February 23, 2010
By Michael Lewis
Just who will be the one? Casey, Ching, Cunningham or Findley?
TAMPA -- With the speedy Charlie Davies still a longshot to return from injuries he suffered as a passenger in a fatal car accident last October, U.S. national coach Bob Bradley has some tough decisions to make as his replacement up front for the World Cup.
|Brian Ching is vying for a roster spot for the World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Let's assume he decides to keep Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey at the midfield. Given the players he has in camp for Wednesday's international friendly against El Salvador (ESPN Classic, 7 p.m. ET) there are four candidates from MLS who bring various qualities to the table.
There are two speedsters -- one a 33-year-old wily veteran in Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas) the other a 24-year-old player on the way up Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake).
Then there's a pair of target men who have battled injuries in recent years -- Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo) and Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids).
A good performance certainly wouldn't hurt anyone's chances to make the 23-man roster, although Bradley said a player's scoring form during the MLS season could go a long way in determining whether they make the trip to South Africa.
"It's important to say it's not just what we would see in one game," Bradley said after practice at the University of South Florida yesterday. "For all these guys its really going to be important when MLS starts the kind of form they're in and how they're playing as well.
"I think it's pretty easy to see that Jeff is pretty capable on his own of getting the ball and creating and going by people and getting goals. But his ability now to contribute in other ways, to be a guy that finds good spots to hold the ball, brings other people into the game. We probably can't afford at the international for any striker to be somebody who just floats around and every now and then makes a good play. There's a little bit more responsibility at international soccer for forwards to stay involved in the game all the time."
Findley, on the other hand, is at the beginning of his pro career and needs more experience at the international level.
"We need to see the consistency," Bradley said. "We need to see at times technically, under pressure, making the right play. It's important for him to start the season the way he finished off last year."
Ching, who was hampered by a knee injury last season, could make the team because he does the little things Bradley likes, such as holding the ball.
"Now we just need to see as we move along with him. . . . How is he moving around the field? What's his mobility like? Is he getting goals, that kind of stuff."
Casey is best known for scoring twice in the U.S.'s 3-2 victory at Honduras that clinched a WC berth.
"Conor has shown in certain times his ability to get goals," Bradley said. "But what has also been the case, similar what I said about Jeff Cunningham, in hard games [that] he's helping in other ways. I think when the games go faster sometimes, being in good position holding certain balls. Working with the other striker so our first line of defense is good. Those are things that become necessary for him. Things that maybe are asked at some level of the league. If he does a little bit up top for Colorado, gets his goals, like most MLS strikers, That's probably fine. But I think everything changes a little bit when we go into international competition."