The U.S. national team’s Gold Cup roster featured all of the top stars of the 2010 World Cup team, but still had its share of surprises.
Chief among them was the return of Freddy Adu to the mix after two years of national team exile, but also glaring by his absence was young defender/midfielder Timmy Chandler, who was arguably the most impressive player of the U.S. team’s March friendlies.
The squad selected by Bob Bradley is plenty good enough to lift a third Gold Cup trophy in four attempts, but there are still some selections that came as a surprise (and a few that can be considered head-scratchers).
Here is a rundown of the 23-man roster selected by Bob Bradley to play in the Gold Cup, which the United States will begin on June 7th against Canada.
Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann and Nick Rimando
With Brad Guzan getting married this summer, he had long been considered unlikely to be named to his group. Tim Howard is the clear starter while Hahnemann is his back-up. Rimando gets a well-earned call over David Yelldell, the German-born netminder who wrapped up a strong season with German second division side Duisberg.
Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Eric Lichaj, Tim Ream, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson
The surprising absence is Timmy Chandler, who Bob Bradley revealed was left off after reaching an agreement was reached with his club, Nuremberg, that it was better he be left off the team. Chandler played extensive minutes in the past four months for Nuremberg and had dealt with some recent injuries, so it was determined that it best for the 21-year-old to get some rest.
Eric Lichaj got the call, likely in Chandler’s place. He received a good amount of playing time while on loan from Aston Villa to Leeds United and showed he’s versatile enough to play both fullback positions.
The head-scratcher in this group is Jonathan Bornstein. He was selected because of his experience and because he’s always fit and ready, but even when fit he’s been shaky for the national team. In fairness, he’s done better against CONCACAF competition, but he isn’t someone you want to rely on against top competition.
One defender who might have merited a look is Zak Whitbread, who just helped lead Norwich City to promotion to the English Premier League. His lack of familiarity with the U.S. national team set-up, coupled with the long season he just played, probably cost him, though he’ll be one to watch in the future.
Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Freddy Adu, Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones
The biggest surprises in this group were Adu and Rogers. Adu has enjoyed a strong run with Turkish second division side Rizespor, and when he’s on his game he brings a unique and creative element that clearly intrigued Bradley enough to call him in for the first time in two years.
The Rogers inclusion is an even bigger head-scratcher because it came at the expense of in-form midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. While Rogers is a more natural wing player, it is tough to argue that Bedoya isn’t in better form right now, playing some of the best soccer of his young career.
Kljestan might have surprised some, but he shouldn’t. Kljestan enjoyed a good season with Belgian side Anderlecht and has always been a Bradley favorite when he’s playing well.
Juan Agudelo, Chris Wondolowski, Jozy Altidore
Wondolowski was the surprise pick here, over Teal Bunbury, Charlie Davies and Herculez Gomez. Davies’ recent hamstring injury likely cost him, but Bradley noted that Bunbury’s lack of form cost him his place.
Wondolowski has been one of the best finishers in MLS over the past year and a half, and the fact that he has picked up right where he left off as the MLS Golden Boot winner in 2010 surely impressed Bradley.
Juan Agudelo is no surprise, even though he’s not starting for the New York Red Bulls. His combination of size and speed is going to play a key role in the U.S. attack, and a partnership with Jozy Altidore could wind up being a regular fixture in the U.S. attack.
Overall, the U.S. team is still strong enough to win the 2011 Gold Cup, and for the head-scratching inclusions and omissions, only Timmy Chandler’s absence is one that will make any real impact.
Ultimately, it won’t come down to players like Adu, Rogers and Wondolowski to determine whether the United States wins the 2011 Gold Cup. It will be up to the leadership and form of the likes of Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bradley and Bocanegra that decide if the Americans can take back the Gold Cup from 2009 champions Mexico.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.