|Are the Patriots Still Legitimate Super Bowl Contenders Without TE Rob Gronkowski?||Notes and Observations Week 14: Patriots Mount Another Improbable Comeback; Beat Browns 27-26||Connelly’s Top Ten – Patriots Stink but Exciting; Poor Gronk||Patriots Lose Gronk But Complete Miraculous Comeback to Beat Browns, 27-26|
Last week U.S.A. manager Bob Bradley had to submit his preliminary roster of 30 to FIFA and now has the next few weeks to make the remaining cuts and submit the final 23 man roster before the team departs for South Africa on May 29. There were few surprises with the selections as the core of the team hasn’t changed too much since last year’s Confederations Cup although one notable omission, Charlie Davies, has been drawing a considerable amount of criticism. Davies, a New Hampshire native, was a former standout at Boston College before leaving after his junior year to play with Swedish club Hammarby IF in 2006. Davies has been tearing it up abroad (first in Sweden and now in France where he plays for top flight team Sochaux) and is generally seen as one of the biggest emerging American stars.
Sadly, Davies suffered a near fatal injury in a car accident last October in Washington D.C. where he was for a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. The accident killed a 22-year old woman who was in the car with Davies, while Davies suffered a myriad of injuries including a lacerated bladder, fractured right tibia and femur, a fractured elbow, facial injuries, and bleeding on the brain. Since then Davies embarked on an impressive rehab effort with the goal of getting fit for the World Cup this summer. He returned to his club earlier this year and with recent news coming out a few weeks ago that Davies would not play in any of Sochaux’s remaining games the prospects of Davies playing in South Africa were not good. The final nail in the coffin was an announcement from Sochaux deeming him not medically fit to play. With this news Bob Bradley had no choice but to leave him off the roster and, in my opinion, I think this is the best long-term decision. With those nasty injuries there’s no way Davies is going to be physically or mentally ready to play at a top level. Why risk severe injuries with one of your country’s brightest young stars?
Not much has changed here from last year’s Confederations Cup and this is arguably the most solid part of the team. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are the top choices with the majority of the time probably going to Howard. American goalkeepers have been all the rage in Europe (and all throughout the world) for some time now. Many people speculate that the range of sports kids play growing up in the U.S. contributes to incredible hand-eye coordination and overall athletic ability – two areas that are crucial for keepers.
The backs are very solid as well, with many of the core players having a good amount of experience. Stalwarts Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector have had great years in their leagues abroad (Bocanegra in France and Specter in England). Bocanegra was also the captain in last year’s Confederations Cup and brings a much needed beacon of leadership to the back. There’s a good amount of size across all candidates which should help impose their will in the middle. Keep an eye out for Oguchi Onyewu who is just coming off a ruptured patellar tendon with AC Milan and is probably one of the more talented players on the U.S. team. Lastly, Green Bay’s own Jay DeMerit made the 30 man roster and I’m hoping he makes the final cut. He’s got a phenomenal rags-to-riches story that the New York Times covered last year which you can get here and I highly recommend.
The midfield is where I think the U.S. is the deepest. Most of the names you’ll know are ex-Rev Clint Dempsey and L.A. Galaxy’s Landon Donovan but some names you might not be that familiar with are DaMarcus Beasely and Maurice Edu. Both Beasely and Edu play for the Rangers in the Scottish Premier League and have the benefit of playing together abroad which will only enhance their chemistry. The midfield is key to success and need to focus on a smooth transition from defense to attack and make sure the ball gets to playmakers like Dempsey and Donovan but not forcing it and becoming predictable.
In my opinion, this is the weakest part of the squad – aside from Jozy Altidore whom I believe will be a force in South Africa. With the absence of Davies there was a void which Bradley filled with a few head-scratching decisions. Most notably is Herculez Gomez. Aside from his name instantaneously striking fear in his opponents, Gomez, at best, has a dodgy international resume. He hasn’t played for the U.S. since making two appearances at the 2007 Copa America. Between 2006 and 2009 Gomez only netted 12 goals in MLS and as of last year he was out of a job (not making the Kansas City Wizards final roster). However, the Mexican team Puebla signed him in January of this year and he’s certainly gone on to pay dividends. Gomez just finished the spring season leading the league in scoring with 10 goals. It’s the first time an American has lead a foreign league in scoring.
Surprisingly another New Hampshire native, Conor Casey, was left off the roster. With such a glaring need for scoring at the front, to say I’m baffled is an understatement. Despite the shortcomings up front it’s clear that the majority of the scoring chances are going to come from Dempsey, Altidore and Donovan. With a strong defense and stellar goalkeeping I think the U.S. has great potential next month, particularly in its group. The first match-up with England will be a great test of that defense. This will also be a great way to see how the midfield will move the ball around the field. One has to think the U.S. will be on their heals for most of this game and will rely on the counter attack.
We’ll get a look at the squad on May 25 when they play the Czech Republic in Connecticut then again on May 29th when they face off against Turkey in Philadelphia.
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton)
Defenders (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
Midfielders (12): DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), José Torres (Pachuca)
Forwards (6): Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki)
*Notable exemptions: Conor Casey, Freddy Adu