Commentary

Buddle, Gomez make U.S. team

They are among 10 players with local ties on the World Cup roster; Kljestan misses out

Updated: May 26, 2010, 9:46 PM ET
By Scott French | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Edson Buddle made it. Sacha Kljestan did not.

Tuesday's World Cup roster announcement rewarded six players from Greater Los Angeles, and four more with local ties, but disappointed three others.

Galaxy striker Buddle and Los Angeles native Herculez Gomez, neither on the World Cup radar two months ago, completed their rise to international prominence when U.S. coach Bob Bradley included them on the 23-man team that he'll take to South Africa.

Also headed to the World Cup are Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein, a defender for Chivas USA, Fontana's Maurice Edu, who plays in Scotland, and Irvine's Benny Feilhaber, who plays in Denmark. Bornstein and Feilhaber starred at UCLA.

[+] EnlargeSacha Klestan
Jason Potterton/ESPN.comChivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan did not make the U.S. World Cup roster.

The presence of U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, from Alta Loma, and all-time U.S. goals leader Landon Donovan, from Redlands, was never in doubt. Bocanegra also played at UCLA, and Donovan, of course, is the Galaxy's top player.

Others with L.A. connections chosen for the roster are Germany-based midfielder Michael Bradley, the coach's son, who calls Manhattan Beach home during the offseason, and former Galaxy midfielder DaMarcus Beasley and forward Robbie Findley. Defender Steve Cherundolo, who captained the U.S. in Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, is from San Diego.

Bob Bradley acknowledged in a conference call after the roster announcement on ESPN's SportsCenter that difficult choices had to be made.

"Whenever you're in this situation, you'll always get to the end and you'll have in some cases three or four names for one or two spots," he said. "When you get to that point, you go through it all different ways. There's always total respect towards what everybody has put into it."

Kljestan's dream dissolved in a substandard performance in the loss Tuesday night in East Hartford, Conn., a game Bob Bradley and his staff used to finalize their decisions.

The Chivas USA captain, who made the 30-man preliminary roster two weeks ago, was clearly on the bubble, and other attacking midfielders -- including Beasley, Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers -- fared better in Tuesday's match. That Feilhaber possesses some of the same qualities made Kljestan expendable.

Rogers, who grew up in Huntington Beach and Palos Verdes, also missed the cut. So did his Columbus Crew teammate Chad Marshall, a central defender from Riverside who was hindered by a hamstring injury during last week's training camp in Princeton, N.J.

The U.S. roster included eight players with World Cup experience. This is the third World Cup for Donovan and Beasley, and for Cherundolo, who was on the roster but did not play in 2002. Bocanegra, defender Oguchi Onyewu and midfielder Clint Dempsey played at the 2006 World Cup, and goalkeepers Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann were on the roster but did not play.

The U.S. opens the World Cup on June 12 against England in Rustenburg, South Africa. The Americans also meet Slovenia and Algeria in Group C games.

Buddle and Gomez are feel-good stories.

Buddle had made only one appearance for the U.S., playing 11 minutes in a 2-0 win over Venezuela in March 2003, before he was selected for the preliminary roster after a sizzling start to the Major League Soccer season.

He scored nine goals in the first six games for the Galaxy, but his tremendous form was about more than his scoring touch. The big striker, who turned 29 on May 21, is doing all the little things right: holding the ball in advanced positions, creating for teammates, using runs and passes to open space, and playing solid defense. His game has matured.

Gomez, who shared the Mexican Primera Division's Clausura scoring title with 10 goals for Puebla, had made only two national team appearances, both in 2007. The Galaxy's 2005 team MVP signed with Mexican powerhouse Pachuca last week.

"Plain and simple, Edson and Herculez have had real good stretches, scored a lot of goals," Bradley said. "For Edson, it's always important to understand that when you make tough decisions, you try to factor in everything. We talked a lot about how guys have done in camp, and now you had a chance to see them last night, but you also take into account where they are in their seasons. Certainly up to this point in MLS, Edson's been one of the best players in the league, and we felt that type of form needed to really count.

"Herculez has been on a great run in terms of scoring goals. Watching him everyday, [he's got great] movement, he works very hard -- those are all things that bode well for us."

[+] EnlargeHerculez Gomez
Jason Potterton/ESPN.comHerculez Gomez says he has learned to become a professional by playing in Mexico.

Gomez, who grew up in Las Vegas, noted to reporters in Bristol, Conn., that he "wasn't even good enough for the [Kansas City] Wizards last year, so to be where I am is amazing."

Gomez headed to Mexico after the Wizards made no attempt to re-sign him after last season.

"I've learned what it means to be a professional [in Mexico], on and off the field," said Gomez, who scored in Tuesday's game. "Things just clicked for me, and I'm very grateful to be here. Even up until the moment they called my name, I didn't believe it."

Bornstein, who played at Los Alamitos High School and started his college career at Cal Poly Pomona, was concerned his performance against the Czechs, not a particularly good one, might cost him his chance to go to South Africa. He prospered from FC Dallas defender Heath Pearce's nightmare outing Tuesday. Pearce, Bornstein's primary competition for a roster spot, made two gargantuan errors that contributed to Czech goals.

"I feel extremely proud to be one of the 23 guys that get to go to the World Cup," said Bornstein, MLS's Rookie of the Year in 2006, when Bradley was Chivas USA's coach, said in a statement released by Chivas USA. "It's been my dream since I started playing soccer as a young kid, and it's finally coming true. I'm just really happy, and I'm going to represent the U.S. as best I can."

Bornstein figures to be Bocanegra's backup at left back, although backline turmoil -- three starters (Bocanegra, Onyewu and Jay DeMerit) are returning from or dealing with injuries -- could play havoc with the lineup.

The Brazilian-born Feilhaber, who played at Northwood High School in Irvine, is a playmaking midfielder who played in Germany and England before moving the Denmark's AGF Aarhus. His greatest moment in a U.S. uniform: scoring on a volley in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup title-game victory over Mexico.

"Benny has played an important role for us. In particular, he can play on either side of midfield or in the middle," Bradley said. "He's a creative player who can still see and deliver the final pass, so we think that's been important. Every time we've got him in camp, the push is to get him to continue to where he can do that for longer periods and be a little more consistent over 90 minutes."

Edu, a solid central midfielder who played a significant role in Rangers FC's championship run this season in the Scottish Premier League, offers backline depth. He played in central defense at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and played 25 minutes in the back, after scoring the first U.S. goal, in Tuesday's game.

[+] EnlargeEdson Buddle
Jason Potterton/ESPN.comEdson Buddle's hot start to the MLS season earned him a spot on the U.S. World Cup roster.

Findley, who played in nine games for the Galaxy in 2007, then was traded to Real Salt Lake, was the only real surprise when Bradley unveiled the roster on ESPN's SportsCenter. Findley's speed, especially with Charlie Davies' comeback from a deadly car accident falling short, trumped former Galaxy striker Brian Ching's experience and intangibles. Ching saw his first playing time in almost two months, since suffering a hamstring strain April 1, in Tuesday's game.

"We feel that Robbie still brings something special, especially as a reserve," Bradley said. "His speed when he comes into a match, his willingness to try and run behind a defense -- we felt that those are things that when we looked at everything our team had, we could still use some of those qualities."

The coach noted that "it's tough when you have an injury at an inopportune time," and said it was particularly difficult to cut Ching, who was on the U.S. roster in 2006.

"It was extremely hard with the respect that we all have for Brian, as a person, for the way he plays on the field, his commitment to the team," he said. "It's always hard whenever you make these types of decisions, but it's particularly difficult when it's a player that has contributed so much to the national team over the years."

Donovan, MLS's MVP last season, is the most experienced player on the roster, with 121 "caps," or international appearances. He has scored 42 goals for the U.S. Bocanegra, who plays for Stade Rennes in France after four seasons with Fulham in England, can play centrally or on the left. He's recovering from hernia surgery earlier this month. They were among 15 or so players who were certain to make the roster.

Donovan sympathizes with Kljestan, Rogers and Marshall.

"At this point there are mixed emotions," Donovan said. "Personally, you're excited for the guys who are here, but you also feel bad for the guys who don't make it. I've never dealt with that, but the reality is that these are people's dreams. When you're told your dream is not coming true, it's a little disappointing."

Scott French writes the Football Futbol Soccer blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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