[WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN]
Down a man and a goal after 18 minutes, and trailing by two goals at halftime to a very good Honduran team, the USA didn't get the competitive yet
level playing field Coach Bob Bradley
would have preferred in its first 2010 match.
Regardless of how many spots on the 23-man World Cup roster are up for grabs, this
game - as well as any subsequent game - means far more to Bradley and some of his players than a result. Among those found wanting were Marvell Wynne, Jeff Cunningham, Robbie Rogers, Sacha
and Robbie Findley
. Doing relatively well were Brad Davis, Clarence Goodson, Alejandro Bedoya
, and especially, Jonathan Bornstein
whose performance over the 90 minutes couldn't have been much better, given the obstacles.
If past World Cups are any indication, the odds are at least plausible that a significant
injury will knock a prominent U.S. player out of the World Cup, as in the case of Frankie Hejduk
and Steve Cherundolo
prior to the 2006 competition, and Chris
in both 2002 and 2006. Already on the shelf are Oguchi Onyewu, Charlie Davies
and Clint Dempsey
; Jay DeMerit
returned to action in
early December after missing more than two months with a corneal infection that required surgery.
Onyewu will have only a few months to get fit and sharp for the World Cup even if he
returns to competition in late winter or early spring. As a general rule, a player needs about the same amount of time as his layoff to get back to top form; Onyewu suffered his injury in mid-October,
so even if he comes back in mid-March, he'd be at least a month, more like two months, behind the curve on June 12.
In addition to Onyewu, DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra
as his first three choices at central defender, Bradley will need at least one more reliable option. Two-time Defender of the Year Chad Marshall
, forced to lead a revamped back line
with the dismissal of Conrad, played a mostly solid game, yet couldn't get ball-side of nor could impede Jerry Palacios
sufficiently when he dived to head Carlos
's cross past keeper Troy Perkins
for the second Honduran goal.
In his 29 minutes of action, Goodson played well. Offered time and space to look upfield
while on the ball, he used his passes effectively. On another day, his leading forearm into the upper body and arms of keeper Donis Escobar
might have been ruled a foul, but referee
let stand Goodson's goal from a Davis corner kick.
Bradley may pass up all of these defenders if he has more pressing needs in other areas, and if he
believes Jonathan Spector
can handle the middle if not deployed at right back. Conrad filled in admirably against Italy and Ghana at the 2006 competition, but can Bradley assume he'll
be as capable this summer, at age 33?
One can argue the relative softness of both fouls - tugs of the jersey at the shoulder - didn't merit cautions, yet it could also be cited after
Archundia pulled out the yellow card on Conrad after his first foul, as well as another relatively innocuous foul by Palacios in the ninth minute, a rather tight level of scrutiny had been
Conrad will be suspended for the Feb. 24 match in Tampa against El Salvador and isn't likely to called in for the March 3 game against the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Unlike
many of the players called into this January camp, though, he isn't an unknown quantity.
Of the neophytes, substitute Bedoya showed some skill and danger earning his first cap while
ranging from side to side, while forward Findley struggled to make an impact paired up top in the first half with a strangely listless Cunningham.
Nearly three weeks of training camp
apparently wasn't enough to instill some cohesion amongst Findley, Cunningham and center mids Benny Feilhabe
r and Kyle Beckerman
, as a more polished and confident
Honduran midfield shifted and pounced to win the ball, and pass it around crisply once they got it.
Bedoya and three other subs came into a match Honduras led by three goals, so their
generally impressive performances can't be taken at face value. Still, a poised showing by Davis livened up the left side of midfield, one of the team's trouble spots, and he far outshone Rogers, whom
he replaced, as well as Kljestan.
Bradley is expected to call in a mostly-MLS squad for the El Salvador game, and whatever he deems to be his full squad to face the Netherlands. These
look like crucial games for several players, including left back candidate Edgar Castillo
, who wasn't called for the Honduras game and played the full 90 minutes for UNL Tigres in a
loss to Guadalajara on Saturday.
As one of several tactical switches, Bradley brought on Heath Pearce
to play on the left side. Bornstein started the match at left back,
spent some time in midfield, then moved into central defense alongside Marshall. Pearce played right back while finishing the 2009 MLS season at FC Dallas, whose coach, Schellas
, has said Pearce may play defensive mid in 2010.
And so the questions will persist.