Amidst reports that Bob Bradley will name his final, 23-man World Cup squad tomorrow, the men's national team will take on the Czech Republic tonight in Hartford. It is the first of three pre-World Cup friendlies for the Yanks and the only chance a series of on-the-bubble players will have to impress their coach.
The forward positions have garnered the most attention in the wake of Charlie Davies' exclusion from the provisional squad, with the ability of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to move into a supporting strikers' position giving Bob Bradley the flexibility to go with as few as three out-and-out forwards. Jozy Altidore is considered a lock, and given tonight's match is expected to showcase the players fighting for roster spots, we may not see the Villareal forward against the Czechs. Instead, Edson Buddle, Brian Ching, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, and Eddie Johnson will be fighting for two-to-four spots.
Midfield has more players who look set for South Africa, creating a more intense and precarious competition. Dempsey and Donovan are in, as are Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden and most likely Benny Feilhaber. Maurice Edu and Jose Francisco Torres look like strong candidates, and the reviews on veteran DaMarcus Beasley were great coming out of Princeton. Depending on how many forwards Bradley takes, the midfield spots may be occupied, but players like Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers could still push some forwards off the team. Bedoya, in particular, provides the team with a dimension missing in his competitors.
Bradley brought nine defenders into camp, but the positional flexibility of players like Jonathan Spector and Carlos Bocanegra means the U.S. could get by with seven defenders in the final squad, and with the number of options the Yanks have in midfield and forward, it's difficult to see Chad Marshall or Heath Pearce making the team. However, each should see time tonight, and with the U.S.'s injury concerns amongst their defenders, one could make the flight to South Africa.
Tonight, those players fight for their spots against a Czech Republic team that left a number of notable players at home. Tomas Ufalusi, David Rozehnal, Zdenek Grygera and Martin Jiranek are not in the defense - a combined 226 caps amongst them. Tomas Rosicky and Radoslav Kovac are not amongst the absent midfielders, while Galatasary star forward Milan Baros stayed home, having just recovered from injury at the end of Gala's season.
The Czechs lost to Turkey 2-1 Saturday at Red Bull Arena. The U.S. plays Turkey on Saturday in Philadelphia, their last match before final World Cup rosters have to be submitted to FIFA.