Winning the Gold Cup is the top priority for the United States in 2011. Whether that is the smartest approach for the team can be debated, but there is no doubt that those in charge have made winning the tournament is the Americans' holy grail for the year. That's because of the prize that comes with winning the tournament. No, not the comically large trophy, but a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
With that comes a roster built to win and win now. Head coach Bob Bradley is not going to pick a roster full of inexperienced players with potential who haven't been with the national team much. He's looking for guys he knows. He wants guys he can trust. Many of those players are aging though or out of form, making his decisions a little tougher and forcing him to open the door to some less inexperienced players who are playing well for their clubs.
So, who will be on the U.S. roster when it is announced on Monday morning?
While the U.S. has long churned out quality keepers, that hasn't been the case in recent years. That also hasn't mattered much because they have a tried and true number one keeper in Howard. The man with the gloves for Everton, Howard is an excellent shot stopper and has saved the Americans' bacon many a time. There is no doubt that he is a more than capable goalkeeper who the U.S. can depend on.
Where the U.S. runs into trouble is after Howard. If something were to happen to Howard, the Americans would be in a bad spot. Hahnemann has had a long and productive career, but he was benched at Wolves and hasn't played in 2011. Brad Guzan would normally be the second keeper for the team, but it looks as if he will miss the Gold Cup while he gets married so any injury to Howard will leave the duties to Hahnemann.
At the back end, Yelldell rounds things out. The best option for a third keeper would probably by Nick Rimando, but it would be senseless to take him away from Real Salt Lake, who have league matches to play, just to sit on the end of the bench as a third keeper.
There isn't a lot of certainty at the back for the Americans. Even those who appear to be certainties to make the roster, Bocanegra, Ream and Cherundolo, are unsure about what position they will play or if they are a starter. DeMerit is just coming back from injury, but he's played well for the Vancouver Whitecaps and the simple fact is that he's the best the U.S. has at tracking runners. If the U.S. has to play Mexico, there's not another player in the pool that Americans would rather see tracking Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez than DeMerit, although that may say more about the pool than DeMerit.
Chandler has come on strong in the past sixth months for Nuremberg and impressed in his first appearances with the U.S., pushing Cherundolo for his starting spot at right back. Unseating the experience Cherundolo, who may have been the Americans' best player at last summer's World Cup, will be a tough task though. On the left, Bornstein put in a good couple matches at the World Cup as well and is a Bradley favorite. That, along with the dearth of left backs in the pool, makes him a likely selection even if he's been in the midfield for Tigres and not playing much, but he's likely sit behind Bocanegra.
The surprise in the roster would come from the exclusion of Oguchi Onyewu. It just is difficult to justify his selection at this point. He hasn't played a single good match for the U.S. since he injured his knee in October of 2009. He has been average at best playing on the left for Twente and while he does have a history with the Yanks and Bradley, there is no spot for him in the team.
That opens the door for Goodson, who is hardly spectacular, but has been consistently solid. It also gives Whitbread a chance, a centerback who helped Norwich City gain promotion to the English Premier League this season and would have the chance to get his feet wet at the international level possibly in a throwaway match to close the group stage.
Two of the names in this group are easy in Dempsey and Donovan. The two will start every meaningful game and likely play 90 minutes. The question is what the U.S. goes with in the center of the midfield. Stuart Holden's injury keeps him out and clears things up a bit, but there's still Bradley, Edu and Jones for likely two starting places. There is a chance all three play together in a five-man midfield, but even if the U.S. stick with four in the midfield, odds are that all three get chances in the tournament.
Feilhaber and Bedoya are both options to come off the bench on the wings. Feilhaber is just getting healthy, but he was usually the first man off of the bench for the last two years and will likely find his way back into that role again. Bradley likes to use him on the left, allowing him to drift inside and bring a bit of possession and passing to a midfield that often lacks it. Bedoya is playing well again for Orebro in Sweden and while his last year of international appearances have been underwhelming, the U.S. lacks a true winger and he gives them ones. Kjestan rounds things out because of Bradley's affinity for him and because of the many matches the U.S. will play in a short period of time, it can't hurt to have an extra midfielder.
Altidore is the obvious choice here. Productive or not for 18 months now at the club or international level, the U.S. still has a big black hole at striker and he remains the most accomplished option. For the first time in a while though, he is being pushed. Agudelo is not starting for the New York Red Bulls, but sitting behind Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers and coming off the bench as an effective super-sub is not a bad place to be for an 18-year-old. With two goals in four matches for the U.S., he's already proven effective at the international level and is the newest future American star.
For all the excitement around Agudelo, Bunbury is a 21-year-old who has also made an impact for both club and country since turning pro 14 months ago. Big and strong, Bunbury gives the Americans some muscle up top, but he matches that with speed and good finishing skills. More than anything, Bunbury has looked every bit the part of the son of a former professional player in making smart runs that has been impressive for a younger, inexperienced player.
The question for Bradley is whether to take a fourth striker. Dempsey often starts in the midfield, but pushed up to a supporting striker role when Feilhaber comes on for one of the starting strikers so in reality, there is no need for a fourth striker. That said, it is unlikely that Bradley takes just three strikers when two of them are as young and inexperienced as Agudelo and Bunbury. That gives Gomez a chance, who was great last spring to earn a spot on the World Cup roster and then finished this spring well again for his club to get back in the conversation for the national teal this summer.