[MLS] On a teleconference call Wednesday discussing his World Cup squad selection, U.S. coach Bob Bradley said he'd like to field his projected starting XI, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, against Turkey Saturday (1:30 p.m., ESPN2) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
A crowd of more than 50,000 is expected for the final send-off game prior to the team’s departure for South Africa, so seeing the best Americans in action would satisfy the fans. It also might be a prudent move competitively, for Turkey has brought a reasonably strong team that spanked the Czech Republic, 2-1, last Saturday at Red Bull Arena.
“I think as I mentioned earlier,” said Bradley, “last night [in a loss to the Czech Republic] we needed to see some players, size up some different situations, but now the opportunity on Saturday is different and gives us a chance to start moving forward towards June 12.”
Health and fitness concerns on the back line, however, may force Bradley’s hand. Though defender Oguchi Onyewu dismissed reports he looked rusty in a 4-2 loss Tuesday to the Czech Republic, his performance during those 65 minutes of action suggested otherwise. Despite encouraging news emanating from U.S. Soccer and Onyewu himself during seven months of recovery and rehab from surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon, he’s going to need time and luck to even approach a state of sharpness when the U.S. opens World Cup play against England.
Also on the mend is captain Carlos Bocanegra, who three weeks ago underwent sports hernia surgery. He sat out the Czech Republic game, as did many of the regulars, and could fill in for Onyewu in the middle, play alongside him, or line up at left back, as he did most of the time this past season for French club Rennes and in the latter stages of last year’s Confederations Cup. Or he might not play at all.
“His fitness is good,” said Bradley. “Every day he feels a little bit better in terms of getting past the hernia surgery. The time frame you normally see with that injury is such that we have great confidence about how he’ll continue to progress over the next stretch.”
There’s a domino effect in play if Onyewu and/or Bocanegra can’t go, though there are other central options in Clarence Goodson and Jay DeMerit. Yet DeMerit has been bothered an abdominal strain as well as by eye problems that affect his depth perception. He and Onyewu formed a nice partnership in the Confederations Cup but Bradley may not be able to give that combination another test run before the England game.
Right back Steve Cherundolo, who recovered from injuries in time to finish the German Bundesliga season and help Hannover escape relegation, captained the team against the Czech Republic and played the full 90 minutes. Bradley also has Jonathan Spector, an option anywhere on the back line, along with Jonathan Bornstein. Since Spector sat out Tuesday, and is healthy, this might be an opportunity for him.
Cherundolo is one of only three players on the U.S. roster, along with Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, headed to their third World Cup. He isn’t necessarily a lock to start, but is symbolic of what Bradley wants from his players off the field as well as on it. “When you take into account his time in Hannover, the fact that he’s been the captain there, I think it speaks to the fact that he’s a real professional and an important part of what we’re doing,” says Bradley.
After a training session Friday the players eligible to play in the final send-off game will be determined. Aside from the back-line questions and whether or not Bradley gives a start or some playing time to Marcus Hahnemann, the regulars should see the field if at all possible.
"One of the most important steps was just getting to our final team of 23, that’s important in terms of team building,” said Bradley. “Now we look forward to that match on Saturday, it’s a great test against Turkey.”