Bob Bradley’s 2014 To-Do List

U.S. national soccer team head coach Bob Bradley answers a question from a reporter during a news conference in Irene June 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder  (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

With an anticlimactic World Cup exit leaving US soccer fans dejected, some may have forgotten how successful Bob Bradley was in his initial four-year run. He guided the US to a 2007 Gold Cup victory, managed a runners-up finish in the 2009 Gold Cup (using a C-team), topped the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament, and achieved the USA’s highest finish in an international tournament, 2nd place at the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Still, international managers are judged, unfairly or no, by World Cup performance, and given the United States’ quarterfinal run in World Cup 2002, Bradley’s 2010 World Cup Round of 16 exit – with an arguably more talented squad – dulls his resume a bit.

Here are some of the major tasks he needs to take care of if he wants a better showing in 2014.

1) Adjust His Formation to Combat Three-Man Central Midfields

The United States were eliminated from the World Cup due to a perplexing propensity for giving up early goals, but they failed to grab control of matches due to a tactical shortcoming: Bradley’s 4-4-2 has serious difficulties maintaining possession when facing a three-man central midfield, as could particularly be observed during the first half of the Ghana match.

The apparent solution would be to shift Clint Dempsey from left midfield to withdrawn forward, a position he routinely plays for his club Fulham. Many assumed this would be USA’s preferred formation during the World Cup, but when deployed in this shape in the pre-World Cup friendlies, the gringos’ attack stagnated, which may have been why Bradley started each World Cup game in a 4-4-2.

Puzzlingly, when Dempsey did have an opportunity to play up top in the second halves of the Ghana and Algeria matches, he performed admirably and the United States seized control of each match. The key difference from the friendlies was Benny Feilhaber’s ‘false-eleven’ role. Unfortunately, if Feilhaber were to line up in that position over over the course of a a full 90 minutes, the opposition would be able to run roughshod down his flank.

Bradley's answer to Ghana's 3-man midfield, a solution that, over the course of a full match, would eventually expose the left back

So why not combine Feilhaber and Dempsey’s roles and jump on the 4-2-3-1 bandwagon? FFG has previously covered this possibility, but, in short, the problem is a lack of an established attacking midfielder, though Feilhaber and Stuart Holden should be able to develop into a suitable option.

2) Permanently Replace Charlie Davies (or pray really hard for his recovery)

If Bradley does continue to insist on playing his 4-4-2, he’ll need to hope Charlie Davies overcomes his myriad injuries from a 2009 car wreck. The strikers in Bradley’s system must be able to attack from the wing and participate in counter-attacks at pace, traits Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and Herculez Gomez all failed to display this past summer. Their inadequacies seem to be further impetus to either partner Dempsey with Jozy Altidore or change formations altogether.

3) Incorporate Young Defenders

In 2010, the United States’ starting defenders were significantly older than their midfield and forward cohorts. The three defenders who received the most playing time – Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, and Steve Cherundolo – will all be in their mid-thirties by 2014. Even Oguchi Onyewu (who started two of four games) will be thirty-two, which isn’t ancient by center back standards, but since he still hasn’t played much since returning from a knee injury, it remains to be seen whether or not he can replicate his excellent 2009 form.

Unfortunately, as there aren’t any young American defenders regularly seeing the pitch in ‘Big Four’ leagues (England, Spain, Germany, and Italy), no immediate replacements are apparent. There are some obvious contenders, however. Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, and Ike Opara have the physical skills to replace DeMerit at center back, while Eric Lichaj, Kevin Alston, and Edgar Castillo should be the next young fullbacks to get a chance to impress. Unless two or three young defenders develop into quality international contributors, the backline could be even shakier in 2014.

4) Find Understudies for Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan

Perhaps the most intriguing (and disheartening) development over the next four years will be to see whose game deteriorates the least – Clint Dempsey’s or Landon Donovan’s. USA’s most talented field players will still be around in 2010, but they will be in the twilight of their careers. Donovan, who for much of his career has been accustomed to being able to blow by defenders, may have the bigger adjustment to make.

It’s unlikely that both will still have the stamina to play every minute of a World Cup campaign (as they did in 2010). To that end, Bradley needs to find wingers capable of at least spelling Donovan and Dempsey, if not pushing them for playing time. Alejandro Bedoya and Robbie Rogers are the most likely candidates.

Should Bradley be able to follow FFG’s keys to success, he’ll have a good base from which to launch his 2014 World Cup campaign.

Gringos – what say you? Any advice for Bradley the Elder as he embarks on this new four-year process?

10 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    Surely Bob will tinker with his formation somewhat over the next four years. He did try a 4-3-3 in qualifying (away at Honduras or El Salvador I think).

    I’d like to see Andy Najar get a try out with the Nats sometime, though I realize he doesn’t have full citizenship yet.

    • Blake Owen says:

      Najar’s definitely an intriguing prospect, and I hope he chooses the US just to keep him away from Honduras, where he could really do some damage against us.

  2. Gringo Primal says:

    It’s so depressing to think of Donovan/Dempsey as being old in 2014. They both keep in outstanding shape. Maybe they’ll both be able to compete at their best.

  3. bensten says:

    These next four years are a crucial transition out of the “Donovan Years” and into the next era of US Soccer. To me, the key is for Americans to get quality minutes and respect in the “Big Four” Euro leagues. I know this isn’t something directly in Bradley’s control, but perhaps a trend he could foster/encourage.

    I also have to admit that in my exposure to the American youth “Academy” system, I feel hopeful that the level and quality of talent set to hit the stage is rich. 2014 — Donovan’s last stand. 2018 — The Next Generation.

  4. DB says:

    Finding replacements for Donovan and Dempsey will be tough. Just from a marketing standpoint, they’ve become the face of US soccer. Bradley’s bald head can attract attention for only so long.

  5. robinoz0 says:

    personally, i’m waiting to see what will happen to Altidore. he’s young and has international experience. if he pushes himself in becoming better, he might even be the next star player.

  6. Rupert J. Pelfey says:

    This is a great article. Keep up the good work!

  7. AG says:

    Coby Jones is the answer

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