Who's the best fit if Brian Ching can't play in South Africa? MLSsoccer.com chimes in.

Mixed Messages: If Ching can't play for U.S.

News emerged on Tuesday afternoon that Houston Dynamo striker Brian Ching strained his right hamstring in the side's 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake last week, and the star forward set to miss four to six weeks with the injury.

That lengthy absence puts his inclusion on the U.S. World Cup team in serious jeopardy since head coach Bob Bradley has to submit a preliminary roster of 30 players by May 11. 

If the member of the 2006 World Cup team can't go, who should go instead? MLSsoccer.com's edit team chimes in: 

The obvious answer is Conor Casey, who has some caps and last year's Confederations Cup under his belt. But I would like to see Edson Buddle in the mix. Think about it: He's got size (6-foot-1), speed, great touch, can play with his back to goal, experience (28 years old), and a nice run of form over the past two years (23 goals in 45 appearances since the start of 2008 season). Plus, he has a knack for linking well with Landon Donovan, something that used to be Ching's forte. If Buddle can stay hot—three goals in the first two matches of the 2010 MLS season—he would be a fantastic option up top for the U.S. 

--Greg Lalas, editor in chief

Tough, tough break, because Ching has no obvious replacement in an already super-thin strike corps. There's not a clear target man left in the pool, and certainly no player with Ching's international experience and lead-by-example toughness. And it's too late in the game to hope for a miracle from a Kenny Cooper or a Herculez Gomez (though Germany ’06 veteran Eddie Johnson may deserve another shot). Some U.S. fans aren't going to like this, but Bradley may have no other choice than to take Conor Casey. The 6-foot-2 Rapids forward is nowhere near as mobile as Ching, but he's a big body who can draw a defense and, against an undersized opponent, can pop in a goal once in awhile. Let’s just hope no one else gets hurt in the meantime.

--Jonah Freedman, managing editor

In Brian Ching's absence, Conor Casey would likely be the automatic choice, but not the best one. Casey's challenging first touch and lack of pace make him more of a liability in many cases. Given the grind-it-out opponents the U.S. will face, there is no better replacement than Brian McBride. A World Cup could lure him out of international retirement and give the U.S. the best aerial presence of any available forward. Sure, he wasn't part of the group that got the USA to South Africa. But his EPL experience would sure come in handy against England.         

--Simon Borg, content producer

I think Conor Casey is a natural pick. Throw him in up top in the last 10-15 minutes of a game and he’ll muscle his way into space and maybe find a goal. However, at this point, with so many injuries, maybe we should be looking beyond the current crop of fringe players and toward the next round of potential fill-ins. I heard Kenny Cooper got a run out at Plymouth this past weekend ... is that how far we’re going down the depth chart? Seriously, if Cooper starts tallying regular minutes, he might be worth another look.

-- David Agrell, new media editor

The easy answer is Conor Casey, whose physicality gives the Americans a different element off the bench to eat up late minutes and potentially find the back of the net. But the smart choice is Brian McBride. It's an unapologetic turn-back-the-clock move, but the Fire veteran said during the Confederations Cup last year that if the stable of U.S. strikers was decimated by injury - an admittedly laughable possibility at the time -- he would accept an offer from Bob Bradley for a sub role. Veteran leadership and World Cup savvy, and he won't need to play all 90 minutes or be the top scorer.

--Nick Firchau, new media editor

Even if every player at Bob Bradley's disposition were 100 percent healthy, Conor Casey would deserve a spot on the U.S. roster. With Brian Ching's injury, it should be a no brainer at this point.  While somewhat one dimensional, Casey's an imposing physical striker and a constant threat in the area that makes up for his technical limitations by being a consistent goal scorer. Any doubts about his ability to perform on the international stage were laid to rest with his two-goal performance in Honduras last October during the World Cup qualifiers that sealed the U.S.'s presence in South Africa this year. He'd be a solid attacking option off the bench for Bradley, even more so than Ching.  

--Jaime Uribarri, managing editor, FutbolMLS.com

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