''We can play anywhere on the field,'' Landon Donovan said of his teammate, Clint Dempsey.
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For US first XI, it's time to start gelling

 

PHILADELPHIA – With the US roster finally pared down to 23, Bob Bradley’s squad will prepare in earnest for next month’s World Cup, beginning with an international friendly against Turkey on Saturday.

The match is the team’s second in less than week, but expect a far different lineup and strategy this time around after a much-hyped tryout session in a 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

The US opted earlier this week to test the mettle of their fringe players, eventually weeding out faces like Eddie Johnson, Brian Ching, Robbie Rogers and Heath Pearce. Now it’s on to the resident celebrities like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra, who have less than three weeks to help mold a team that can somehow keep pace with England in the World Cup opener on June 12.

“We looked good at times, but it was frustrating to concede some goals at the end,” Dempsey said of the team’s loss to the Czechs, where Oguchi Onyewu was the only regular starter to play more than a half. “We made six changes and it was obviously different. Some guys played their way into the [World Cup roster], and some guys played their way out of it.”

With the tension over roster cuts now left behind, all eyes fall on Bradley’s decisions on formation and pairings, likely beginning with the much-maligned backline. Onyewu played just under 70 minutes on Tuesday in his first real action since suffering a knee injury last October, and drew his share of criticism after he was beaten in the air by Tomas Sivok for the Czechs’ first goal.

Bradley, however, preached patience on behalf of Onyewu, who worked out with 2009 Confederations Cup partner Jay DeMerit on the backline during a scrimmage here on Thursday.

“We’ve got a couple more weeks and we’ve got two more matches,” Bradley said Wednesday. “So I think we’ll get a good read of exactly where he is as we get closer to our first game.”

Carlos Bocanegra will also likely get his first look after sports hernia surgery performed earlier this month. The US captain is slated to play either left back or with Onyewu in the center in South Africa.

“Every day he feels just a little bit better in terms of getting past the hernia surgery,” Bradley said. “The time frame that you normally see with that injury is such that we have great confidence about how he’ll continue to progress over the next stretch.”

Also keep an eye on Bradley’s formation up top, where it’s undecided who pairs with Jozy Altidore, if anyone. The idea of a 4-5-1 formation with Altidore as the top threat is an appealing one, especially if recent breakouts Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez can’t carry their scoring streaks from the club level to the international stage.

But don’t be surprised to see glimpses of Donovan and Dempsey pushing forward from the outside flanks, perhaps offering a preview of Bradley’s real weapons when the team sets its sights on England.

“The beauty of Clint and myself is that we can play anywhere on the field,” Donovan said. “Our rules only change depending on where we’re playing, but I’d imagine if we started today, we’d be playing on the outsides.”