Well, it certainly took Bradley long enough to come out with his Copa roster and reaction among the unwashed ranks of the punditry seems to range from mixed to Chicken Little. One thing is for certain - this ain't the Bruce's National Team! No massed ranks of veterans marching bravely into the twilight here. I think Bradley is taking the opportunity of having so many competitive fixtures piled up to run the rule over the majority of his player pool.
I'm sure the priority thinking went something like this. We've got a good chance to make the Gold Cup final and win the whole thing and that gets us more competitive fixtures in the run-up to WC 2010, while we've got a decent chance of advancing to the quarters in the Copa America and maybe making another run to the semis, but we're long shots for the trophy there. So Bob takes the tried and true "A" team plus some Euros whose teams probably wanted them to rest a bit to the Gold Cup with then rolled the dice with the Copa America.
Personality, I don't think that's a bad thing. Get a look at everybody and see who's going to take you to South Africa in three years. Sure, you might get spanked, but chances are, the Gold Cup crew would be getting worn down a bit with two consecutive tournaments in the span of a month. By throwing in some younger players and telling them "this is your chance", you've got a hungry, rested crew, unproven on the world stage but desperate to make a mark and maybe, just maybe, they do some damage.
I don't think, as some have suggested, that the US are going after the trophy they can get and throwing the towel in on this one. I think you see Bob's thinking in the way he's spreading out the playing time in the Gold Cup for those that are going to the Copa as well. Two tournaments in a month with at least 9-10 fixtures would burn out any player so the likes of Feilhaber, DeMerit, and Mapp are seeing limited time while Twellman and Johnson have been splitting striking duties with Dempsey and Ching. The only exception to this rule is Bornstein, so I'm guessing that either Bob has already picked him to fill in a troublesome spot in the lineup and is getting him as much experience as possible this summer, or he's going to give Pearce the majority of starts at the Copa and Bornstein is just included as cover. So let's see what Bob is bringing to the Copa smorgasbord.
Goalkeepers – Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
Only two keepers? Interesting. I guess that Bob knows what he's got in Reis, Cannon, and the other veterans. At this point I think the depth chart is something like: Howard, Keller, Hahnemann, pick the hottest MLS keeper.
Defenders – Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Bobby Boswell (D.C. United), Dan Califf (Aalborg BK), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Jay DeMerit (Watford FC), Drew Moor (FC Dallas), Heath Pearce (FC Nordsjælland), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)
Wow, seems like Bob really has a thing for Bornstein. I've been less than impressed in the Gold Cup, so hopefully he starts getting up to the speed of the international game. I'll be interested to see if Califf has improved in Europe though I'm afraid he's just another physical, slow central defender and we're stocked to the rafters with those. Additionally, let's see what Pearce and Wynne can do on the outside as the fullback situation, of particular interest to yours truly, looks particularly dire at the moment. My only real WTF? out of this group is Drew Moor.
Midfielders – Kyle Beckerman (Colorado Rapids), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Benny Feilhaber (Hamburger SV), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Lee Nguyen (PSV Eindhoven), Ben Olsen (D.C.United)
A lot of folks, myself included, have been wondering why Feilhaber has been sitting in the Gold Cup lately and I think this is the reason. He's going to be handed the keys in the Copa. An interesting mix with only one real veteran (Olsen) and not a single pure "destroyer" type of midfielder in the Mastroeni/Armas mold. Clark, Olsen, Beckerman, and probably even Feilhaber can play a deep role, but all are more two-way midfielders than purely defensive-minded ones.
I'm a little worried about width as Mapp looks to be the only pure winger. We've seen with the Gold Cup that Bradley likes his wide midfielders to drift infield and create, so Nguyen, Kljestan, and Gaven will probably be tapped to fill the wide spots as well. My mandatory WTF? moment for this group comes from Eddie Gaven. I know he has a history with Bob, but he hasn't been playing well for Columbus and is really lacking confidence. Is tossing him in with the sharks the best way to build that back up again?
Forwards – Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Herculez Gomez (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution)
Another interesting group. Bradley sure is giving Johnson and Twellman every chance to prove that they belong, isn't he? Johnson has gone completely off the rails in the Gold Cup and Twellman hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire either. I wonder if we'd see some of the U-20 forwards if they didn't have a tournament of their own right now because there are a few of them that I'd rate higher than some of the names here.
I liked what little I saw of Davies against China and our forward pool definitely needs new blood. Gomez is a bit of a punk, but maybe we need a little of that now - a real scrapper who fires with power from all angles and all distances and certainly isn't hesitant about getting his shot off. I don't know what he can do at this level, but he's what, 25? Just starting to round into his prime years and playing regularly for the Rapids. I'm not entirely convinced that he deserves inclusion, but my real WTF? for this group has to be Johnson. Honestly, he looks about 25-30% of the player he is in MLS when he play for the US lately. Are we just hoping he'll spontaneously burst into the form he enjoyed in the first handful of matches he played for the US? Color me skeptical.
So, what chance do these guys have in the Copa? Realistically, it would be a miracle if they got a result against a loaded Argentine squad. Since so many of these guys are unproven at this level, it's hard to say how they'll match up with Colombia and Paraguay, but if they play relatively well in the opener against the Argentines, I could see them advancing with a second-place or decent third-place finish. And realistically, that's about what you would have hoped for the "A" team, particularly after witnessing the woeful state of the defense in the Gold Cup, isn't it?