EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — One by one, seven players were getting called in for those dreaded individual talks, short, blunt conversations that are soccer's toughest.
Thirty players arrived at World Cup training camp last week. Just 23 will get on the plane to South Africa this Sunday.
Decision day had come Wednesday.
"We'll have a discussion with each person that we're letting go," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We'll thank them, let them know how much we appreciate what they've put into it. It's usually not a long discussion, because if you're on the receiving end of tough news, it's not the time you want to get into a long conversation."
Bradley gathered with his coaching staff to make the final decisions following a 4-2 exhibition loss to the Czech Republic, a match used to evaluate players on the bubble rather than to showcase starters for his team's June 12 World Cup opener against England.
Meetings were to take place at a Hartford hotel. The chosen 23 were to get on a bus for the nationally televised announcement from ESPN's nearby campus in Bristol.
Sitting in an ESPN conference room earlier Tuesday, Juergen Klinsmann thought back to what it was like for him when he coached Germany in 2006.
"It's horrible, absolutely horrible telling a player that he's not part of the squad," said Klinsmann, who will be an analyst for the network at this year's tournament. "It's not an easy thing to do, and it's also not a long discussion, because, you know, the player won't say a word."
Klinsmann played in the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Alexi Lalas, another analyst, was part of the U.S. team at the latter two tournaments.
"You're talking about seven guys here who are literally fighting for a place that could change their lives," he said. "Listen, I've lived the power of what a World Cup can do to an individual. ... To go into a room and tell people that that dream is over and they're not going to get that opportunity, it's devastating for players. I'm sure it's difficult for coaches."
Bradley's three goalkeepers were set, with Tim Howard the starter, and Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Guzan the backups.
At defender, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu and Jonathan Spector were likely picks. Heath Pearce was on the bubble and Chad Marshall was a probable cut after not playing Tuesday.
In the midfield, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber and Stuart Holden seemed to be locks. DaMarcus Beasley appeared to have made his third World Cup team following a strong camp and sharp performance against the Czechs. Jose Torres and Alejandro Bedoya were uncertain, and Sacha Kljestan and Robbie Rogers were probable cuts.
Jozy Altidore was a definite at forward, with Brian Ching probable. Herculez Gomez, who scored along with Edu against the Czechs, and Edson Buddle were trying to earn berths.
Eddie Johnson failed to impress in the exhibition and Robbie Findley didn't play, a sign his spot was in danger.
"We'll go back, we'll have a little bit of food and then we have a team meeting," Bradley said after the game. "While we're eating as a coaching staff — we've had a lot of things that we've laid out already, so we'll see how far along we are. We'll talk to players either late tonight or early in the morning. Typically what we still do is go back and look at the DVD at times just to remember if plays that we saw, we had it exactly right. And like I said, there's still a lot of other things that you think about that happened over the last few years that could put into play as well."
One play wouldn't decide a roster spot. The past was significant in addition to the present and projecting the future.
"Guys have played through this cycle, so there's certainly a history of how they've done," Bradley said. "There's thoughts about what they bring to the team in terms of chemistry and mentality. Then finally you're looking at fitness and current form. So I think it's all of those things that get discussed. And then our decisions get made."