Essien Out and Other Injuries

Ghana captain Michael Essien has been ruled out of the World Cup as he has not recovered from a knee injury picked up in the African Cup of Nations in January. The absence of the Chelsea midfielder, Ghana’s most accomplished player, is a huge setback to the Black Stars and they must now be considered long-shots to get out of Group D, which includes Germany, Serbia and Australia.

essien

In other injury news, Spain’s Fernando Torres returned to full training with the Euro 2008 champions after six weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, a certain boost to the co-favorites (with Brazil) and likely also to those clubs hoping to pry the striker away from Anfield later this summer. Torres recently rubbished his agent’s statements alluding to the star staying with Liverpool after a distasterous campaign, raising red flags all over Merseyside, and also at my house.

Closer to home (home, in this case being Group C), England gaffer Fabio Capello is not yet ready to rule out Gareth Barry, who continues to rehab an ankle injury suffered earlier this month. Barry, Capello’s preferred defensive midfielder, had scans on the ankle this week that were inconclusive. Considering the middling performances of James Milner and Michael Carrick against Mexico, it’s clear Capello will consider Barry until the last possible moment.

U.S. players with questionable health include the (many times) aforementioned Oguchi Onyewu. Some pundits claimed he looked about 60-70% against the Czechs, but I’d say that assessment is rather optimistic. Centreback Jay DeMerit, with his new cornea, appears recovered from a strained abdominal muscle, as does captain Carlos Bocanegra, who underwent a recent hernia operation. Though U.S. fans will breathe easier regarding those diagnoses if both take the field Saturday for the U.S. team’s final stateside friendly against Turkey in Philly.

U.S. Questions

Alright, first let’s take a deep breath, chew some nicotine gum, munch some Valium, or whatever it is you, dear reader, do to take the edge off, and note that of the 17 U.S. players who trod the slippery pitch tonight a 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, a maximum of three of them will start against England on June 12 in the team’s World Cup opener.

Done? Everybody cool? Awesome. Now…panic. Because one of those players, Oguchi Onyewu, is quite clearly not fit. The stalwart in central defense, the man I considered Man of the Match in last summer’s upset of Spain, looked like a guy who hasn’t played since October. Which he is. He was badly beaten in the air for the first Czech goal and generally appeared to not trust his knee, tip-toeing around slowly and awkwardly, a marked contrast to his usual, powerful game. I think it’s apparent Coach Bob Bradley knows this as well, since he deployed Maurice Edu–normally a midfielder, but with some experience in central defense–in Onyewu’s spot after 65 minutes.

WCup Czech Republic US Soccer

Maurice Edu (19) celebrates his first international goal with teammates.

In addition to Edu, Clarence Goodson had a solid effort alongside Onyewu, showing good instincts and contributing to the U.S.’s second goal. And the U.S. back-line has a lot of versatility, a strength I’d hoped would relegate Jonathan Bornstein–another dismal showing; his finest skill seems to be grabbing at opposing players as they skip past him–to the sidelines.

Otherwise, Herculez Gomez and Brian Ching appeared to grab pole position for the available striker positions. Gomez scored the second and Ching was far more effective holding the ball and linking with teammates than the first-half pairing of Edson Buddle and Eddie Johnson. Johnson was horrid and Buddle worked hard, but lacked service. Since Ching has long been considered a lock, the fact Bradley sent Gomez out alongside him might be a clue to his thinking.

In the midfield, Stuart Holden and Jose Torres both had disappointing nights, though not poor enough to wedge them off the roster. Edu was composed in his time in the middle and DaMarcus Beasley cemented his spot with a lively performance.

Coach Bradley will announce his 23-man roster tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Here are the seven I expect to see left off the plane to South Africa:

Eddie Johnson — Because he can’t, you know, trap the ball
Heath Pearce — Blame for two of the Czech goals fall directly on his shoulders. Also, he’s fucking terrible.
Robbie Rogers — Played well this evening, but probably didn’t do enough to pass Alejandro Bedoya–a promising youngster who will be taken to his first World Cup for the experience factor–on the depth chart
Sacha Kljestan — Still too green on the international level
Chad Marshall — Injury didn’t help
Robbie Findley — Didn’t see the field tonight, which speaks volumes
Edson Buddle — Had the misfortune of being paired with EJ instead of the steadier Ching

Czechs, Mate (Updated)

The United States Men’s National Team begins its march to South Africa tonight in Hartford with a friendly against a Czech team that can be generously dubbed a ‘B’ side.

Coach Bob Bradley has said he will whittle the 30 players in camp down to the final World Cup roster of 23 after this game, so expect a lot of fringe faces in the Starting XI. One familiar name who should start is Oguchi Onyewu. Gooch will need substantial time in all three run-up games to achieve match fitness after not featuring in a games since his injury in October. Usual starters coming off long European seasons–Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, for example–are also likely to sit this one out (though I’ve not seen that reported elsewhere) as Bradley Sr. sorts through his options.

Players such as Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, both recently returned from injury, should get the start, while others still nursing injury, like Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit, may watch from the sidelines and let their possible back-ups fight it out. My guess:

Tim Howard
Steve Cherundolo — Oguchi Onyewu — Clarence Goodson — Heath Pearce
Stuart Holden — Maurice Edu — Ricardo Clark — DaMarcus Beasley
Brian Ching — Herculez Gomez

ESPN has the game tonight with the broadcast starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Update: Lineups are out. I was close. Sorta. The Two Eds up top!

Guzan
Cherundolo –Goodson — Onyewu — Jonathan Bornstein
Holden — Edu — Jose Francisco Torres — Beasley
Edson Buddle — Eddie Johnson