The U.S. Men's National Team will look to defend as two time champions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup starting on Saturday. So the question is WWBBD, What will Bob Bradley do?
Looking at the Gold Cup roster, I don't see a lot of players with a great deal of hope, absent a massive showing, of making the World Cup roster. But here are a few things that I think that can be discerned from the roster:
1. I think Troy Perkins is likely to get most of the Gold Cup starts in net. This signals to me that he is likely to be the #3 for the U.S. at the World Cup. Perkins has had a good season so far in Norway and a few national team games will be his reward. I don't see him supplanting Tim Howard, but I could see him stepping into Brad Guzan's number two slot.
2. Bob Bradley has a chance to test a few offensive combinations. In particular, I think a Brian Ching/Charlie Davies pairing is likely in two of the three group stages games, most likely against Grenada and Honduras. Ching operates as a classic target striker and Davies is a much more of a speed forward. Davies is looking to cement himself a good move in the July transfer window and a good showing in the Gold Cup will help. Ching and Davies will be different that Altidore and Davies and I am interested in seeing whether Bradley, Ching and Davies can find a way to exploit their given strengths.
3. Can Heath Pearce make a case for himself? Bob Bradley will likely start Pearce and Steve Cherundolo at left and right back respectively. Cherundolo has suffered from injury and Bradley will likely give the long time Hanover 96 man the benefit of the doubt at this point regarding inclusion in the World Cup squad. Pearce on the other hand has suffered a drastic drop in form, getting shunned by his club (he was demoted to the reserves for Hansa Rostock) and a host of poor performances for the National team.
4. Will Bob Bradley drop the responsibility on Freddy Adu or look elsewhere? There will be a host of "this is Adu's chance to shine and get a World Cup spot" stories in the next few days, and while I agree with this sentiment, I am not sure that Adu will be handed the reins in midfield. Bob Bradley is looking at a midfield set up that will rely heavily on box to box midfielders, with a line of midfielders taking up defensive slots in support of teh back line. (see the defensive formation against Spain). Freddy Adu has never been a box to box midfielder. It is not that he couldn't be, as there is no reason why the 20 year old can't match the energy of Michael Bradley, Mo Edu or Landon Donovan, it is just that he has never done so. To really make a case for himself, Freddy Adu has to either bring that kind of energy or show something very different in order for Bradley to consider including him in the national team set up for next year. Right now, I am leaning to Bradley looking elsewhere for his midfield strength, namely Stuart Holden and possibly Robbie Rogers.
5. Defensively, I don't see much of a chance of this crop of defenders to make their way into the 'A' squad. The only exceptions would probably be Michael Parkhurst or Chad Marshall. Marshall is big, strong in the air and a threat on attacking set pieces. Parkhurst on the other hand is a bit smaller but very very good at positioning himself in defenses.
6. There are three players that I would like to see get some good playing time: Logan Pause, Santino Quaranta and Sam Cronin. Does Pause, who has had a good season for the Chicago Fire have what it takes on the international level? If the U.S. win against Grenada and Haiti, look for Pause to step into the holding midfielder role with Marshall and Parkhurst behind him against Honduras. Sam Cronin is a rookie on fire in the MLS during year when the competition for rookie of the year is intense. Does Cronin have what it takes to step up to the next level? I don't know, but I hope Bradley gives him the test. My favorit come-back player of the year Santino Quaranta is back, four years after helping the MNT win the Gold Cup in 2005. He is in form, injury free and making a case as a utility player who can play on the right, in the middle or up top.
7. Formation wise, I could see Bob Bradley experimenting with a kind of 4-3-3 with something like this:
A 4-4-2 would probably look more like this:
Finaly a 4-5-1 would look more like this:
The beauty is that the back line could include players like Clarence Goodson or Jimmy Conrad as well. In the end, I don't see Conrad making the cut for the World Cup.