If the U.S. men’s national team’s friendly with the Czech Republic on Tuesday night was being used to book the final roster spots on the World Cup, then Herculez Gomez made one of the stronger cases for one of those tickets.
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The reigning scoring leader in Mexican soccer did what he has done for the past four months in Mexico — come on as a second-half substitute and score a key goal. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but on a night where several players failed to impress in their final auditions, Gomez’s 45-minute cameo stood out even more.
Gomez and DaMarcus Beasley were two of the few bright spots in the United States’ 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic. The final score didn’t matter as much as the impressions made by the fringe players who were looking to seal their place on Bob Bradley’s World Cup roster.
Considered a fringe player when training camp began, Beasley capped what had been considered a strong camp with a solid 45 minutes where he showed the trademark speed, energy and tenacity that helped make him a national team star. Now, instead of being a World Cup question mark, Beasley is raising questions about whether it’s time for him to regain his place as a regular starter.
“It’s been a good camp for DaMarcus,” Bradley said. “He showed his teammates again that there’s a renewed commitment to everything, and I think that’s what showed on the field.”
If there was a player on the bubble who did enough to lock up a World Cup ticket, it was Gomez. The team’s Cinderella story kept his fairy tale run going when he came on as a halftime substitute and delivered a close-range header off a headed pass from Clarence Goodson.
“Herculez played his way into the camp with his performance at Puebla,” Bradley said. “It was based upon goals, and in some cases coming on as a sub and scoring.
“When you have him in camp you get to assess a lot of things,” Bradley said. “Some plays tonight still, for me, need to be better, but obviously, he scored a goal, and that's very important in this whole thing."
“I’ve talked about how players have a lot to be proud of,” Bradley said. “Here's a guy that was totally out of the picture and played his way back in and certainly will be discussed further tonight.”
“I said I had 29 players in front of me and my number today was number 30 so that pretty much put things in perspective for me,” Gomez said. “I just did my best and it’s all out of my hands now.
“If anything, I’m just proud that I think I gave Bob a little headache now.”
A pair of wingers vying for World Cup places impressed as Robbie Rogers and Alejandro Bedoya showed good movement on the wings. Rogers came in as the bigger long shot of the two and probably didn’t do enough to pass Bedoya.
Of the fringe players who may have hurt their chances, Heath Pearce and Eddie Johnson looked like long shots after lackluster to poor performances. Johnson held the ball well at times, but produced no chances and had less of an impact than first-half strike partner Edson Buddle.
Buddle helped keep the ball alive on Maurice Edu’s opening goal, and had some good touches, but still looked like a bubble candidate who could wind up being one of the final cuts.
Pearce came on at halftime and struggled badly at left back. He was beaten for one of the Czech goals, and missed on a slide tackle on another goal. Jonathan Bornstein wasn’t much better in the first half, but Pearce definitely missed any chance he had of surpassing Bornstein on the depth chart.
Two players who didn’t even get chances to state their cases on Tuesday night were Robbie Findley and Chad Marshall — two players were considered the longest of long shots when camp began.
The final 23-man USA World Cup roster will be announced on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN. The team returns to action on Saturday against Turkey in Philadelphia before departing for South Africa.
Here is the squad I see being selected:
FINAL PROJECTED USA ROSTER
Goalkeepers – Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan
Defenders – Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein.
Midfielders – Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, DaMarcus Beasley, Jose Francisco Torres, Benny Feilhaber, Alejandro Bedoya.
Forwards – Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com who will be covering U.S. Soccer and MLS.