Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
In the wake of last week's 2-1 loss at the Netherlands, the U.S. national team will play no more games before coach Bob Bradley is scheduled to announce his provisional 23-man World Cup roster in May. That means now is a good time to update SI.com's "23 Golden Tickets," the 23 players I believe Bradley will pick for the team that travels to South Africa.
Keep in mind, Bradley doesn't have to send his final roster to FIFA until June 1, so he can change his provisional roster before the deadline if any U.S. players pick up injuries in the two send-off games, against the Czech Republic on May 25 and Turkey on May 29.
Here are the latest 23 Golden Tickets (players with a "*" next to their names are those I would consider locks at this point):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard*, Brad Guzan*, Marcus Hahnemann*.
DEFENDERS (8): Oguchi Onyewu*, Carlos Bocanegra*, Jay DeMerit*, Jonathan Spector*, Steve Cherundolo*, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson, Heath Pearce.
MIDFIELDERS (9): Landon Donovan*, Michael Bradley*, Ricardo Clark*, Maurice Edu*, Stuart Holden, José Torres, Benny Feilhaber, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan.
FORWARDS (3): Clint Dempsey*, Jozy Altidore*, Brian Ching.
New additions: Heath Pearce, Sacha Kljestan.
Fell out: Robbie Findley, Conor Casey.
New locks: Steve Cherundolo, Maurice Edu.
No longer locks: Jonathan Bornstein, Brian Ching.
GOALKEEPERS: There's not much debate at this point. Tim Howard is the clear No. 1, Brad Guzan has put in his time with the team, and Marcus Hahnemann has been playing regularly for Wolves in the Premiership. The only question is whether Hahnemann might win the backup spot from Guzan, who hasn't been playing much for Aston Villa.
Other candidates: Nick Rimando, Troy Perkins.
DEFENDERS: The only change here is the addition of Heath Pearce, who improved his cause more than anyone else during the recent friendlies against El Salvador and the Netherlands. Given Jonathan Bornstein's troubles at left back against the Dutch (causing him to lose his lock status for now), Pearce might be challenging him in the pecking order at this point, though if everyone is healthy I still expect Carlos Bocanegra to start at left back in South Africa with a central defense of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector on the right. Steve Cherundolo may not have played in Amsterdam, but it's clear that Bradley considers him part of the team's core group, and therefore a lock.
Other candidates: Chad Marshall, Jimmy Conrad, Edgar Castillo, Frankie Hejduk.
MIDFIELDERS: I'm moving Clint Dempsey to forward for now, at least until the feverishly rehabbing Charlie Davies is able to take the field for Sochaux. That would leave a starting midfield of Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, either Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu and (if he can recover from his recently broken fibula) Stuart Holden on the right side. Holden's injury, which came on a horrific tackle by the Netherlands' Nigel de Jong, comes at a terrible time for Holden, who had just joined the regular rotation at Bolton Wanderers. Holden is expected to recover just in time for the World Cup, but the uncertainty will keep him from lock status for now.
José Torres and Benny Feilhaber should make the team, while the last two midfield spots are a close call. DaMarcus Beasley had a good showing in Amsterdam, increasing his chances of making his third World Cup team, while the last spot is anyone's guess. Tim Howard's comments this week suggest that if Jermaine Jones is healthy he'll have a spot on the team, but I won't include the injured German-American until he can get on the field for Schalke. If Davies can return in time, I think he would also take this spot. But for now I'll choose between the top three candidates (Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Alejandro Bedoya) by going with Kljestan. When he's in form, Kljestan brings slightly more to the table than the other two, and (all other things being relatively equal) he's a Bob Bradley guy.
Other candidates: Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Rogers, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Freddy Adu.
FORWARDS: As we've discussed before, this is not a deep position right now. The recent games have suggested that Robbie Findley isn't quite ready yet to play at the highest level, and I have now decided (though not very strongly) that Brian Ching and Conor Casey are competing for one spot. As a result I am dropping both Findley and Casey for now, though Ching vs. Casey may well be decided by MLS form and/or health status in May.
If Davies is ready he would take one of these spots and move Dempsey back to the midfield. Davies' speed really does provide an option here, since the other fast forwards (Findley, Eddie Johnson) haven't made a great case for inclusion yet.
Other candidates: Charlie Davies, Robbie Findley, Eddie Johnson, Kenny Cooper.
What do you think of the latest 23 Golden Tickets? Do you agree? Disagree? And who do you think has the best chance of playing themselves on or off the team between now and May? Post your thoughts below and let the debate commence ...