So what are we to make of the U.S. National Team now that its ambitious qualifying tune-up matches are in the books?

For starters, thank goodness for Tim Howard. He reminded us all in Sunday's scoreless draw with Argentina why he's the undisputed No. 1 keeper in this country, and why the U.S. is a threat to win any match with him in goal.

Howard's heroics aside, however, there's reason to be concerned with the National Team moving forward. In the three friendlies against England, Spain and Argentina the past two weeks the U.S. failed to score a goal and for long stretches each match wasn't even dangerous.

Let's not put all the blame on Eddie Johnson, but is he really the best forward option this country has?

Sure, he'll be fine this weekend in a World Cup qualifying match against Barbados, but let's think big picture. Starting against England, Spain and Argentina was Johnson's opportunity to step up and be the man again, the man who scored seven goals in his first six World Cup qualifying appearances in 2004.

Instead, he was overwhelmed by superior competition every outing. In the process he didn't instill much hope either that the mediocrity won't continue against quality competition down the road either, whether it's in the later stages of qualifying or the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Even though Johnson's attacking teammates weren't impressive either, it's time to make Johnson prove himself with Fulham in the English Premier League before he gets another opportunity with the National Team. He had his chance the past two weeks and failed to deliver, that disappointment shouldn't be rewarded with future starts.

Coach Bob Bradley needs to explore other options. But who? That's the problem.

Maybe it's as simple as retooling the midfield to get 18-year-old Freddy Adu on the field. The former Real Salt Lake midfielder looked extremely poised and confident during limited minutes against both Spain and Argentina, and might be ready for an increased role.

That still doesn't address the needs of finding a forward who can finish his chances.

The coaching staff could go with a combination of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan up top, but that presents problems of its own.

Maybe it's time to give Kenny Cooper a look. The FC Dallas striker has six goals in Major League Soccer this year. Columbus' Robbie Rogers and Chicago's Chad Barrett, Wayne Rooney's long-lost twin, have each scored five goals in 11 MLS games into the season.

If not scoring goals is the standard Johnson wants, I'm sure any one of these three could be just as effective.

For as gloomy as the U.S. striker pool seems now, there's hope on the horizon in the form of 18-year-old Jozy Altidore. This week he was transferred from the New York Red Bulls to Villareal of Spain at a cost of $10 million. Moving to one of the best leagues in the world should help him develop into a great striker and a future must-start for the U.S.

Hopefully he's ready by 2010, because a World Cup with our hopes pinned on Eddie Johnson just doesn't seem all that promising.


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