With the final two qualifiers on the road to South Africa looming, Bob Bradley has made few changes to a squad that has at times sputtered and limped their way to first place in CONCACAF.
Jay DeMerit and Chad Marshall will be left at home due to injury, but veteran Jimmy Conrad gets a rare call-up, along with Kenny Cooper.
Aside from those inclusions, the roster looks very similar to what Bradley has fielded during the final round of the hexagonal and in the Confederations Cup. Depending on whether your glass is half empty or half full, you'll either be excited or terrified by this.
Defenders: Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jimmy Conrad, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein, Frankie Hejduk.
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Jose Francisco Torres, Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Rogers.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey, Kenny Cooper, Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Charlie Davies.
Win at Honduras and you're in. Failing that, a draw against Costa Rica will suffice. It sounds simple enough on paper, but recent history has shown us that the final stretch on the road to South Africa will be filled with potholes.
Bradley has a nasty tendency to field a conservative side when on the road in CONCACAF, and that has led to some disastrous results. Going into a defensive shell against El Salvador led to a 2-2 draw. An under-prepared US side was blown out 3-1 at Costa Rica. Against Trinidad, the US was lucky to escape with a 1-0 victory.
The US can't afford a similar slip-up at this stage in qualifying. Even though they top the table, the margin for error is razor thin. No American wants to go into the final match against Costa Rica with their World Cup hopes hinging on them taking home a point.
Bigger upsets have happened before, and the US would be best served by putting out an aggressive squad against Honduras and just ending the suspense.
It's also worth mentioning that if the US somehow misses out on the World Cup this time around, Bradley will most certainly be fired faster than you can say "Bruce Arena."
Who Should Play
Clint Dempsey is going to miss the Honduras match with a sprained shoulder. It's nothing too serious, and he's expected back to face Costa Rica, but this opens up a spot for another midfielder to get a start. Bradley should go with Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber, or Jose Francisco Torres in this role to replace Dempsey's presence in the attack.
Ideally, the job would fall to Torres. In very limited appearances in the US shirt, he's shown that he's capable of good ball control, maintaining possession, and being a serious offensive threat. Based on what we've seen out of Torres so far, he might be the best attacking midfielder not named Landon Donovan in the US pool.
If Torres is paired with Holden on the right side of the midfield, goals are likely to follow. The two played together for a short spell at the end of the match against El Salvador and combined nicely together. Torres entered the match in the 84th minute and almost immediately had a goalscoring chance thanks to a Holden assist.
Holden and Torres also tend to be more careful with the ball than Dempsey. Dempsey is prone to frustrating turnovers—especially in recent matches—and the US midfield will have to dominate possession in order to nullify the Honduran and Costa Rican attacks.
After Holden and Torres in the midfield, we'll almost assuredly see Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan holding down the other two midfield spots. Both have played very well in qualifying and no current US player has the tools to unseat them.
Bradley is very effective in the holding midfielder role, and when Donovan is aggressive, he provides a crucial link between midfield and forwards, as well as providing plenty of offense on his own.
Defensively, we'll probably see Steve Cherundolo at right back and Jonathan Spector on the left, with Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu in the center. This is essentially the same group that started against Trinidad, with the addition of Cherundolo in favor of Jonathan Bornstein.
That back line was vulnerable at times, forcing Tim Howard into several saves. Eliminating Bornstein and moving Spector to left back could solve that problem, but it also seemed that Bocanegra was a liability, as well.
Perhaps that's the reason behind calling up Jimmy Conrad. Conrad is a veteran presence who won't commit any mental mistakes in defense, and will provide a solid backup if Bocanegra proves unfit for the task.
Up front, Bradley shouldn't consider anybody but Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies. Altidore has played wonderfully in the Premier League for Hull City to start the season, and should be sharper than ever in a US shirt now that he's finally getting some regular playing time.
Davies has consistently been one of the US' more dangerous attacking threats since becoming a regular fixture in the squad, and has formed an excellent partnership with Altidore.
Brian Ching and Conor Casey shouldn't see the pitch at all, due to a lack of production on Ching's part and a poor work rate on Casey's part. They aren't the dynamic players necessary to walk away with three points; they'll just handicap that US attack.
Kenny Cooper could see action as a late substitute. He's a big, physical presence that would be able to continue Altidore's work up front, especially if the squad is still struggling to find a goal around the 60th minute.
Beating Honduras on the road will be a difficult task. They've got a very talented squad that includes the likes of David Suazo, Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa, and Amado Guevara. Hopefully Bob Bradley recognizes the importance of this match and fields his strongest squad as well. Anything less, and the US probably goes home empty-handed.
I'll give Bradley the benefit of the doubt here, though. The US walks away with a 2-1 victory, clinching a trip to South Africa.
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