Injuries. Lack of form. Potential surprise inclusions on the final roster.
There is a lot to look forward to going into the final months before Bob Bradley releases his roster in May for the World Cup.
The following predictions are based on what I believe Bradley will do, but in coming up with such a list it's impossible to do so without interjecting some personal opinion. So without further ado, here we go:
Goalkeeper (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann
It's interesting to see some fans on soccer forums clamoring for Brad Friedel to get the nod over Tim Howard, but the problem is that Friedel has retired from international football.
The only real question with this group is who will be the backup: Guzan or Hahnemann? I'll give the nod to Guzan.
Defenders (7): Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson
On the bubble: Heath Pearce
Onyewu has rejoined AC Milan and should be in the mix for minutes to help regain his form in time to make the roster. Same goes with Cherundolo, who is healthy again after injuring his shoulder.
We should see Bradley opt for the same backline he utilized at the Confederations Cup, from left to right: Bocanegra, DeMerit, Onyewu, and Spector.
To the relief of many U.S. fans, this will probably mean that Bornstein will come off the bench.
With Spector also able to backup on the left, the odd man out is probably Heath Pearce, who is playing well, but is not as heavily favored by the coach as Bornstein.
Midfielders (9): Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya
On the bubble: Jermaine Jones, Robbie Rogers, Sacha Kljestan
Oh boy, this is where things get tricky. Donovan, Bradley, and Edu are locks in this group.
Ricardo Clark needs to get some playing time with Eintracht Frankfurt, as does DaMarcus Beasley with his club, Rangers.
Stuart Holden and Benny Feilhaber are on the road to recovery from injuries and if they can get fit before May, they should be on the plane, too.
I believe Jose Torres, who overcame a slow start against the Netherlands to play adequately, will get a ticket to South Africa as a backup based on his unique skill set and vision.
Rounding out this group may be a surprise to some, but due to his size, speed and attacking mentality, Alejandro Bedoya will be a useful addition to Bob Bradley's squad.
Jermaine Jones is the wildcard here: if he's healthy and can get some minutes in at the club level sometime in the next several weeks, he's going.
His potential importance to the team was evident by his presence in Amsterdam for the recent friendly at which he stated his intention of going to the World Cup. He brings a toughness and experience that few of the current U.S. squad can match.
If Jones is healthy in time, one of the other central midfielders will likely make way for his inclusion: Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, or Alejandro Bedoya.
But that's still a big "if" on Jones.
Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Clint Dempsey, Charlie Davies
On the bubble: Conor Casey, Robbie Findley, Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson
This is the U.S.'s thinnest position, and after Altidore and Ching, only question marks remain. Expect Coach Bradley to list either Donovan or Clint Dempsey as a forward, leaving one last spot.
I'm penciling Charlie Davies in here, and by all accounts he is making remarkable progress in his comeback from multiple injuries sustained in a car accident in October. But until he actually sees the field, it's tough to say what kind of shape he'll be in come June.
There is a short list of candidates who can replace him. Robbie Findley makes the most sense, but after watching him in the last two friendlies, you have to feel less than confident about him replacing Davies.
Bob Bradley may opt for the services of Conor Casey, who hasn't shown much since 2009, or he may select from Freddy Adu or Eddie Johnson, who are both playing for Aris FC in Greece.
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