Bradley bunch geared up for kickoff

The CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks off on FOX Soccer this week with the USA meeting Canada Tuesday (live coverage begins at 7:30 PM ET) in the region’s most important tournament.

The Americans are expected to tussle with tourney favorites Mexico for the crown and the right to represent the region at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

In this second of two pieces the FOX Soccer crew sat down to break down the American national team’s lineup, the return of Freddy Adu, and the big decisions Bob Bradley has to make.

Q. All right: let’s talk USA. What should the fans expect?

JP: With a 2013 Confederations Cup berth as the biggest prize for winning the Gold Cup, manager Bob Bradley has offered up a team with very few surprises, bringing in players that for the most part we all expected. Once again, USA hopes for a trophy rest in the capable hands of goalkeeper Tim Howard, and veteran difference makers Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

BRIAN: I think this is an American team that was built with the goal of winning the tournament. I think Bob [Bradley] has done a good job of sprinkling a player or two in here that we haven’t seen in a while, to get a look at guys at the top level, but this is a team put together for a tourney. It’s sometimes hard to wrap our heads around one-offs and friendlies and then make the jump to talking about a series of games where a lot of different factors come into play. The travel, the schedule, injuries, cards and how the referees perform are all factors that any team has to consider, and from the outside looking in, I think they’ve done a good job building a team that can play a run of games against CONCACAF opposition.

Q. But there’s some question marks and a couple of eyebrow raisers in this bunch, yeah?

ERIC: Oh yes. Bob has some big decisions to make. I think this is a good opportunity to look at Eric Lichaj, and I think he should get on there. I expect Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra to play — I think Bocanegra is a better option that Oguchi Onyweu. That’s unfortunate, for Gooch, but in my opinion, I think it’s Clarence Goodson, Lichaj, Cherundolo, Bocanegra.

JP: Biggest question marks for me are still in the midfield in terms of who is starting, and also up top. In this tournament how much playing time will young Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo get. The biggest roster surprise has to be Freddy Adu, who has fallen off the radar in recent years. Does Freddy play in this Gold Cup? Where does he play and are they going to be meaningful minutes?

ERIC: Let’s face it: it’s going to be Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones or Michael Bradley in front of them — two of those three guys will play and one of them is going to be very unhappy about the decision. Bob has said he’s going to wait and see how guys do in training, and if that is really the case, I expect Michael to play. Then, I see Landon Donovan on the left and Clint Dempsey on the right, and I want to see Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo up top. The interesting thing here is that as games get tricky and you have to chase, I think then you see if Freddy can give you anything. There are guys coming in after long seasons, you may pick up an injury or two, and I think that may give Adu some minutes.

Q. Dave, you know Freddy very well from your long tenure at D.C. United. What’s your take on this?

DAVE: I’ve known Freddy since before he even joined DC United; there were these stories in the Post about this kid playing in Montgomery County, just dazzling the competition, and so there was so much anticipation when he joined MLS. I think we all thought he would be a phenom when he was 18. So, though it’s tough to say this, I think there’s a genuine sadness among a lot of us that, to some extent, things haven’t worked out for him. He has accomplished a lot, and he’s not the first person to move from MLS to Europe and have it not work out, but still, there’s a sadness because of his clear ability. What’s heartening is now he’s back: he was willing to roll up his sleeves, go to Turkey and deal with that change in culture and pressure, and he has done well there by all accounts. So he comes in as the marquee story: we all want to see where he fits in to the mix, and I think there’s a hope that this might be a new beginning for him. People seem to forget that he is only 22, and there’s so much time for him. We may look back here and say: the summer of 2011 was where it all started.

Q. Who are the key guys that need to break out in this one?

ERIC: I’ve been waiting all year to see Agudelo, honestly, all year. I think we have an enormous talent in this kid, and I think this is his coming out party. Play him ninety minutes every game: He’s young, he can handle it the quick turnarounds between the games, so play him. It would not surprise me that if he gets the minutes that he walks away with the tournament’s golden boot.

BRIAN: The key guy for me is Clint Dempsey. He’s coming off a big season at Fulham, and I think there’s some argument over who the leader of this team is. There’s two schools of thought: is it Carlos Bocanegra, who can put the team on his shoulders out of the back; or is it your goal-scorers, Landon Donovan and Dempsey? I think the focus has to be on your goal-scorers.

We also have to look at Jozy Altidore and how he plays off his latest loan stint in Turkey; we have to think about Tim Ream, who looks like he can make a case to fit in that back four; and then there’s the guy who has raised all the eyebrows: Freddy Adu. His last game was in 2009, and he did well, but I think the question now is where he fits in, and what role he plays. Remember that a lot of the teams that Freddy played for were built around him — he’s a very specific kind of player — and the question is does he adjust to this team or does the team adjust to him I think he could fit in really well at the point of the midfield diamond, with the formation the USA showed against Argentina, but we’ll have to see.

DAVE: Yeah, definitely Ream, because there’s an opportunity at the center-back position. He’s kind of under the radar, but he’s good on the ball and Hans Backe knows a player when he sees one. The other is Chris Wondolowski. His form has justifiably earned him a slot here, and where he fits in up top is going to be very interesting. He’s got a real opportunity.

BRIAN: With Chandler, I was told by several people that it was fatigue, and he asked for time off. From what I understand, he was definitely in the mix, but he had a long, full Bundesliga season and needed the time. He’s a very real possibility to be a full-time player on that right hand side.

Q. I think we all are expecting the same thing: A USA-Mexico meeting

for all the marbles.

JP: My prediction is probably the same as everyone’s in that I believe we are all expecting a USA vs Mexico final in the Rose Bowl on June 25th. If that happens, I give an edge to the USA who has the best goalkeeper in this tournament, and one of the better ones in the soccer world in Howard.

DAVE: Everyone knows how important the Confederations Cup appearance in ’09 was for them, and the USA wants to go back there. I think we have the potential for a very exciting USA-Mexico showdown, and I think we as fans are going to be able to see a lot of the questions we have about this team answered over the next couple of weeks.

ERIC: The most important thing is to remind people about that game, if it happens, is that that this match is not about hatred. It never was. That’s the wrong word. If anything, the players have massive respect for their opponent, and that is what makes it so much sweeter if you win. Because you look them in the eye, and shake their hands, and you know you were better. The players have been misquoted, and there’s been some things that have happened — including me saying something stupid in 1993 — but the bottom line is that these are two teams that want to play. It’s patriotism, not hatred, and don’t confuse the two. USA-Mexico will always be my favorite game, win lose or draw, because you really cannot help but to get up for that one.