Three players who all but disappeared from the national team scene fully immersed themselves back into the equation in Wednesday’s victory against El Salvador.
Brian Ching, Sacha Kljestan, and Heath Pearce were regulars in the beginning stages of World Cup 2010 qualifying but were absent from the roster since the Confederations Cup.
With question marks at their positions and strong performances tonight, all three vaulted back into the picture.
These three played a role in the team’s two goals, but it isn’t just the scoring that made their play impressive.
Ching, coming on as a second half substitute for Conor Casey, scored and had an assist. Kljestan, starting at center midfield, scored the game winner in stoppage time. Pearce, getting the start at left fullback, assisted Ching’s goal on a beautiful cross.
Pearce was the guy at left back for Bob Bradley’s squad in 2008. He was third on the team in minutes played that year. However, Pearce fell out of favor with club team Hansa Rostock and was even suspended from the first team. The less time he got on the field at the club level, the more his quality dipped on the country stage. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, Pearce did not see any playing time and watched his job go to Jonathan Bornstein.
Pearce transferred to FC Dallas over the summer and finally got back onto the field, getting some confidence back. Against El Salvador he was given another chance while Bornstein was slotted at center back.
Pearce was solid defensively the whole game and was a big threat in the attack. He was able to get up and down the flank effectively and had quite a few good crosses, including an assist to Ching.
Ching was the target forward of choice for Bob Bradley in the beginning of qualifying, but injuries throughout the year sidelined him and gave Casey a chance to become that player. A knee injury left Ching out of the January camp roster.
However after a sub-par first half for Casey who had some opportunities to make something happen but did nothing with them, decision making was less than desirable, and looked sluggish, Ching came in at the start of the second half and gave the team a jolt of life.
Ching had some opportunities turned away by El Salvador keeper Miguel Montes (who had an amazing night) but finally was able to beat him with a nice header to tie the game. He also provided the give-and-go pass to Kljestan for the game winner.
Ching put together some great passes and he made himself a target to get the ball to.
Kljestan didn’t have an injury and didn’t get permanently benched. Something happened to him after his three-goal game against Sweden, though. Maybe it was overconfidence, but Kljestan was in poor form for the U.S. team as well as his MLS club, culminating in a horrid performance in the Confederations Cup.
While he wasn’t as strong throughout the game as Pearce and Ching, he did provide some proof as to why at one time he was considered a candidate to start in the midfield alongside Michael Bradley.
Kljestan came through with a number of good scoring chances in the first half, but was unable to finish. He had some very crisp passes, although at times he missed his mark. Still, he was aggressive and, most importantly, played with urgency and confidence.
He attacked the goal and stood strong on defense. And speaking to his confidence level, he didn’t have his head down in shame; his head was up and alert, which allowed him to swoop in behind and steal the ball leading to scoring the game-winner.
What do these performances mean to their World Cup chances?
Pearce was the only one named to the roster for the friendly against the Netherlands, but that means very little. This is just an opportunity for Bradley to give the same chance to the European players to state their case.
Left-fullback has been a problem position for the U.S. Bornstein is the main option right now, with defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector switching spots on the line to the left also options. Pearce has a chance though to gain his spot back.
Bornstein is a nice player, especially in MLS, but Pearce is a better option. He is a bigger and stronger defender than Bornstein and makes better decisions than Bornstein, who tends to panic or forget where he is on the field at times.
Bornstein’s strength is considered to be his ability to get forward, but Pearce did that even better.
The reason Bornstein was made the starter to begin with was because Pearce was out of form due to lack of first team playing time. That isn’t the case now, and Pearce looks to be ready to fight for his job back.
Kljestan has the most difficult road ahead of him. He played a good game, but it may be a case of too little too late.
The U.S. has a glutton of central midfielders: Bradley, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, and Kyle Beckerman to name a few. While only Bradley has cemented his spot on the roster, the rest have all played well enough to merit selection over Kljestan.
Kljestan did play for Bob Bradley with Chivas though so that may help him, and he can also slide out to the right side, which isn’t one of the U.S.’ stronger spots on the field, especially with Dempsey currently injured.
Ching probably played himself back onto the roster last night.
The forward position has a lot of question marks.
Jozy Altidore will make the team, but after that the picture gets muddier. Charlie Davies is still recovering from a tragic car accident at the end of qualifying. Dempsey, although hurt right now, is a candidate to play up top. Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham are options to fill in for Davies as speed options at forward. Eddie Johnson has also put his name in the hat after moving to a new club in Greece and he is playing well there so far.
What we do know is that Bob loves holding forwards and there are only two of them in the player pool currently: Ching and Casey.
He was the favorite before he got hurt and Casey has been very ineffective (save for his two goal game against Honduras in World Cup Qualifying).
It’s been a long and difficult road for Ching, Pearce, and Kljestan. Some U.S. supporters left those three for dead. But here we are right before the World Cup roster deadline and all three have played their way back into consideration.