[USA-CZECH REPUBLIC] The decisions faced by U.S. coach Bob Bradley to pick which 23 players will suit up for the friendly Tuesday against Czech Republic (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Galavision) are shaped by players who are sure to be on the plane for South Africa as well as those likely to be excluded.
Is this the game to get Oguchi Onyewu some minutes, or is the Saturday game against Turkey the right opportunity to ease him back after seven months on the shelf?
Carlos Bocanegra underwent hernia surgery less than three weeks ago, and an abdominal strain has been bothering Jay DeMerit; does Bradley test their fitness, or use this first send-off game to test Maurice Edu in the back and give Jonathan Spector a chance to play in the middle rather than on the outside?
Bradley could sit a few of his projected defensive starters and send out a back line of Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson, Edu, and Steve Cherundolo, or mix and match without burning too many subs on the backline, since there are numerous puzzles to be solved elsewhere.
Is Brian Ching fit enough to play and if so, who does Bradley audition alongside him up top? If Ching and Jozy Altidore are assured of spots, a starting front line of Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley – perhaps supported by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in midfield – would give those candidates a solid platform.
But there are also question marks in midfield, and among the slightly hobbled is DaMarcus Beasley, so what does Bradley do with him, or one of his former players at Chivas USA, Sacha Kljestan? Are Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark on the plane, on the bubble, or somewhere in between?
The coach can only play 17 players – 11 starters plus six substitutes – and if he sticks to his plan of picking his World Cup 23 after this game, logic would indicate any player on the bubble who gets a start is getting the best shot to impress. However, a good showing off the bench by a Herculez Gomez or Alejandro Bedoya could be enough to win a spot in the final 23.
What is only known by Bradley and his staff is how the players stack up based not on the past week, but since Bradley took over more than 3 ½ years ago. Yet among the 30 players summoned are Bedoya (two caps) and Buddle (one).
The Czech Republic is in a rebuilding phase, and of the team that squashed the U.S., 3-0, at the World Cup four years ago, only keeper Peter Cech and midfielders Jan Polak and Jiroslav Plasil are in the squad. Libor Sionko was on the subs’ bench in the 2006 game but didn’t play. Several other veterans, such as playmaker Tomas Rosicky, are not on the trip because of injury or post-season fatigue.
Turkey has brought a stronger team, which beat the Czechs, 2-1, Saturday at Red Bull Arena, and Bradley might elect to field his best team – injuries permitting – in Philadelphia on Saturday with a crowd of perhaps 50,000 expected. But for a few players, the stakes couldn’t be higher than they will be Tuesday, and no matter what their past performances, that pressure is what they must endure to prove they are World Cup-worthy.