Nerves fraying for U.S. players
When practice is over and Alejandro Bedoya gets back to his hotel room, he meditates and prays.
As cutdown day approaches for the U.S. soccer team, coach Bob Bradley can sense nerves are increasing for players on the bubble.
"You say to yourself, I've been this far. How much closer can I come?" said Bedoya, a 23-year midfielder who didn't make his national team debut until January. "You're so close. You don't want to just not make it because maybe the extra effort wasn't in there or that extra play wasn't in there to get you through it."
Final decisions should fall into place after Tuesday night's exhibition against Czech Republic, the first of three warmups ahead of U.S. World Cup opener against England on June 12.
Just 23 of the 30 players can dress for the match at Rentschler Field, and only six substitutes can be used. Plans are underway for Bradley to make a televised announcement of his 23-man roster on Wednesday at ESPN's studios in nearby Bristol.
Bradley's preliminary roster that began practice May 17 had three goalkeepers, nine defenders, 12 midfielders and six forwards, and no cuts were made as the group bused north Sunday after a week of training at Princeton, N.J. The average for final rosters is 3-8-8-4, and Bradley hopes to reach FIFA's 23-man limit by the time the team heads to Philadelphia on Wednesday ahead of a weekend exhibition against Turkey.
"It is really important now to get to 23. It's important for the group that's going to know they're going," Bradley said. "The nerves that you sense at times – once the decisions are made, a little of that goes away. We can then begin sort of next steps in the team-building process."
Bradley figures to use Tuesday's game to test players for roster spots more than to deploy a potential World Cup starting lineup. While he said April 29 that only 16-18 roster spots had been decided, he's inched up to just 17-19 after watching eight days of workouts.
"It's going to be a tough decision for coach Bob Bradley to make," Clint Dempsey said. "Right now, it's just people are very anxious, very hungry, trying to get on this team. You never know when you'll get another opportunity. Everybody feels that sense of urgency."
Since there are only three goalkeepers, all are locks.
Among the defenders, Chad Marshall and Heath Pearce appear to be on the bubble. In the midfield, veteran DaMarcus Beasley is fighting to reach his third World Cup, competing with Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers and Jose Torres for one or two roster spots.
At forward, only Jozy Altidore is assured a berth, but Brian Ching is likely if his hamstring is healthy. Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson and Robbie Findley are in competition that remained wide-open when Charlie Davies failed to heal in time from severe injuries sustained in an October car crash.
"It is tough to kind of stay calm," Findley said. "You've got to just focus, stick to the things that you've been doing that have gotten you this far, and work hard."
The Czech Republic thumped the U.S. 3-0 in the Americans' 2006 World Cup opener. Jan Koller, the 6-foot-7 1/2-inch forward who scored five minutes in, retired from the national team after the 2008 European Championship. And Tomas Rosicky, who scored the other two goals, didn't make the trip following an injury filled season with Arsenal. Galatasaray forward Milan Baros also didn't accompany the team.
While it's just an exhibition, some players know whether they're on the plane Sunday from Washington Dulles International Airport depends on their performance.
"Tomorrow's a really important game for the fringe guys like me," said Bedoya, who used to play at Boston College.
But they also are looking ahead. Before Monday's training session in the brilliant spring sunshine, players watched a little of England's 3-1 exhibition victory over Mexico at Wembley on television.
"As we were passing through the lobby, everyone ended up watching I think at one point," midfielder Stuart Holden said. "No many how many times you see them, you can always watch more."
"I think it creates a good competitiveness," Holden said. "Sometimes, you come into camps and the first couple days are slow. This one, everyone was coming in flying from the get-go."