The obvious headline: Charlie Davies has missed the World Cup squad, which is unfortunate for both him and the team because it means the looming presence of Conor Casey and Eddie Johnson hit the 30-man provisional squad. An off the cuff assessment of the roster. Locks in bold, panic relative to the scale of "can we get out of the group"?
Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan
This is the opposite of Thunderdome: three men enter, three men leave. Howard will start every US game unless he gets a Tourette's-induced red.
Projected starter: Howard.
Panic level: Minimal.
Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall
The Nats will probably choose at least two of the non-locks. One, sadly, will be a dedicated left back. This means the Hero of Honduras, Jonathan Bornstein, is a lock. I didn't put him in bold because I don't want him to play, but he's basically in bold. With Spector and Bocanegra carrying tons of experience at left back in high-level leagues, it probably won't matter. If it's Bocanegra there the US isn't going to get much offense out of that spot, but that should free Spector up to be a cross-bombing winger type of defender.
Non-locks on the plane: Bornstein, Goodson. Marshall's been injured and the Nats will be looking for a central defender with some recent playing time as a backup.
Projected starters: Bocanegra, Onyewu, DeMerit, Spector. No matter who goes out with injury or card accumulation, Cherundolo draws into the lineup next; Spector flips to the left and Bocanegra draws inside.
Panic level: Call it a three. Onyewu's travelling with Milan and is fully healthy but has got to be rusty after his injury layoff. And DeMerit is a fine one-on-one defender but a guy who gives up possession really easily; I'd be more comfortable with the more composed Bocanegra in the middle and someone functional at left back. You could see Spector/Bocanegra/Onyewu/DeMerit against high-pressure teams without threatening forwards.
Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers
Holden has resumed playing for Bolton and is healthy after the unnecessary Nigel De Jong tackle that broke a bone in his foot. He's the only right-sided midfielder other than Dempsey who's seen meaningful caps and will be an obvious late sub if and when the Nats replicate the late Dempsey-to-striker move that was so successful at the Confederations Cup.
The rest of the locks are obvious: Donovan and Dempsey are the highest-profile players the US has, Bradley has been locked into the starting lineup when not on card accumulation suspensions, and Clark and Edu are flexible ball-winners who play in either impressive Euro leagues (Clark, who just got a three-year extension from his Bundesliga team) or impressive teams (Edu, at Rangers).
From there you've got a (slightly? mostly?) rejuvenated Beasley, a couple of attacking midfielders who might help the US hold the ball if they could ever win it if they play without double destroyers, and fringe wingers.
Non-locks on the plane: Beasley, Feilhaber, Bedoya. Beasley can be a late defensive sub for Donovan if the US is trying to kill a lead and they need some speed. Feilhaber is the best and most trusted of the AM types; Bedoya is a winger playing well and the US has virtually none on the roster.
Projected starters: Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Edu. The fourth guy could be anyone, and if the US goes with five midfielders or sucks Dempsey up to forward Holden will almost certainly get the nod on the right.
Panic level: Also a three. Dempsey and Donovan are on fire, and Edu's re-emergence should create an athletic, reasonably proficient midfield.
Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez
With Davies out, you have your choice between lumbering old hands with target forward reps (Ching, Casey), guys with no national team track record but crazy recent success (Buddle, Gomez), and Eddie Johnson. Yes, they have to pick three more of these guys.
Non-locks on the plane: Ching, Gomez, Casey. Ching and Casey are Bradley favorites and Ching has always had great chemistry with Donovan. Since Donovan's the most important guy on the team, anything that makes him more effective takes priority. Gomez just finished lighting up a much better league than MLS, which Buddle is lighting up. But the again Buddle is playing with Donovan. I'd rather see Buddle; Bradley will probably go with Casey.
Projected Starters: Altidore, Ching.
Panic level: does this thing go up to 11?