Forward pool still a place of mystery for USMNT

Gomez, Buddle, Findley, Johnson all fighting for final place

 

HARTFORD, Conn. – The US National Team’s overflowing crop of forwards has been arguably the leading story for Bob Bradley’s crew since the first whistle in last week’s training camp.

And just who stays and who goes home among the group still earns top billing heading into the team’s World Cup warm-up against the Czech Republic here on Tuesday, when most of Bradley’s decisions will likely be made.

Bradley stuck the script Monday and shed little light on what his lineup will look like against the Czechs, leaving most of those players on the bubble in the dark.

“I have no idea what will happen,” forward Herculez Gomez said after the team’s workout session Monday afternoon. “Honestly, they haven’t given us any indication yet about who’s going to play. I think Bob’s been analyzing players since the minute we walked into the hotel in New Jersey, so I don’t know if tomorrow will be the deciding factor.”

“It will be big,” Gomez added, “but I don’t think it’s all he’s going on.”

Gomez appears to be locked in a three-way battle for one spot with LA Galaxy star Edson Buddle and Real Salt Lake speedster Robbie Findley, but nothing is certain in Bradley’s camp.

“We’re all just going to give it a go,” Gomez said. “That’s all we can do.”

Eddie Johnson’s job security has been hot-button topic since the opening of camp, thanks to a bum hamstring that limited him during fitness sessions last week. The Aris forward has been particularly aloof with the media since camp opened last Monday in Princeton, N.J., adding to the mystery surrounding his health and fitness.

His teammates, however, are eager to see if Johnson can regain the form that he used to land a spot on the 2006 World Cup squad in Germany.

“So far I think he’s done a good job,” forward Brian Ching said. “Hopefully tomorrow night we’ll get to see the Eddie Johnson of old.”

Buddle, for his part, has had plenty to say about his first real shot at glory with the National Team. He’ll likely get a fair share of minutes on Tuesday, perhaps earning the start while Bradley sees if MLS success translates to the international stage.

“So far I’ve been OK,” Buddle said. “The guys are very intense, but I haven’t felt lost or like I don’t belong here at all during the camp. But it’s been hard to get those offensive opportunities, because [the camp] has been so tight.”

“I’ve talked to a few guys who said it’s never been like that in camp.” Buddle added. “Right now, guys are going all out.”

It appears that Ching is safe for the 23-man roster headed to South Africa, either in a starting role up top with Jozy Altidore or in a reserve role off the bench.

“You want guys playing well and pushing each other," Ching said. "That’s only going to make the coach’s job harder and make the team better. Eddie’s looked great. Herculez, he’s done really well. Edson fits right in. So I think there’s been a lot of excitement and hopefully we can turn a lot of that good play and practice into a good performance in the game.”

Speed will likely be the salvation for Findley, who admitted Monday that the US camp has validated his emergence as one of the best young forwards in MLS.

“I definitely think I've come a long way since my first year in the league, and I've been working hard towards this,” Findley said. “It doesn't come easy, and there are lot of things to perfect, but as time goes, those things will come."

Don’t expect all six forwards to dress tomorrow, and whoever gets left out should speak volumes about Bradley’s intentions. The team will dress 23 players against the Czechs, and if any of those bubble forwards are left off the roster, it’s fair to assume their dream of South Africa ends here.