By Noah Davis
Well, all right, the preliminary stuff out is of the way. (Kudos on beating Sweden, gents. We move on.) It's almost time for the 2009 United States Men's National Team season to kick-off in earnest, and that means one thing and one thing alone: Mexico. With the showdown against El Tri merely 16 days away, Goal.com's turning its formidable head towards Columbus. Today, we bring you a rundown of the possible Starting XI, plus the seven reserves who should find themselves on manager Bob Bradley's bench and the five additional players the U.S. manager should call into camp.
Tim Howard (goalkeeper) -- In a team full of locks, the Everton goalie remains the surest bet. Barring an injury, the American six-yard box is his to roam for the conceivable future. Few starting spots in the world are safer than Timmy Ho-Ho's on the Red, White, and Blue.
Heath Pearce (left back) -- In stark contrast to Howard, Pearce's position on this squad is tenuous at best. Jonathan Bornstein had a chance to supplant him with a solid performance against Sweden, but failed, likely conceding the left flack to the Hansa Rostock man. Bradley will continue to experiment with this spot, but not against Mexico. In this match, having a known quantity -- even one that's not great -- is far superior to hoping a quick fix works.
Carlos Bocanegra (center back) -- With his continued success at Stade Rennes, Bocanegra has proved he's a vital part of the wall that was the American defense in 2008. The squad needs 2009 to be a repeat, especially if it continues to struggle offensively.
Oguchi Onyewu (center back) -- Gooch looked like he was coming into his own against some of the U.S.'s semifinal round opponents, but he's occasionally been exposed in Belgium this year. There's no reason why he can't dominate the Hexagonal (and beyond) with his combination of size and speed, but his game still needs refinement. Mexico's finesse could cause problems for the big fella.
Steve Cherundolo (right back) -- The oft-injured Cherundolo is another player whose name is marked down with pencil, but with Hedjuk past his prime and Marvell Wynne not yet there, Stevie C gets the call. If you can say one thing, it's that he's less scary than his counterpart on the left.
DaMarcus Beasley (left midfield) -- Due to Dun DMB's lack of playing time in Scotland, you can make a case for Jose Francisco Torres getting the nod (although he's not quite ready) or Beasley dropping to left back. However, Bradley's traditionally played conservatively and I can't see him making a drastic change for such an important game -- nor should he.
Michael Bradley (defensive center midfield) -- With another year under his belt, one hopes the youngster has matured. In the past, he has committed too many silly fouls between 25 and 40 yards of his own net, but perhaps he's learned in Germany. Even with the mental collapses, Bradley's frequently excellent and gives the U.S. a chance to win. It remains to be seen whether he gives the Mexicans that same shot.
Sacha Kljestan (offensive center midfield) -- He was almost a lock to start before his hat trick against Sweden sealed the deal. America's newest Next Great Hope won't get to take any penalty kicks while Landon Donovan's on the pitch, but the U.S. could sorely use a similar brilliant free kick or another perfectly timed run to breakdown its opponent's defense.
Clint Dempsey (right midfield) -- Having found his form at Fulham, the in-season Dempsey could tip this game in the American's favor. When the Texan feels right, his offensive creativity reaches a level rarely, if ever, associated with the U.S. squad.
Landon Donovan (low striker) -- While he's been the Nats best player for years now, his recent tallies in Germany raised his profile to another level. U.S. success begins and ends with Lando. It always has.
Brian Ching (high striker) -- Another player whose performance against Sweden carved his name into the starting XI, Ching was, quite simply, the player Bradley always tried to convince the American public he was. One more game of a similar quality and the skeptics can put away their Cooper jerseys.
Brad Guzan -- The easiest call. The U.S. needs a back-up keeper and he's by far the most qualified. Currently stuck behind two American legends (Howard on the Nats, Friedel at Aston Villa), Guzan will eventually get his chance.
Jose Francisco Torres -- The masses will demand Freddy Adu, but the Pachuca man should get the nod. He knows the opponents and has a great grasp of Bradley's system after just a short time. Watching him direct his new teammates around against Cuba showed me exactly the class of player that Torres really is.
Danny Califf -- His solid play against Sweden -- while wearing the captain's armband, no less -- virtually assured that he's the No. 3 central defender behind Gooch and Boca. He won't see the pitch in this match unless one suffers an injury, but he's a vital insurance policy.
Frankie Hedjuk -- The remarkably fit surfer can fill in at the right or left back spot (he started at the latter in the first match against Cuba) and could be subbed to solidify the defense should Pearce or Cherundolo tire.
Ricardo Clark -- You can easily see Clark coming in as a defensive stopper for the final 20 minutes with the U.S. up a goal. He'll be tasked with frustrating the waves of Mexicans (and not committing silly fouls).
Jozy Altidore -- I doubt it will happen, but Columbus would collectively lose its damn mind if the kid got some minutes.
Maurice Edu -- Although he hasn't played much in Scotland, Edu joins the camp because of his sheer versatility. The fact that he can play any number of positions makes him invaluable.
Jonathan Bornstein -- His game does have good points. If he learned to mark consistently and hit better crosses, Bornstein could be the answer at left back in his own right.
Freddy Adu -- It's sacrilege to keep him off the bench, I know. But in a game that's going to come down to smart, experienced play rather than individual brilliance, I'll take Torres. Not for long, but right now, he's the pick here, especially since he's been playing at Pachuca while Adu hasn't even made the bench in France.
Marvell Wynne -- The right back of the future will be watching this one from the stands. He showed flashes against Sweden, but like Adu, he can't quite be trusted in a match of this magnitude. The time is coming, however.
Charlie Davies -- He didn't impress against Sweden but that doesn't mean he won't eventually. (Hopefully.) His sheer speed makes him a better match for the country's current striker crop than Kenny Cooper.
Kenny Cooper -- Had a poor showing against Sweden as well, but showed he can finish in Major League Soccer. Whether this translates to the National Team remains to be seen.
Noah Davis covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com.