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CARSON, Calif. – It's not easy to wipe the smile off Jonathan Bornstein's face, even when you turn the conversation to the one topic he would have every right to bristle at.
The Chivas USA and United States defender gets a rougher ride from fans of the national team than any other player. His place in Bob Bradley's squad is often called into question by the armchair critics.
Yet while Bornstein could be forgiven for being reluctant to discuss the criticism and doubt that have plagued him the past couple of years, the 25-year-old left back does not back down.
"People have a right to their opinion anyway," said Bornstein while sitting in the Chivas players' recreation room. "But with the national team I see it as even more than that.
"The fact that there are people who care enough about the team and the sport to make their opinions known, that can only be a good thing. A few years back, soccer wasn't significant enough in this country for people to care that strongly."
Bornstein made his debut for the USA in January 2007 and has since become a regular under Bradley, maintaining a loose grip on the left-back position in World Cup qualifying and in last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa.
However, his spot continues to be under threat by a plentiful supply of backup plans. One option is FC Dallas defender Heath Pearce. Another is captain Carlos Bocanegra, who would move from his usual spot in central defense. For now, Bornstein remains the first-choice left back, even though some might not agree with it.
The main knock on Bornstein is that he's not an outstanding tackler. However, his defensive skills are improving consistently, and his pace and movement provide more wide play for the Americans.
It was Bradley, during his previous role as Chivas USA coach, who transformed Bornstein from a striker in college at UCLA to a left back.
"I saw something in him that I thought would really suit that role," Bradley said. "We put it to him, he embraced the challenge of it, and he has worked very hard at it. He has certainly reaped the rewards for his commitment and dedication."
Bornstein's wholehearted attitude and relaxed demeanor also work in his favor. It is rare to find a bad word spoken about him from either Bradley or other squad members.
But commentary from the outside has not been so kind. Bornstein's disappointing display in a friendly against the Netherlands earlier this year generated more fresh criticism. Still, with the World Cup just over a month away, his position in the squad looks to be safe, barring mishap or meltdown.
Bornstein could actually be more popular in Honduras than he is in America. His late equalizer in last October's 2-2 draw against Costa Rica punched Honduras' ticket to the World Cup at the expense of Costa Rica.
"I heard that there were people in Honduras cheering my name in the streets," Bornstein said. "I am a national hero – in a nation that is not even my own!"
Despite Chivas' mixed start to the Major League Soccer season, Bornstein has been in solid form. But he knows the step up from MLS to international level will be a big one.
"Playing in my position, you are often going to have the other team's quickest and most talented players running at you," Bornstein said. "I love playing for my country and I am looking forward to taking on the world's best.
"Every player on this [U.S.] team knows they have the backing of everyone else. I know I can meet the challenge and I just hope I will get the chance to do so."
Group C watch
• England – Tottenham defender Ledley King is in line for a callup after impressing Fabio Capello with some recent solid performances.
• Algeria – Yazid Mansouri, of French side Lorient, has been confirmed as captain by head coach Rabah Saadane.
• Slovenia – Coach Matjaz Kek hailed Fulham's USA star Clint Dempsey as a "tiger" after watching his recent exploits in the Europa League.
FIFA has hired a team of sports psychologists to protect the egos of the team of elite referees who will be officiating at the tournament.
FIFA officials this week voiced strong concerns at the delays and difficulties facing the Brazil organizing committee for the 2014 World Cup.
World Cup numerology
36 – The number of World Cup teams suggested in a proposed expansion project four years ago. FIFA shot down the plan on the grounds that it would create a logistical nightmare.
USA's walking wounded
• Oguchi Onyewu – Gooch is in line to be called into Bob Bradley's preliminary squad and is said to be making solid progress from his long-term knee problem. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 95 percent.
• Charlie Davies – After suffering severe injuries in a fatal car crash last year, Davies has made a miraculous recovery. The World Cup could be a few weeks too soon for him, though. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 25 percent.
• Stuart Holden – The midfielder's broken leg has healed nicely and he is in contention to start Bolton's last game of the season, at home to Birmingham on Sunday. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 95 percent.
Put it on your calendar
May 15 – The date marks the last chance for Los Angeles Galaxy fans to see Landon Donovan (and maybe Edson Buddle) in action until after the World Cup, when the MLS side takes on Toronto FC at the Home Depot Center.