It was the primary talking point during the USA’s participation in the 2010 World Cup, and Monday’s roster announcement by manager Bob Bradley will ensure that the theme carries over into the upcoming 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Who are the go-to forwards for the current edition of the US national team, and can they get the job done on the international stage?
Bradley opted for MLS Golden Boot champion Chris Wondolowski and 18-year-old New York Red Bulls starlet Juan Agudelo, who will join former Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore — now at Turkey’s Bursaspor — as the strike force heading into the upcoming Gold Cup. The prizes are regional bragging rights and a berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The surprise of the trio is undoubtedly the call-up of San Jose’s Wondolowski over Sporting Kansas City’s Teal Bunbury, who had featured in recent US national team camps. Bradley says the decision came down to form.
“Teal is a young striker that we certainly see a lot of potential,” the US manager said Monday on a media teleconference call. “I didn’t think it was the right time for him. I don’t think he’s been as sharp as we would like so far in the season. And I think that’s a sign of him continuing to mature and grow.
"And quite honestly, another part of it is the fact that as we’ve watched different games, we felt strongly that Chris Wondolowski is in good form. He has scored some very good goals, different kinds of goals and Chris seems to be a player that gets a couple of chances every game.”
Wondolowski has a single cap with the USA while Bunbury has notched two, including registering a goal. In fact, Bunbury came into January’s friendly against Chile in place of Wondolowski, and the Sporting striker netted a PK equalizer with 15 minutes to go.
Despite making just four starts in the Red Bulls’ first 10 matches of the 2011 campaign, Agudelo continues to be highly rated by Bradley.
“We feel that Juan in different camps has done well,” Bradley said. “We’d like to see him play as a starter with the Red Bulls, but given the form of Luke Rodgers and Thierry Henry, sometimes you have to fight hard to get your spot again and so we know how that works. But we still feel that this is a good Gold Cup for Juan and the good things we‘ve seen thus far will hopefully come in to play as we move into this tournament.”
Bradley also addressed the status of D.C. United’s Charlie Davies, one of the top scorers in MLS this year since his loan move from French club Sochaux.
“We certainly have seen a lot of progress from the start of the MLS season until now and we’re excited about that,” Bradley said. “I had a good conversation with him on the telephone the other day and told him that I still feel that it’s still not totally where it needs to be. … In terms of his overall contribution to the team, I still feel he’s working his way back, and hopefully he can take those comments and keep moving forward.”
Among the other MLS players named to play in the 2011 Gold Cup was the Columbus Crew’s Robbie Rogers, who would have participated in the US’ annual January camp had it not been for knee surgery.
“Robbie is a player that everyone knows has ability to run at people, get behind people, capable of playing on both flanks,” Bradley said. “Thus far I think his mobility and energy in the team have been good. We felt it was a good time to get him back with the guys and build on some of the things that we’ve seen over the years.
"We all know that Robbie has a lot of talent, and in different moments with the national team, it’s come out in a very good way. This is a good time to see if we can push it any further.”
One selection who is no longer considered a surprise is Red Bulls center back Tim Ream, now in his second season in MLS. He’s a player Bradley says “we feel good about,” pointing to a “good performance against Paraguay” in March.
In addition to the LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan, who is a fixture with the US squad, Bradley also tabbed another midfield veteran for the Gold Cup: recent New England acquisition Benny Feilhaber, who Bradley says “has made the Revolution a better team.” The US manager cited Feilhaber’s running off the ball, his vision to see the final pass and his ability to find good spots on the field as his primary strengths.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando was also given a nod as the third goalkeeper on the 23-man roster. His position on the squad will be treated as a “different situation,” according to Bradley, with Rimando remaining with Real Salt Lake and only being called upon when necessary.
All MLS players will be allowed to participate with their club in the upcoming midweek and weekend fixtures before joining the USMNT Gold Cup squad in Cary, N.C. The training camp will officially open on Thursday.