qualification (vs Honduras in an October 2009 qualifier in San Pedro Sula), and now he’s not going to the World Cup.

This group will convene in Princeton, N.J., on Saturday, for a two-week camp, and will play friendlies against the Czech Republic and Turkey before Bradley submits his final 23-man roster to FIFA on June 1.

Our picks for the seven who won’t be on that final 23:

Pearce

Marshall

Rogers

Kljestan

Findley

Gomez

Johnson

Next post: The ‘What Could Have Been’ U.S. Roster….

U.S. Roster Forecast—Three Months to South Africa

U.S. coach Bob Bradley will select 23 players for his World Cup roster in May, and that group will play the Czech Republic on May 25 (in East Hartford, CT) and Turkey on May 29 (in Philadelphia). If there are any injuries in those games, Bradley can make changes to the roster up until June 1, when he must submit the final selection to FIFA.

With three months to go until the U.S. World Cup opener against England in Rustenberg, here are the guys we see making the trip to South Africa:

Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

No surprises here. Hahnemann has had shaky moments in each of his past two games, but he’s had a generally consistent and occasionally spectacular season with Wolves.

11th-hour candidate(s): Troy Perkins

Defenders (7): Jonathan Bornstein, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu*, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo

Spector’s versatility (he can play on either side and in the middle), and Maurice Edu’s ability to play in defense as well as midfield make it possible for Bradley to bring only seven defenders to South Africa. If he decided to go with eight, Heath Pearce would likely join the fold.

11th-hour candidate(s): Pearce, Edgar Castillo, Chad Marshall, Jimmy Conrad, Frankie Hejduk.

Midfielders (9): Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark*, Maurice Edu, DaMarcus Beasley, Stuart Holden*, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, Sacha Kljestan

Torres has yet to show his best in a U.S. shirt, but he has enough pure skill to make the team, and be useful in South Africa. We are bullish on Beasley, despite his detractors in the Backpost readership. Kljestan is the toughest call in the group. We wouldn’t be surprised if Alejandro Bedoya overtakes him down the stretch.

11th-hour candidates: Bedoya, Jermaine Jones*, Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers.

Strikers (4): Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Charlie Davies*, Clint Dempsey

As for Davies, we believe! According to FC Sochaux’s website, he’s two weeks away from resuming training with the team, which would give him 10 solid weeks to get fit and sharp. We wouldn’t put it past him, and he could give the team a Willis Reed-like lift by just making the World Cup roster. Dempsey, who plays mostly in midfield for Fulham, is included here as reinforcement.

*Currently injured. Will make the team barring setbacks in recovery.

And our projected starting lineup against England:

————Howard————

Spector—DeMerit—Onyewu—Bocanegra

Dempsey—Bradley—Edu—Donovan

—Altidore—Davies

Did we miss anyone? Disagree with our choices? Think we’re getting ahead of ourselves regarding Davies? Let us know in the comments.