Let's try to sum up what a bummer the last three months have been for the U.S. national team since it qualified for the 2010 World Cup:
• Stars Charlie Davies, Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey are all in doubt to be ready in time for South Africa due to serious injuries.
• The team is now winless in four straight since clinching its berth at the Cup by beating Honduras in San Pedro Sula in October.
• The "B" team is totally unreliable, based on that humiliating 3-1 loss to what was more or less a "B" Honduras team at Saturday's friendly in Carson, Calif.
• To top it all off, Algeria -- one of the two teams that supposedly makes the U.S.' group this summer an assumed gimme -- is clearly for real after upsetting Ivory Coast, the best African team at the Cup of Nations, on Sunday.
These are truly dog days for Team USA. There's not much positive to take out of the loss to Honduras. And to be fair, this game really doesn't have much bearing on South Africa, as few of the players who appeared are real possibilities to make the World Cup squad. Sixteen players on the 30-man roster have five caps or fewer to their names. The two regulars who started -- Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Bornstein -- probably won't start for the senior team. Most importantly, with the U.S. down a man after just 17 minutes, the entire complexion of the game changed. Once that happened, even coach Bob Bradley admitted there weren't many positives to take out of the match, which really was just another exercise in building depth for the U.S. pool.
But we have work to do here, as always, which is to evaluate those bubble players on the squad and determine who has played their way into or out of the picture. So here we go with our U.S. Stock Watch.
Center backs. With Onyewu's World Cup in question and Jay DeMerit's durability another question mark, this was Jimmy Conrad's and Chad Marshall's chance to prove they could provide cover in South Africa. And both failed miserably. Conrad's ejection in the 17th minute, obviously, changed everything. Regardless of some questionable refereeing, the Kansas City Wizards captain looked all of his 32 years and made some uncharacteristically dumb errors Saturday from which the U.S. never recovered. A very disappointing performance from one of the bubble veterans who actually has World Cup experience.
Marshall, meanwhile, showed little of the marking ability that has won him two straight MLS Defensive Player of the Year Awards. He was burned several times by Honduras' forwards and was a step late on the second and third goals scored by los Catrachos. Second-half sub Clarence Goodson showed some promise, and provided the U.S.' lone goal in the 70th minute from a header off a corner -- but with eight caps to his name, it's doubtful Bradley would give the Norwegian-leaguer the nod.
Forwards. In another spot up for grabs due to the U.S.' injury problems, Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham showed little to inspire any confidence. The former was mostly invisible and had few touches on the ball, especially after Conrad's ejection forced him into a lone striker role up top. Cunningham, meanwhile, despite being MLS' leading scorer last season at age 33, also showed little. In fact, he seemed to sit back more after getting called for some soft fouls early on, almost unwilling to stick his neck out after that. Second-half sub Conor Casey, who was the U.S. hero in October at Honduras, was forced to create his own chances, to disastrous effect. Casey is not a creator. This wasn't his night, either.
The analysts were wrong?
Robbie Rogers. Out of all the players in the starting lineup, the Columbus Crew winger probably had the most to gain out of this friendly. Rogers had played well as a sub in the U.S.' final qualifier against Costa Rica and in November's friendly at Slovakia and was slowly working his way into the World Cup picture. That wasn't the case Saturday night. Rogers was forced into more of a left wing back position after Conrad's position, and his touch looked way off. Twice he gave the ball away -- or worse, simply passed it out of bounds -- on cross-field switches. He lost the ball down the left flank on several occasions, too, killing off potential chances on goal. In the second half, his play picked up a bit. Had his 40-yard bomb not clanked off the post in the 49th minute, he might have turned around his entire game. But all in all, this was a forgettable performance.
Surprisingly, as Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann writes, it was Bornstein who acquitted himself best in a game where no one really provided any confidence. The Chivas USA defender has had arguably the most up-and-down 12 months of any U.S. player. On Saturday, he was forced to move into Conrad's spot, and he played reasonably well there. That took away one of his best strengths, which is bombing forward from left back. But Jonny B did the job he was given, cutting off some passing lanes, clearing balls and even providing some good tackles. At this point, he's probably no longer a bubble player since the U.S. needs his experience at the position. It's doubtful he'll start, however. You'd have to figure, at least for now, Bradley will go with the veteran wiles of Steve Cherundolo.
What did you think? Agree with my assessments? Did midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Kyle Beckerman work their way back into the mix with their so-so performances? Did anyone else who appeared make a case to be followed further? For instance, Brad Davis or Alejandro Bedoya? Who should get a look in next month's friendly vs. El Salvador in Tampa?