State of the US (National Team)

Bob Bradley

State of the US (National Team) is a monthly look at manager Bob Bradley’s squad.

Pressing Issue

Just under two months until the USA’s opening match against England and the most pressing question on Bob Bradley’s mind is the same one he’s had since October: will Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu be healthy enough to play in South Africa?

The two players, injured within less than a day of each other (Davies in a car accident and Onyewu in a national team game), add qualities not found in any other US forward or center back. Davies brings a unique combination of technical ability and speed. Onyewu combines international experience with an unmatched physical presence.

While the US can advance past the group stage if they don’t play, moving forward in the knockout round of this summer’s World Cup would be quite the challenge.

Injury Concerns

Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, and Benny Feilhaber also have missed significant time in 2010.

Feilhaber returned and appears to be close to full-match fitness, Dempsey announced his renewed health with a beautiful goal for Fulham (he is, however, temporarily back on the injury list with a minor thigh injury), and Holden should be healthy just before the end of the club season.

Brian Ching recently pulled a hamstring but should also be ready by the World Cup.

Preferred Starting XI

If Bradley had all players available (not including Jermaine Jones, the German-American midfielder who declared his intention to suit up for the US but due to injury has never played for the USMNT), his starting lineup would probably look something like this:

Substitutes:

GKs – Brad Guzan, Marcus Hanneman CBs – Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall FBs- Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo Mids – Ricardo Clark, Jose Francisco Torres, DaMarcus Beasley, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber STs – Brian Ching

Midfield

Even though Dempsey and Donovan are gifted offensive players, Bradley and Edu are not known for their fluid play.  Torres and Feilhaber, skilled dribblers and passers, could replace Edu in this lineup if Bradley wanted to press the issue in attack, but the coach has shown that he prefers two physical players at center midfield.  Neither starters are traditional ‘midfield generals’ (slight, skilled players with a nose for a perfect pass), but that’s not to say the two center mids can’t contribute offensively. Bradley the Younger, in particular, has demonstrated a growing ability to find teammates in promising positions.

His vision, combined with the pace of Donovan, Altidore, and Davies, would allow the US to counter at the drop of a hat.

Forwards

Up top, Altidore and Davies both enjoy dribbling at defenders. Altidore has spent much of his 09-10 club season learning to be a better target forward. In 2009 the two strikers revealed that their talents complement each other, and Altidore’s continued emergence as a better hold-up forward will only enhance their chemistry.

Defenders

The offense would be helped by Spector, who crosses the ball better than any other fullback in the national team pool. Bocanegra can’t contribute as much in attack, but he and Spector are both intelligent defenders. However, neither possess blazing speed and will occasionally need help dealing with pacy wingers.

Onyewu and DeMerit were the center back pairing last summer when the US upset Spain, and, if they can replicate that form, should give problems to most opposing forwards.

The flexibility of Spector and Bocanegra (Spector can play anywhere on the backline and Bocanegra has started many USMNT games at center back) is another plus.

Goalkeeper

Howard continues to impress as one of the best goakeepers in the world. The United States has no reason to worry about its starting keeper.

Substitutes

Clark would come on to provide defensive bite. Holden, Torres, and Feilhaber can all play in the middle or on the wing. Feilhaber would probably be first off the bench due to his greater international experience. Of the three, Holden provides the most potency from set pieces.

Goodson and Marshall don’t have as much international experience as Cherundolo or Bornstein, but both center backs are capable players.

Ching might not scare anyone with his, uh, speed, but he holds the ball better than any other forward and has excellent vision, which makes him ideal for coming on to protect leads. The flexibility of Donovan and Dempsey (both can play forward) theoretically allows Bradley to bring just one extra striker, but he might drop one of Holden, Torres, or Beasley for an extra attacker. The addition would most likely be either Eddie Johnson, Robbie Findley, or Herculez Gomez.

Guzan has been Bradley’s number 2 goalkeeper for the last year and a half, but Hanneman’s tremendous club season, along with Guzan being glued to his club’s bench – that’s not necessarily something to be ashamed of as he sits behind former US international Brad Fiedel – could make Hanneman the second choice keeper.

Squad Weaknesses: relative lack of creativity at center midfield (This is compared to top national teams. Edu and Bradley are certainly not scrubs), lack of pace at the fullback position, inexperience at forward (Davies and Altidore are 23 and 20, respectively), no fast striker or proven center back on the bench

Squad Strengths: Flexibility (Dempsey, Donovan, Bocanegra, Spector, Bornstein, Torres, Holden, and Feilhaber can all play multiple positions), pace, experience, physicality (Let’s just say that Edu, Bradley, Bocanegra, DeMerit, and Onyewu aren’t afraid of contact), excellent goalkeeper

Current Starting XI

Of course, due to injury, the above team is a ways from seeing the field. If the US were to take the pitch today, here’s what Bradley’s starting lineup would most likely look like:

Substitutes:

GKs – Guzan, Hanneman, CBs – Goodson, Marshall FBs – Cherundolo, Heath Pearce Mids – Torres, Clark, Feilhaber, Alejandro Bedoya STs – Conor Casey, Eddie Johnson

The quick Donovan offers a nice balance to Altidore, but with Landon up top and Dempsey not on the field, the forwards might rarely see the ball. Beasley can offer inspired play on the wing, but his horrible form in 2009 doesn’t instill confidence. Feilhaber, who normally lines up at center mid, would have to carry a heavier load than he ever has for the national team.

And it’s not like that bench offers much spark at striker. Casey is a big target but offers very little with the ball at his feet, even compared to the man he would be replacing – Ching. Johnson is blazing fast but has not shown a knack for finding the net with shots or teammates with passes. Bradley the Elder would probably choose Johnson for his experience, but if the manager wants an in-form player, he should look no further than Gomez, who seems to find the net every time he kicks the ball.

Bocanegra and DeMerit are both competent international center backs, but neither can replicate Onyewu’s towering presence. Bornstein’s inclusion at left back means that the position has a more skilled player, who, unfortunately, is prone to mental mistakes. Bradley could elect to start Cherundolo at right back and Spector on the left, but the right-footed Spector would lose some of his effectiveness going forward.

The other additions are Pearce and Bedoya. The former lost the starting left back job in 2009, and the latter is a youngster pushing for playing time.  Bedoya could end up playing his way onto the Preferred XI if Holden isn’t able to recover.

Squad weaknesses: Lack of creativity at center midfield, smaller team than the Preferred XI, no true right midfielder, Donovan unable to make use of excellent work rate to help in defense, no proven center back on the bench,

Squad strengths: Speed on left side (Bornstein and Beasley are both quite quick), strikers who complement each other, excellent goalkeeper

Contrasting Views

Yankee Doodle Dandy:

Davies and Onyewu will both be ready to play and roaring to go by the opening game. Their inspirational return leads to a draw against England, wins over both Slovenia and Algeria, and a run to the semifinals.

Ugly American:

Not only will Davies and Onyewu be unable to play, lingering injury issues will force Dempsey and Holden to sit out the England game. A horrific loss shatters the team’s confidence, they proceed to lose to Slovenia, and glumly grab a consolation win against Algeria before exiting the tournament.

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