Countdown Begins

Five weeks until World Cup 2010 kicks off with Mexico against host South Africa in Johannesburg and the 32 nations are in the process of naming provisional rosters for their respective pre-tournament training camps.

The U.S. is set to announce its initial 30-man roster on Tuesday, with camp opening in Princeton, N.J. on Monday May 17th. There remains some intrigue regarding which players will be named. The primary question is the health of striker Charlie Davies, who is participating in full training for his French club Sochaux, but will not have seen game action since his horrific car accident in October. Davies’ availability, or lack thereof, stands to alter Coach Bob Bradley’s selections considerably.

Most expect either Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey to fill a striker slot if Davies is unable to go, which would open up another place for a midfielder, an area where the U.S. is considered deep. Stuart Holden, recovered from a broken tibia sustained in a friendly with Netherlands, is a favorite to replace those two in starting midfield, while others, such as Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres and DaMarcus Beasley provide cover.

The back line seems set, though centreback Oguchi Onyewu is also just recently recovered from injury, so the other main question will be who joins shoe-in Jozy Altidore on the front line. Brian Ching, also in a fitness race (wow, this is getting redundant), is a Bradley favorite and the team’s best hold-up striker, so he’s likely in. After that, the pool is in such disarray that calls might go out for the likes of Edson Buddle (currently scoring at will for the LA Galaxy) and Herculez Gomez, who lit up the Mexican League with 10 goals for Puebla in the recently-completed Clausura. Neither figured in qualifying nor have they been involved in a National Team set-up in eons (three years for Gomez; seven! for Buddle).

The Nats’ first opponent, England, doesn’t have nearly as many injury worries, though Coach Fabio Capello’s preferred defensive midfielder, Gareth Barry, injured ankle ligaments this week and is now doubtful. And there’s still time for a Three Lions player to break a metatarsal bone, as is their custom every four years (Beckham in ’02; Rooney in ’06).

The world’s greatest sporting spectacle is just around the corner. Better start stretching.