EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- The United States Men's National Team will take the Rentschler Stadium pitch on Tuesday night to battle the Czech Republic. The outcome, however, won't matter as much as finding answers to some lingering questions. If manager Bob Bradley can solve a few riddles, the effort will be a success regardless of the final score. Below are five issues the American coach (and U.S. supporters) should watch.
The Unlucky Seven
Twenty-three players will dress on Tuesday, meaning seven of the 30 camp participants won't find themselves donning the Red, White, and Blue. While the entire crew has participated in full training, Bradley may choose to hold out a few locks to give them a bit more time to heal. The remaining choices, however, will say volumes about the World Cup chances of some players. With Bradley looking set to name the final roster Wednesday or Thursday, he'll use the match against the European side to help determine the final places. If a fringe guy doesn't figure on the bench Tuesday night, his dreams of playing in South Africa are over.
It's been more then seven months since Oguchi Onyewu ruptured his patellar tendon in Washington D.C. against Costa Rica. He hasn't seen the pitch since. The first fixture of the two-game Send-Off Series provides the massive centerback his initial test against world-class competition, while the uncertain status of Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit makes the A.C. Milan defender's return to form even more imperative. Onyewu isn't likely to have lost much in the air -- although it's worth noting if he shows any tentativeness on the first few aerial challenges considering he was hurt while going for a ball in the air -- but he struggled in the past to contain quicker attackers, especially when running with them towards his own net. For the U.S. to succeed in South Africa, their physical presence in the middle needs his timing to return quickly.
The Dynamic Duo
Michael Bradley will start in the middle of the Stars and Stripes formation against England, but his partner remains in doubt. While Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark will battle for the honor into the month of June, Tuesday night marks an opportunity for one of the players to jump ahead. The Scottish Rangers force had a slight edge going into camp due to his strong club form (albeit in a bad league), but Clark looked solid in late-season play at Eintracht Frankfurt as well. Both could get 45 minutes against the Czechs. Bradley will want to see a few things from his charges: tenaciousness on defense, box-to-box effort, and, crucially, an ability to help facilitate the offense. That means quick, intelligent passes that find their target and spur the attack.
Service from the Flanks
One of the only other position battles featuring two healthy players is Steve Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector at right fullback. (Ignore for a second the possibility that the latter player moves across the pitch.) Both players possess different skill sets but roughly the same ability level, so the starting job will come down to two factors: the strengths of the opponent and the qualify of the service each can provide. Neither man can affect the first condition, but keep a close eye on the crosses entering the box from the flank. The Americans consistently attempt to find offense from the wing and a solid performance from either Cherundolo or Spector will boost his case for the start against the Three Lions.
A Partner for Jozy
Eddie Johnson and Edson Buddle and Hector Gomez, oh my! It's a debate that's been raging since well before camp started: Who will make the final cut at striker? Clint Dempsey continues to be the favorite to start at forward with Altidore, but Bradley wants to bring a talent or two who can come off the bench late and alter a match. It's possible all three will see some time Tuesday, so observe how they pair with Altidore and the rest of the offense. At this point, the spots are up for grabs.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com and will be reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.