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Two games against two World Cup-bound second-tier European teams, two losses by a combined 4-1 score line. It's mostly futile to try to draw conclusions from the U.S. national team's defeats to Slovakia and Denmark -- both were just friendlies, and both featured a slew of new players.
But if you're wondering what the U.S. would look like without key players like Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Tim Howard, you have your answers: shaky in the back, lacking in ideas in the midfield and weak up front. And that's not a good feeling.
Still, we got to see some players we've been wanting to see in the U.S. lineup, and some shuffling by coach Bob Bradley. These were the last matches for the U.S. in 2009, and we'll learn more in the annual January camp in Carson, Calif., with another friendly (likely against another Scandinavian opponent) to follow. As is our task here, we take stock of the bubble players looking to make Bradley's squad next June in South Africa.
Buy and hold
Jeff Cunningham. If you're one of those fans who has been screaming to get the MLS Golden Boot winner back into a U.S. jersey, you've got to be fairly pleased with Cunningham's contributions over these games, his first caps in five years. He gives the U.S. something it really has never had: a classic poacher mixed with speed who can slip behind defenders and intelligently capitalize on opponents' mistakes, as he did in the lone goal against Denmark. And Cunningham is one of the few strikers in the U.S. pool with the wheels to replace Charlie Davies' role in the lineup (though we're waiting to see Real Salt Lake's Robbie Findley, who's in Seattle ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup, get another look). True, the FC Dallas sniper will be approaching 34 next summer, but with the way he takes care of himself, it's doubtful he'll lose a step by then, and there's no one craftier. He'll definitely get another look in the January camp.
The Mexican league duo. Edgar Castillo and José Francisco Torres both were added to the U.S. mix vs. Denmark, but Torres was excused for personal reasons. The big story is Castillo, the former Mexican national-teamer who got his first U.S. cap against the Danes as a sub and played well enough as a left-sided midfielder. Given that he was out of his normal left-back position and it was his first time meeting many of his teammates, the jury is still out on the New Mexico native. Hopefully he'll have more to offer. Torres, meanwhile, keeps getting called in, so it's hard to argue Bradley doesn't have a plan for him. Expect to see both in January camp.
Portfolio room for one
Stuart Holden or Robbie Rogers. Both wingers have shown promise in their appearances with the U.S., which is why Bradley keeps calling them in. Rogers provided the lone creative spark against Slovakia, while Holden had some decent possession against Denmark. Unfortunately, they're both competing for the same right-midfield position, and are similar players: both with speed, but while Rogers has the size, Holden has better technical ability. If it comes down to one or the other, Holden has more to offer.
Explore other options
Jonathan Bornstein. The left back's roller-coaster adventures continued in these friendlies. Honestly, Bornstein isn't an awful defender, but he has a tendency to make one or two crucial mistakes that often lead to an opposing goal. That happened again in both games. He's good moving forward, though, which has proven useful (i.e., his last-gasp equalizer against Costa Rica last month). But his inconsistency is working against him yet again.
Frankie Hejduk. We love the Dude, who offers veteran leadership, fitness and work ethic that's unparalleled in the U.S. pool. That said, he didn't play particularly well against Denmark, nearly giving up a goal in the opening minutes and then burned by Johan Absalonsen in the 47th. Still, this was the Columbus captain's first U.S. start since April, so we'll write this off to rust. Although he will be nearly 36 by the time the first ball is kicked in South Africa.
Time to sell
Conor Casey. There's really no middle ground with the Colorado target man: You either love him or hate him. His willingness to mix it up and his finishing abilities are his calling card; his lack of speed and heavy touch on the ball will make you crazy. He didn't play terribly against Slovakia, but those volcanic outbursts like the one he had against Honduras last month probably are just that: He'll lay dormant for years in between eruptions.
Jimmy Conrad and Clarence Goodson. One's a veteran, one's a greenhorn. But both center backs were merely in camp to fill the numbers. With Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Chad Marshall all injured, Bradley needed bodies to fill the position. It's doubtful they'll be needed in South Africa. Though the 27-year-old Goodson does have upside...
So what do you think? Does Cunningham deserve another shot in that front line? Curious to see what Castillo can do? Is it time to cut bait on Bornstein? Who else would you like to see in camp in January? And should we all just move on from hoping German convert Jermaine Jones will be healthy in time?