I mentioned in my quick preview of the match that we would have to wait until the line-ups came out to see what "V" extra USA Head Coach Bob Bradley was hoping to find out about his team. It was either going to be a look at his as-close-as-possible Starting 11, or it was going to be an open audition for the final spots available for the 23-man roster (which is being announced tomorrow on ESPN).
It became pretty clear when the players took the field that Bradley was seeing this game as an audition for his borderline players. Hardly any of the presumed starters even dressed, much less played. The only guaranteed exception to that rule was Oguchi Onyewu, who is in definite need of getting some burn, after being sidelined for seven months. The Gooch played 65 minutes, and made one really bad play on defense--failing to get up for a header on a set piece that led to one of the Czech Republic's four goals on the evening.
The rest of the team was made up of possible starters in South Africa (like Stuart Holden), players who probably won't make the cut (Eddie Johnson, Edson Buddle, and Jose Torres) and a bunch of guys who will fill out the bench (Maurice Edu, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson, and Steve Cherundulo). There is one more category of guy to include--Guys I thought were probably on the bench until they played tonight--I'll give that, reluctantly, to DeMarcus Beasley.*
The first half was an ugly affair from both sides--little in the way of control or flow or possession, or even much in the way of good chances generated. It is telling that the there were two goals scored in the half, and both came off of set pieces--the USA goal in particular was an ugly scrum in front of the net. There's nothing wrong with scoring like that, but it doesn't really inform anyone on the relative merits on the players involved, except that they might have a nose for garbage goals (which Maurice Edu seems to have).
The defense was sloppy throughout the first half, and that continued throughout the second. This is hardly a shock at this was the area most lacking the likely starters in two weeks. No Tim Howard, no Carlos Bocanegra, no Jay DeMerit, and no Jonathan Spector (though, it should be said that Steve Cherundulo did a very good job on the right side). There was little defensive shape to be seen for most of the game, and it didn't get any better when Bradley experimented with the line-up by removing Gooch, and dropping Maurice Edu into the back four. It should be said that was probably out of necessity rather than any great plans of making Edu a permanent feature back there. If that was the thought, it was quickly quashed after the mistake Edu made in the crucial moment leading up to the fourth goal. If Goddson's role on this team was not cemented before that mistake, it was then, despite looking pretty shaky himself in the back for several key stretches.
The second half, all told, saw all six substitutions used, and some made a very strong case for themselves--particularly the players who came in for offense. Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez, and Robbie Rogers all showed more flair and poise and a willingness to attack than the guys they came in for. I think only Ching was definitely already on this team--Gomez and particularly Rogers made a strong case to be included in the roster of 23. The team had a totally different flow particularly on the wings with Rogers and Holden, playing with and through Ching. They generated chances, attacked space, and (finally!) challenged a goalkeeper from distance. They gave Peter Cech some netminding to do, and that's a promising feature from a team that has historically struggled to put the ball on net from distance (remember Chris Armas? I do.)
A couple of fringe guys definitely played themselves off the roster--most glaringly, Heath Pearce, who was a longshot before he entered the game. His two most crucial mistakes led as directly as mistakes can possibly lead to goals. He let an attacker cut in front of him ball side, deep in the box. Raising a hand fruitlessly in an attempt to get an offsides call is not defense, and that's all Pearce did in his attempt to stop his man from scoring from point blank range. The second goal that gets hanged on Pearce was another scrum in front of the net, but it all started with a sliding tackle from Pearce that connected with nothing--not ball, not the back of a leg--nothing. You can not slide in your own box, giving up defensive positioning and space, and come up absolutely empty. Pearce wasn't going to make this squad anyway, but he hammered some nails from inside his own coffin tonight.
Another guy who I think played his way out is Sacha Kljestan--his brief appearances with the ball in midfield were minor league disasters, and helped spark some of the goals I've mentioned up top. On a corner kick rebound, surrounded by no one, Kljestan opted to dump the ball into the middle of a pack of players recovering from the deflected corner, rather than giving his defense time to recover, or his offense to get some order to itself. His blind pass sparked the counter-attack that led to horrible, no-good Pearce sliding non-tackle. The Edu mistake in the back (that led to the fourth goal) might have never happened, had Kljestan handled the simple pass Edu had sent his way. Instead, he misjudged it, and the ball taken right off of his foot.
Assuming that 3 of the 23 spots will be goalkeepers, I think based on what I saw tonight, and what I know of the general inclinations of Bradley, and depending on injury recovery, the other 20 will shake out like this (starters in bold, first sub in italics):
Marking Backs: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundulo, Jonathan Bornstein
Central Defenders: Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, (with Bocanegra able to slide over)
Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Rogers (wing) Maurice Edu (center), Ricardo Clark, DeMarcus Beasley* (guess there is room for him after all)
Strikers: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez (situational)
That's 22 players, and frankly, looking over the lists, I had a hard time coming up with that many. We could go into this cup with 21, and that'll be all we need. If the 23rd guy gets clock, we are in serious trouble. The starting 11 is about as solid as I've seen in awhile, so let's just hope we don't use more than 15 or 16 guys this entire tournament.