If anyone was truly surprised by Bob Bradley's picks for next month's Gold Cup, they really haven't been paying attention. The American coach always throws a wrench or two into the selection process.
After some delay, Bradley announced his 23-man roster on Monday. The group includes plenty of veterans, including 14 players from the 2010 World Cup, but also youngsters such as Juan Agudelo, Eric Lichaj and Freddy Adu.
That last inclusion is one such wrench. The Rizespor midfielder last played for the United States during the 2009 Gold Cup, but his strong play at the Turkish second-division club earned him another shot.
On the surface, the choice is curious. But it makes more sense when viewed from Bradley's perspective. The US manager has his first-choice lineup with Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo anchoring the defense while Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore handle the attack. Those players will start against Canada and in the elimination rounds.
So what does Bradley want from his bench? Well, exactly that: someone who can sit on the bench for 75 minutes, then enter and immediately make a difference in one-on-one situations. If Adu has shown one skill for the US, it's that. The soon-to-be 22-year-old won't see many minutes, nor should he. But can he inject some offense if the US needs a goal? The answer is yes, at least better than most players in the pool. (That said, the fact that Adu's name was actually absent from the player pool list on USSoccer.com says how far off the radar he'd fallen.)
The other surprises were more about players left off than those who made the team.
Alejandro Bedoya will stay in Sweden despite his strong play at Örebro. But the midfielder has struggled in various appearances with the national team, and he's young enough that he'll have more opportunities. Taking Robbie Rogers over him is a bit of a shock, but understandable: the Columbus Crew midfield knows his role.
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Timmy Chandler will stay in Germany, although that decision looks as though it came at the behest of the 21-year-old's club team, FC Nürnberg. He was tired and they requested he get the summer off. It's understandable, but begs thequestion: Would Nürnberg have been so insistent if the German national team team came calling? Perhaps not, but that's a debate for another day.
Teal Bunbury missed out on his first Gold Cup action with Bradley preferring the current form of San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski. In a vacuum, the decision is a good one: Sporting KC's striker cannot find his game in MLS while Wondo continues to bang in goals.
But Bunbury and Juan Agudelo have shown an impressive rapport together, and it's surprising the US coach wouldn't want to give them more time to develop. He may have thought it was too risky, however, considering the poor recent form of the New York Red Bull's teenage phenom.
Considering the talent in the midfield, Bradley could play a lone striker. Five of the US' best six field players call the middle home. Getting everyone involved will take both a juggling act and a 4-5-1 formation. (A silver lining of Stuart Holden's injury is that it makes the coach's decision making a bit easier.)
The lone man has not worked against better teams — think of Altidore's struggles to create against Argentina — but it will fare better when playing CONCACAF. Having some games to work together will give the midfield trio of Edu, Jones and Michael Bradley more chances to learn. Assuming they can improve their spacing, Donovan and Dempsey will have more opportunity to help Altidore.
Every time Bob Bradley picks a team, he makes a decision or two that surprise the masses — hey, Robbie Findley — but he always has a philosophy in mind. The Gold Cup roster is no different. What matters in June is not the players on the 23-man squad but how the coach uses them during the tournament. He created a group that gives him flexibility. Can he bend it into the correct positions?
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.