With Davies Absent from World Cup Picture, Focus Turns to Forwards
To review, Davies broke his femur, tibia, elbow and face, and lacerated his bladder in that October car accident. It was almost a fantasy to think that someone might be able to compete at the World Cup level just eight months after suffering those kind of injuries. Much of the optimism resulted from Davies' own comments regarding his progress. He believed, so many others started to as well.
His effort and commitment to recover, as well as his amazingly positive outlook, have been well documented. They're certainly commendable, but likely were partly a consequence of the manner in which he was injured. This was not a setback suffered on the field. Davies broke curfew just two nights before a World Cup qualifier and got into a car with someone who'd been drinking. It certainly was reasonable at the time, if not slightly insensitive, to question the priorities of a player who made that kind of decision.
There's no way Davies could have imagined the consequences. But it makes sense that he would do everything in his power since then to demonstrate his commitment and to prove that he's focused on his soccer career. He's accomplished that, and more. But in so doing, he led some to expect a miracle. Perhaps he even started to expect it himself.
Charlie's father, Kofi Davies, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that, "Charlie called me yesterday and said Bob Bradley had called him. Talked to him for 10 minutes and Charlie didn't say one word. Charlie was so hurt and disappointed. He didn't know what to say to him. I've never seen him so disappointed."
Davies wasn't ready, and as much as Bradley would have liked to have rewarded the player's tenacity and desire, it was unrealistic to expect someone with those injuries to compete so soon.
"It was a very sad day for me, as well, but now focused for next season," Davies wrote on Twitter.
Fortunately for the U.S., there's some competition up front. Clint Dempsey remains an option, either alongside or just behind Jozy Altidore. And then there's Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson. The first two weren't even an afterthought six months ago, and Johnson has always been on the fringe. Now, thanks to their outstanding play in recent months, all three will have the opportunity to prove their worth and compete for a roster spot. Scoring in MLS, Mexico and Greece certainly isn't scoring in the World Cup, but Bradley is doing the right thing by rewarding those players who perform well for their clubs.
"Both Edson and Herculez have had a very good season," Bradley said. Both have helped their teams a great deal. Edson has been the hottest goal scorer in MLS and has helped the Galaxy get off to a great start. Herculez was an important player with Puebla and scored a lot of goals. We feel that both of them have shown enough for us to take a look at them as we start the camp."
Gomez told the Associated Press that his inclusion is "kind of like a dream."
Bradley selected Real Salt Lake's Robbie Findley and Houston Dynamo veteran Brian Ching to round out his group of forwards. The odd man out was Colorado's Conor Casey. Findley could be considered a bit of a surprise because he has failed to distinguish himself in any of the three friendlies this year. He certainly deserved the opportunity following his MLS Cup playoff exploits last fall, but he failed to make an impact with the national team and was unable to find any rhythm, or the ball, against El Salvador, Honduras and the Netherlands. Bradley must have seen something from Findley that warranted another chance.
Ching has been having hamstring trouble but knows the international game. He adds a different dimension, an ability to play in the air and with his back to goal, that Bradley might need in select situations. Casey brings similar skills to the table, and certainly turned heads when he scored two goals in the qualifying clincher in Honduras. Perhaps it was an issue of experience. Perhaps the fact that Casey has tallied only three goals this season played a role. Either way, Bradley didn't have room for both.
"To not make the final 23 might not have been a surprise, but to not make the 30 was one," Casey told MLSSoccer.com. His coach in Colorado, Gary Smith, said he was a "tad surprised" that Casey was left out. "[Bradley] sees other guys that are maybe performing at a better level, but Conor has played for him and he got him to the World Cup. From where I am, I thought he would be part of that initial group. He's been fantastic for us."
After Casey, there aren't really any controversial decisions to debate. For the cynic, the fact that we're not wringing our hands over all the deserving but uninvited players is a sign that the U.S. still is unable to produce enough talent to make a World Cup roster spot hard to come by. But it's a slow road, and we're certainly producing more than we did 20 years ago. Thirty is the right number, and Bradley got those 30 just about right.
The indefatigable Frankie Hejduk had a bit of a case. He's savvy, hard-working and contributed early in last year's qualifying campaign. But Bradley has several options at outside back, including Jonathan Bornstein, who's 10 years younger and has played extensively for Bradley with both the national team and Chivas USA. Add Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo and even Carlos Bocanegra to the mix, and the spot is covered.
"I was a longshot to start with," Hejduk told The Columbus Dispatch. "I gave it my best effort and came up a little short, but I know I made it tough on Bob to leave me out and that's all I can do."
Edgar Castillo, a New Mexico native Bradley brought into camp at the end of 2009 and Kansas City Wizards captain Jimmy Conrad were other possibilities. The latter seemed to play his way out of contention with a disastrous outing against Honduras in January and Castillo didn't feature in any of the three exhibitions this spring.
And Freddy Adu? Well, six years ago we thought he was a lock. For now, he'll have to continue to concentrate on solidifying his place at Aris Thessaloniki, where he produced a few flashes this spring. Maybe in 2014.
And that's basically it. Bradley chose the right 30, give or take Casey, even if it wasn't the 30 we all were hoping for. Davies will be back at some point and surely will be a national team fixture down the road. But for now, the competition for places up front, and whether a real scoring threat can emerge over the next month, will be the story. The race begins on Monday when the national team gathers for its camp at Princeton University, with the May 25 game against the Czech Republic the audition. By the time Bradley's team takes the field against Turkey four days later in Philadelphia, we'll likely know who's going to South Africa and who's headed home.