Defense: Injuries and Tactics

File photo of U.S. head coach Bradley reacting during his team's Confederations Cup final soccer match against Brazil in Johannesburg


Come June, the US needs to put up better defensive displays than what occurred during Tuesday’s 4-2 loss. Granted, manager Bob Bradley was using the match as a tryout for fringe players, but the fitness of a few defenders and tactical concerns with the fullbacks leave the backline a question mark heading into Saturday’s friendly with Turkey.

Center back

Health

The top three center backs, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit, are all dealing with injuries of some kind. On Tuesday, Onyewu played his first match since October, DeMerit has an abdominal strain and is apparently suffering complications from a 2009 eye surgery, and Bocanegra went under the knife (hernia) less than a month ago. Clarence Goodson is the only center back who’s fully-fit.

Tactics

The physical attributes of the four central defenders lead to a few obvious partnerships: Onyewu + DeMerit/Bocanegra or Goodson + DeMerit/Bocanegra.

‘Gooch’ and Goodson are typical towering center backs, adept at dealing with aerial challenges, while the smaller – but admittedly not much quicker – DeMerit and Bocanegra have a better shot dealing with speedy strikers.

Of course, if the injuries persist, Bradley might have to throw tactics out the window and simply use the healthiest players.

Fullbacks

Health

Bocanegra, the top candidate at left back, is the only question mark. Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, and Jonathan Bornstein are right as rain, though who knows where Bornstein’s head is after a terrible performance Tuesday night.

Tactics

Right back

A potential fullback/winger pairing

If Stuart Holden starts at right midfield, look for Steve Cherundolo to get the nod at right back. As we saw on Tuesday, Cherundolo’s ability to make runs towards the middle of the pitch complements Holden’s style of play: ‘Holdenballs’ (the English press’s nickname for Holden – echoing David Beckham’s Goldenballs) stays close to the touchline to make use of his precise crosses.

Spector also brings a killer cross to the attack, and while it’s not ‘bad’ to line up with two players who can cross the ball, it’s not necessary. Conversely, the inward runs of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and DaMarcus Beasley would leave room for Spector along the flank.

Left back

Bocanegra should be the starting left back, but if he’s not healthy, Spector, who played LB for his club this season due to teammates’ injuries, might be picked over Bornstein.

Another option

Unfortunately, the right-footed Spector needs to turn inward to make full use of his crosses, negating the open space created by using Donovan or Dempsey as inside-out wingers. Bocanegra’s offensive deficiencies might not add much to the attack, but he and Bornstein are both left-footed and can, in theory, advance farther up the pitch before swinging the ball into the box.

While neither Donovan nor Dempsey would be a perfect match for Spector, Beasley has the ability to complement any of the left backs. Paired with Spector, the left-footed Beasley provides width; his tactical know-how helps balance Bornstein’s inevitable defensive meltdown(s); Bocanegra and Spector need Beasley’s speed to counter opposing wingers; and Beasley is talented enough to move inward to allow space for Bornstein on the flank.

Bradley certainly has options to ponder. Do you have any advice for him, gringos?

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