There are a couple of different ways to look at tonight’s friendly between the United States and El Salvador (ESPN Classic and Galavision, 7 p.m.).
The first is to write it off as a meaningless affair. After all, there might be four or five guys out of the 20 in uniform tonight that have a realistic chance to be on the plane when it leaves for South Africa.
None of the European-based players, aside from Clarence Goodson, are in Tampa, so you can bet that coach Bob Bradley will use this opportunity to tinker with different lineups and formations with less than full attention to the scoreboard.
And the opponent is a team that the red, white and blue defeated twice in 2009. No disrespect to the Cuscatlecos, but it’s not the kind of matchup that gets the blood pumping for some folks.
Of course, to the 20 players in a national team kit this evening, this may be the most important game they’ve ever been a part of.
I’m sure that everyone in that group still has at least a glimmer of hope of making the final roster in May, so let’s have a look at the player pool:
GK: Troy Perkins (D.C. United) and Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) – America is pretty set at the goalkeeper position with Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann seemingly locked into the three slots.
Bradley might be tempted to take one of these guys over Hahnemann, who will turn 38 on June 15. But since neither of these guys is young enough to figure in the 2014 plans, there’s really no reason to bring one of them to this year’s World Cup.
DEF: Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC) – Here’s where it gets interesting. With the concerns at center back, it’s telling that Go0odson is on this roster. It seems to me that Bradley is giving him every chance to make the roster, and barring an injury, I expect him to do just that.
Bornstein is another player that has a chance to nail down a spot, mainly because he can play on either side as a fullback and slide up into the midfield in a pinch.
Marshall, Pierce and Wynne have been less than stellar in recent call-ups and will need good performances to re-enter the discussion.
M: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew) – Rogers jumps out here as the player most likely to earn a spot.
He’s an intriguing prospect because of his age, pace and ability to play out on the wing.
I don’t want to be a dream killer, but the rest of this bunch have to be considered longshots with guys like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber and a number of other players ahead of them in the pecking order.
Kljestan and Beckerman have had some opportunities to impress in recent months, but their performances have run hot and cold.
This would be a good time for a warm one.
F: Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake) – Assuming Charlie Davies is healthy enough to be on the World Cup roster, there’s only room for two forwards behind Davies and Altidore.
Ching, in my opinion, will have to be hurt not to be on the roster. Some fans may not like his style, but he’s a veteran that holds the ball up well – two traits that make him attractive to Bradley. It would be nice to see him play well tonight, however.
The real battle is between Casey, Cunningham and Findley for the last forward slot (assuming one of the European guys doesn’t force his way into the discussion).
All three are accomplished MLS players. Cunningham won the Golden Boot last season with 17 goals while Casey was nipping at his heels with 16. Findley ended up with 12, putting all of these players in the same boat.
Can they translate MLS success to the international level?
If the roster came out today, I’d probably take Findley, but tonight’s friendly is a chance for one of the other guys to shine.
The next friendly is on March 3 in Europe against the Netherlands, so that roster will likely look radically different than this one.
The phrase now or never comes to mind…