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So this is it, South Africa got a deserved tie vs Mexico.  If you were wondering:

Yes that was offsides in the first half, the rule is that “a player is in an offsides position when he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.”  Second last is because the goalie is usually the last defender but on that corner kick, the South African keeper got caught way out and therefore, even though there was a defender on the line, Carlos Vela was offsides.

Tomorrow brings some excellent games in the morning but the majority of people in this country are focused on what is probably the most hyped soccer game ever in this country; 2:30 PM, England vs USA, ABC.

Football vs Soccer.  Redcoats vs Patriots.  Favorites vs Underdogs.

If you want to get yourself fired up, here’s a purposely pompous piece from the other side on why the US will lose, courtesy of the London Evening Standard via the NY Daily News.

A brief preview, or as I prefer…”what to watch for.”

Starting Lineup

This team has a lot of promise but there are still major question marks about health.  It looks as if Altidore has fully recovered, and is poised to start according to BB.  I think Dempsey is the best option alongside him, as what they do lack in outright speed, the pair would make up for in sheer finishing ability.  My guess is that Bradley goes with Robbie Findley to start though as he seems to like two strikers with complimentary skill sets.

There has been little news about Ricardo Clark after he injured himself last weekend, so it will be interesting to see who is paired alongside Michael Bradley.

Onyewu swears he is healthy but it wouldn’t a surprise if Clarence Goodson started in the middle in order to save Onyewu for next week.

My guess though:

Howard

Cherundolo-Demerit-Onyewu-Bocanegra

Demspey-Bradley-Edu-Donovan

Findley-Altidore

Wayne Rooney

Easily the best player on the field tomorrow.  My fear is that the US won’t be able to contain him and he will score 3 times and put the game out of reach before the US even knows what happened.  It will be up to Demerit and (probably) Onyewu to keep tabs on him and close down very fast when he gets the ball.  He can score from anywhere around the area with the slightest amount of room.  Containing him is key to keeping this game in reach.

Midfield Battle

If Rooney can be held in check, this is where the game will be won or lost.  Making sure the Edu/Clark and Bradley Jr. combo stay alert vs Gerrard and Lampard is integral to not playing behind the ball the whole time.  It will be up to the pairing to close these two down and ensure they have very little time to either distribute or shoot.

They both have the ability to score from distance, and are probably salivating at the thought of this new ball.  Anticipating their space and closing it down will save the Americans a lot of trouble.  Of course, they also can’t give away many soft fouls, as both also dream about the idea of free kicks from 20-25 yards.

The Air Up There

With Peter Crouch expected to start and England’s skill down the flanks, it will be important for the US to control the box.  Crouch is huge and excellent with his head but Rooney also added this element to his game this past season.  The US has the defenders to cover for this but if they have trouble with the ball flight like they did against Australia it could end up being a long afternoon.

Carlos Bocanegra

Definitely the best option for the US at the Left Back position, but he will be tested immediately tomorrow.  Aaron Lennon is fast and loves to dart inside.  Bocanegra’s main weakness is his lack of pace and therein lies the obvious problem.  Bocanegra does have experience though and he will need to rely on this in order to frustrate  Lennon and keep him off his game from the opening whistle.

Additionally, Glen Johnson loves to overlap and will surely combine with Lennon to get the ball forward.  It is a dangerous combination and one which the US must not forget about when focusing on the middle.

Carlos has a lot to worry about tomorrow, but I would be way more nervous if Jonathan Bornstein were starting.

Landon Donovan

The other side of this is that the left side for the US will be the most open side for the US to exploit the counter attack.  Johnson can get caught too far forward and is defensively suspect.  Look for most counter attacks to start in this direction; Donovan taking off  down the left should really cause problems for the remaining English defenders.  Jozy Altidore should get some opportunities and hopefully Robbie Findley can keep his cool in front of the net.

This applies to Clint Dempsey as well but Donovan is much more dangerous on the break, so it’s named after him.  Ashley Cole is also much more defensively sound than Glen Johnson so the Right flank won’t be as exploitable for the Red/White/Blue.

Overall

England will likely utilize a fairly offensive lineup with both Lampard and Gerrard occupying the middle.  Combined with the penchant of their wide-backs to get forward, the game could result in plenty of counter attacking opportunities the US thrives on.  I don’t have concerns about the Americans’ ability to score, they have been good at both creating chances and finishing them in the warm up games.

My concern is with not letting Englad get too far ahead; they must close down space in the final 3rd very fast and keep the game in front of them.  Overcomitting will leaving space open in other places, space which any number of the Englishmen will be salivating at exploiting.  The US has the ability to score but if they are required to get 3+ goals to get a result is where I start to worry a bit.

Etc.

In closing, make sure you enjoy this.  I know few people out there consider themselves diehard American Soccer fans  and we aren’t long suffering like Cubs fans, so there will be few people chewing their nails or sweating heavily tomorrow afternoon.  But the tournament as a whole is a rarity and you should make an effort to enjoy it while it’s happening.

Also, don’t forget that this is just a first game.  Winning would be awesome, getting out with a point would be solid, but a loss would not be crippling at all.

Internets?  What are your thoughts on the game(s) tomorrow?  Tournament as a whole?

Others:

Goal.com’s official preview, including their lineup selections.

Grant Wahl gives his 5 things to watch. Nothing really revolutionary but a good point about these teams and their love of set pieces.

A look at England and their Defensive “weakness.”

10 overall storylines to follow throughout the cup from SI.com.

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So there it is, the final roster of 23 players has been announced by Bob Bradley.  It should be noted that FIFA allows substitution of a player on this roster up to 24 hours in advance of a team’s first game in case of an injury and before each game, the roster is narrowed to 18 players.

In case you don’t like clicking…

GK: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

DEF: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay Demerit, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson

MID: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Jose Torres, Damarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber

FWD: Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley

Jere Longman from the NYTimes points out that it is a squad with only 8 players who have previously appeared in a WC.  This could be seen as a negative but it should be noted that key pieces like Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo, Dempsey, Donovan, and Bradley Jr all have at least 1 WC under their belt.

The biggest surprise has to be Robbie Findley over Brian Ching/Eddie Johnson.  Kid didn’t even get a look last night and has done nothing to impress in any of his national team appearances to this point.  Obviously BB and co see something, probably speed but hopefully more, that warranted his inclusion.  I thought Ching did well last night while EJ brings both WC and international club level experience.  Both have seemed out of their depth at the highest level though, but I doubt that Findley or Buddle will fair any better.

He also must have complete faith in the health of Bocanegra and Demerit as 9 Midfielders and only 7 Defenders is an interesting skew.  Maurice Edu got burned once last night but I guess BB still believes he can be called in as an emergency CB.

This pattern of versatility continued with the inclusion of Jonathan Bornstein who can play up and down the left side and Stuart Holden who is comfortable in the middle or out wide in the midfield.  Feilhaber has also been employed out wide on the right, and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod out there if Dempsey is indeed employed upfront.

It should be noted that after getting a heavy dose of MLS players experience, he included only 4 on the final roster (one being Landon Donovan).  Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan were both left off.

Some good level-headed reaction from Graig Garbino at No Short Corners.

Last Night

Not too much should be read into last night’s loss to the Czech Republic as it was clearly a chance for the staff to get one last look at some fringe players before today’s announcement.

Clarence Goodson is a clear weapon in the air and prior to the last 15 minutes, was very solid in the back.  He was called out by BB during a post game interview with ESPN and was rewarded with his ticket today.

I thought Brian Ching played quite well, held the ball nicely and distributed well.  Also played an excellent little flick to set up Herculez Gomez.

Maurice Edu and Jose Torres partnered well in the midfield.  Torres probably won’t start but can obviously provide an offensive spark if they find themselves in that kind of situation.  Good vision and crisp, accurate passing.  Edu patroled the middle well, winning balls back and distributing nicely.  He’s not afraid to play the ball back but it would be nice to see those guys show some faith in him by moving the ball fwd along the ground rather than over the top every time.

Onyewu looked decent in the middle but showed some obvious tentativeness, although he would disagree with me.  It will be interesting to see how he progresses through the next two friendlies and if BB trusts him come June 12th as England will certainly be dangerous going forward.

The Steve Cherundolo showed that the right hand side back there will have some depth but Jonathon Bornstein seems to get stuck out of position too often for my taste.  I would imagine his role will be more of a defensive reinforcement during the chance they get the lead.  He does seem to be susceptible to too many awkward fouls though and chances are, that will be deadly.

Upfront I thought Herculez Gomez did the best, although in a one on one with the defender he shoulda done a little better.  He did excellent to finish the chance that came his way and was rightly rewarded with a spot.  Beasley also showed a level of energy which was nice to see out of him and will bring some experience to the squad.

Stuart Holden started off well but faded towards the final third.  He admitted this much, but it was nice to see him last for a full 90 minutes.  I expect big things from him in South Africa.

Some player ratings from Goal.com and a look at specific players who impressed.

Up Next

Next up for the US is a friendly vs Turkey from Lincoln Financial field in Philly this Saturday.  Set your DVR if it’s going to be nice out as the game is 2:30 EST, ESPN2 this time.

A more in-depth look at what to watch for will come later this week but hopefully BB will test some of the other injury questions along the back line; Jay Demerit and Carlos Bocanegra specifically.

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As you might have noticed, earlier this week Bob Bradley announced his preliminary 30-man squad for the upcoming World Cup.

As all the news outlets picked up on, Charlie Davies name does not appear on the list. Bob Bradley has stated that his staff didn’t decide completely until Monday and they felt it was better for him to concentrate on his rehab at this time.  Additionally, it seems that Davies’ French club, FC Sochaux, had a major role in this decision, something which has upset Charlie greatly.

I see where the club is coming from; Charlie’s future remains bright and getting back to 100% is an important step in his development. However, the 30 man squad is very non-committal and would have at least allowed the American staff to see him train up close before making the decision.

You would have hoped that Bob Bradley might have talked to FC Sochaux a little further and tried to at least get him into the preliminary squad.  Maybe even allow them to give him a fitness test prior to the May friendlies.

Sochaux also had a lot to gain if Davies went to the World Cup, as a good performance could see a significant increase in his value.  Maybe they are protecting him more than he could himself.

As far as the rest of the roster goes, no real surprises. It is good to see that they included Oguchi Onyewu who has been rehabbing his knee since the end of qualifying.

Freddy Adu was left off, which was not really a surprise, but as he is probably the name most Americans associate with the sport, I thought it was worth pointing out.  He turns 21 on June 2nd, so he is still very young.  His development should continue and he now has 4 years to make the World Cup roster at the more realistic age of 25.  If he doesn’t make that team, then we can start to discuss “bust” factor.

Of the 30 named, my guess for the 7 which are left at home are:

Robbie Findley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Chad Marshall, Alejandro Bedoya, and then two of these three…Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson, and Edson Buddle.

It is pure conjecture as there is a lot to happen between now and then.

Additionally, while Davies absence hurts the overall depth of the US  forwards it isn’t the end of the world.  Clint Dempsey is the natural choice to move up front and partner with Jozy Altidore.  The midfield is much deeper and Dempsey is a more natural striker, opening up the right side for someone  like Stuart Holden or Jose Torres or Benny Feilhaber.  I prefer Holden for his energy/pace and the fact that he can actually provide dangerous balls into the box.  Whether BB is creative enough to make this kind of change, that is to be seen.  Will he rely on a young midfielder or will he use someone unproven on the international stage up front?

Other 30s…

A few other 30 man rosters and notable exclusions:

Brazil; Ronaldinho, Adriano, Pato

France; Benzema, Viera, Nasri

Italy; Toni, Totti, Del Piero

Argentina; Cambiasso, Zanetti

England; No huge surprises really

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BB and co. have announced their squad for a short training camp before travelling to Mexico on Tuesday. In all its glorious nature….

GKs: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Chad Marshall, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Charlie Davies, Landon Donovan
Quick Thoughts:
This will mark many the first trip to the Azteca for a few of the key players out there and how the veterans are able to lead and the young ones cope with the atmosphere will tell a lot about how far this team has really come this summer.

Bocanegra, Onyewu, Donovan, and Dempsey will be counted on to lead while keep an eye on DeMerit, Bradley, Clark, Torres, Altidore and Davies to see how they respond to an atmosphere unlike any other.

The only real surprise inclusion is Chad Marshall, who BB must have liked enough during the Gold Cup to move up to the A squad. It also probably means that Bocanegra will be utilized as the LB and therefore another pure CB was needed. I like this.

It will be key for Michael Bradley to keep his cool in what will surely be the most hostile of environments. He is famous for his temper and will have all his tackles watched closely. He will be integral to the US’s success/failure though and absolutely needs to stay on the field.

Glad to see Holden get a call up and even if he doesn’t get in the game, it will be good experience to train and travel to the Azteca.

With Guzan’s impressive performances during Aston Villa’s preseason, I think everyone can be confident in the GK situation for a long time.

Not sure why BB needs both Conor Casey and Brian Ching as they are basically exactly the same player. Big and slow but willing to work hard. I don’t think either has the pedigree to make an impact in the interational game though. Ching specifically brings WCQ experience but not the necessary skill.

The US is very thin up front, throughout the entire national team system, and will have trouble filling either Davies/Altidore’s shoes should one or both go down with an injury. Even those two are still very very raw and will need to polish themselves in the coming year. Their performance here will be fascinating to watch but shouldn’t torn apart.

I was going to put in my starting 11 + some of my own thoughts here but that can wait until next week when the game is upon us…along with some what to watch fors and maybe a prediction. Stay tuned and get pumped.

Happy Friday!
Others…

The World Wide Leader and their obligatory brief call out…

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I like the idea of being able to choose a squad with out having to worry about my job relying on the success it brings. It is with that incredibly simplified view that I am picking a squad for tonight’s WCQ match in Chicago.

——Howard——
Spector-Onyewu-DeMerit-Bocanegra
Dempsey-Clark-Adu-Torres
Altidore-Donovan

Some thoughts about it….

I see Adu and Torres as basically interchangeable. Whoever lines up in the middle is in what is a purely attacking role while the other is left to create from the outside.

Dempsey is given some free reign and the only reason he gets a start is b/c his history of inconsistency lends me to believe he’ll play well this time out.

Ricardo Clark gets the nod b/c of Mastroeni’s uninspired performance the other night; this is only qualifying no need to fall back on veterans and use the experience excuse. Let’s see if Clark can step up in a big game and get into the mix for that CDM role. (A note…I would have loved to see Maurice Edu get a chance but he has been ruled out until the fall with Knee Surgery)

In the back, I think Demerit deserves a chance as well. He has fallen off the map as Watford didn’t survive in the Premiership but he has shown an ability to both defend and lead. Move Bocanegra out wide as he is a more comfortable with the ball than Onyewu and see if moving a natural defender to LB works better than converting a Midfielder.

Check back tomorrow for some reactions…

God speed tonight…..

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