On May 11th, United States head coach Bob Bradley will release his preliminary roster for next month's World Cup. The selected players will participate in a training camp to be held at Princeton University from May 17-23. FIFA allows 30 players to be selected to these preliminary rosters, though Bradley has made it known that he will only be choosing between 26 and 28. He will then whittle that list down to the 23 that will travel to South Africa.
Here is a look at who has the best chance to make that final squad.
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)
There is not much room for speculation here.
This is probably the easiest choice for Bradley to make, as all three should be on the final roster barring injuries. Howard will no doubt be the starter, and is extremely important to this team. His performance could determine how far the US will advance this summer.
Hahnemann and Guzan will battle it out for the backup job, and both are capable keepers. I expect Hahnemann to win the job due to his experience as the first-choice keeper for Wolverhampton.
Defenders: Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Clarence Goodson (Start)
On the Bubble: Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards)
Onyewu was an injury concern for quite some time, but it appears that lately he has been progressing well in his recovery from a torn patellar tendon. He is expected to be ready to start come June, which will be a welcome site for the Americans.
Onyewu, Bocanegra, DeMerit, and either Cherundolo or Spector should start most games at the back for the US. Bornstein has not performed particularly well in international games lately, and must show improvement if he wants to see time on the pitch.
Pearce has been a pleasant surprise, and played a fair amount of left back for the US during their qualifying campaign. He could fit well as a substitute, but he is on the bubble for the final roster. Conrad is another player with experience who is not a lock, but like Pearce should get invited to the upcoming training camp.
Midfielders: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Benny Feilhaber (AGF), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA)
On the Bubble: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro)
Donovan means so much to this team, and as the active leader in international caps, he will bring a wealth of experience with him to South Africa. Expectations are very high for Donovan given his success at Everton, but he is an extremely confident player and should perform well on the left side.
In the center, Bradley will be a fixture, and will be paired with a combination of Torres and Edu. Both players should make the final cut, and will swap starting roles depending on the matchup.
Holden should get the nod on the right, as he is nearly fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered in a friendly match against the Netherlands. Clark has earned the adoration of Coach Bradley, and could be the first midfield substitute despite a recent lack of playing time for Frankfurt.
Coach Bradley can take any combination of midfielders and defenders, but typically it is eight of one and seven of the other. This decision will make for an interesting training camp, and I see Bradley going with eight midfielders. Beasley, Kljestan, and Bedoya will battle for that final spot, and I believe Kljestan coming out of it the winner due to his success in the qualifying campaign.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy), Charlie Davies (Sochaux), Herculez Gomez (Puebla)
On the Bubble: Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids)
Altidore is about the only sure thing for the US at the forward position. He should be the number one scoring option in South Africa, but who will he be paired with? I believe it will be Dempsey. He is a solid finisher, and will be useful in the box on the receiving end of crosses.
Now, for the substitutes. Davies is the main story here, as he works to return to form after his near-fatal car crash last fall. He will surely be given a chance in training camp to prove himself, and my gut tells me he will perform well and earn a spot on the final roster. The World Cup just would not feel the same without Davies playing some kind of role for the US.
Gomez only has two caps for the US, but he tied for the lead in the Mexican First Division in goals scored with ten. For a team looking for more firepower, why not give Gomez a chance in South Africa? Buddle has scored nine goals in eight MLS games this season, and can provide a similar scoring spark as Gomez.
Ching and Casey will certainly be in the mix at training camp and could very well make the final cut, but I believe it is time for them to step aside and give the younger guys a chance.