With the USA set for friendlies in Slovakia and Denmark, Noah Davis picks who's rising and who's falling ahead of the matches.United States Men's National Team manager Bob Bradley announced the 22 players joining him in Europe in advance of the American's match against Slovakia on Saturday. Although some big names, including Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, are absent, veterans such as team captain Carlos Bocanegra and in-form Clint Dempsey will lead the squad that could see some additions for the second match against Denmark.
In addition, a host of players who haven't worn a Red, White, and Blue uniform for some time will make the trip. With this news, as well as a full slate of European games and Major League Soccer's playoffs, it's time for another look at who's playing himself into a spot on the National Team and who's falling off the radar.
Long the U.S. No. 2 and back up at Aston Villa to former American stud Brad Friedel, the netminder shocked the world when he saved not one, not two, but four penalty kicks during a Carling Cup victory over Sunderland. Guzan recently turned 25 and is rapidly becoming an excellent backstop. Tim Howard remains the first option and will continue to hold this position despite some recent struggles at Everton, but the fact that Bradley left the Everton goalkeeper off the roster shows his growing confidence in Guzan. (UPDATE: Howard suffered a foot injury during Everton's match over the weekend and remained in England for treatment.) Matches against Slovakia and Denmark will provide an excellent measuring stick to see just how far the Illinois-born player has come since his Chivas USA days.
After a much-publicized falling out with Borussia Monchengladbach manager Michael Frontzeck, the young midfielder has gone 90 minutes in each of his club's last four matches. Although he has only netted one goal, Bradley has been a key component to the squad's recent 1-1-2 streak that's included their only win on the road and moved them out of the drop zone. He will start in the middle of the pitch against Slovakia and since he'll be playing with a relatively inexperienced group, the game presents another opportunity to show off his growing maturity. Even though Bradley is only 22 years old, the father will call upon the son to play a massive role next summer in South Africa. Bradley the younger is rapidly growing into the spot.
The offensive fulcrum of Chivas USA started off his 2009 National Team campaign in brilliant style with a hat trick against Sweden. At that point, he looked almost certain to head across the pond, likely to Celtic. That move never materialized -- possibly for the best -- and Kljestan languished on Bradley's squad as he tumbled down the central midfield depth chart. Although he made the U.S. Confederations Cup roster, he looked lost in 76 minutes of action, drawing a red card. Sitting out the Gold Cup allowed the Huntington Beach resident to focus on his club side, and this paid off with some late-season success. The Los Angeles Galaxy dispatched Chivas in the first round of the MLS playoffs, but Kljestan nearly scored a series-winning golazo late in the second leg. He will see minutes on this trip and can use the time to demonstrate his improvement.
The most intriguing position battle in the American Starting XI belongs to the West Ham fullback and Steve Cherundolo. The former started recently against El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras, but found himself riding the pine in Washington D.C. after struggling against the Catrachos. When Spector is healthy and playing -- as he is now -- Bradley seems to prefer the player for his crossing ability. Still, the smaller, quicker Cherundolo frequently gets the call against teams featuring faster attacking players. With the U.S. center defense in a state of disarray, whomever starts on the right will need to be solid. Expect Spector to get the call against Slovakia, with Cherundolo probably lining up opposite Denmark.
If it seems as though last month this column was singing the praises of the former FC Dallas striker, that's because it was. Since then, however, the 1860 Munich acquisition has watched his star fall even further. He's lost his starting spot on the 2. Bundesliga club and although he's come on as a substitute during the team's past two games, he hasn't made an impact on the scoreline. Bradley left Cooper off the 22-man roster, a decision that should be seen as a statement given the dearth of viable options at forward. (Then again, the coach might be hoping his striker breaks through at 1860.) The World Cup isn't out of the question for Cooper, but it's looking increasingly distant.
Another attacking option who didn't make the American squad, White's absence speaks volumes since the match against Denmark will be played in his home stadium. The Wake Forest product usually plays midfield at AGF Aarhus, but can easily slide in at striker. He didn't do himself any favors by declining a Gold Cup spot -- on the behest of his club team -- and also can't have earned himself any points with Bradley and the rest of the American contingent when he said, "All season I was a starter, man of the match in big games – like our wins over Copenhagen and Brondby – and it didn’t seem like anyone was paying any attention." White's a solid player -- with a cap against Sweden to his credit -- but he's already 27 and you have to wonder if he'll ever suit up for the Stars and Stripes again.
Noah Davis covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com.