USMNT: Common Sense in Defense

Clark

Clark

Bradley

Bradley

Michael Bradley, Bundesliga, age 22, 34 US Caps

Jermaine Jones, highly touted, Bundesliga, age 27

Ricardo Clark, Serie A Livorno perhaps?, age 26, 33 caps

Sam Cronin, 2008 Herman Trophy Finalist, age 22, 2 caps

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake Captain, MLS Allstar, age 27, 9 caps

Maurice Edu, Scottish Premier League powerhouse Rangers, age 23, 4 caps

Edu

Edu

JJ

JJ

I’ve got some old news for you guys. You all play the same position.

The math: 6 viable options, 1, yes 1 (see Issue 1 below) starting nod. Chances of making the staring XI (all things being equal which they, of course, are not): 16.7%

Take that 16.7% and let’s consider some observations at TSG (and probably in many other locations and hopefully in Bob Bradleys office) on the US’s “Summer of Soccer” 2009:

Issue 1: The USMNT is extremely challenged by employing two defensive midfielders — hence this two defensive pairing in the middle needs to end. It can’t be Bradley and Clark. It has to be defensive holder and Benny, Dempsey, or even Freddy Adu.

Issue 2: Our wing fullbacks are slow, a risk in defense and virtually non-existent in the counterattack. It leaves the focal points of our offense–that is, our outside middies generally and Landon and Clint specfically–to sit back way in their rearguard. This eliminates a quick and effective counterattack all too often.

We’ve already beaten the drum at TSG ad nauseum about employing a more offensive central midfielder and soon TSG will share what lengths our protest for someone, oh, like a Benny Feilhaber in the starting XI went; so let’s look at a possible solution for Issue 2.

First, who are our wing fullbacks (with accompanying discounting):

Carlos Bocanegro, 31 years old when the World Cup launches. Fleet of feet? Nope.

Steve Cherundolo, 31 years old in South Africa. Again speed? Somewhat. Maligned by injuries during his career? Unequivocally.

Jonathan Spector, 23-years young, powerhouse club league (EPL). However, quick in cleats? Nope yet again.

DeMarcus Beasley, 28-years old in Africa. Injuries? Yes. Fleet of feet? Pretty much. Confidence of the coach? Not right now. Playing for his club team? No. Defensive liability? Probably.

Jonathan Bornstein, 25-years below the equator. Speedy? Yes. Injured? Not really. Experienced? No. Shines on the main stage? No.

Players who I am currently leaving out of the mix: Frankie Hedjuk (looks to be on the outs), Drew Moor, Danny Califf, Edgar Castillo (I’ll believe it when I see it) and Marvel Wynne (he’s got the best shot in my book to step up)

(Kevin Alston might one day join the mix to, but he’s not even on BB’s radar yet.)

Consider my spot nailed down

Consider my spot nailed down

The math: Legitimate wingfulls *beyond 2010 for 2014? Two (Spector and Bornstein).

Near term, legitimate wingfulls? 4 (Boca, Dolo, Spector, Bornstein)

Number of wingfull positions: 2. Chances of starting from that immediate group: 50%

I think you see where TSG is going with this. One of you defensive midfielders, come on down. The price is right.

You are a defensive middie on the USMNT and you transfer to an outside defensive role, the grouping goes to 5 now, your chances of starting: 40%

I’d take those odds.

Yes, we’re asking for one of quality holding middies to make the transition (a la TSG favorite Michael Essien who regularly does this for Chelsea) and play the outside back position. Beyond the percentages, there is a strategy that suggests you get your best eleven players on the pitch.

Quick, let’s say you’re the expansion Philadelphia Union soccer club GM and you had the opportunity to draft any of the players mentioned above. Beyond Jonathan Spector, aren’t there at least five of the defensive midfielders going before any of the defenders.

(Note, please see TSG reader Andy’s point against this notion in the commentary section.)

So the question then becomes: Who should attempt the shift?

Let’s back up and start with our overall criteria.

• We want a dynamic wingfull who can have the type of influence on the game that a Danny Alves or Glen Johnson does.

• We don’t want to convert our best defensive midfielder. No sense in weakening one position for the other.

• We want the switch to be as permanent as possible on the USMNT; let’s let the newcomer learn and develop in the position.

• They need to ready and perhaps a starter, but surely a capable reserve in 2010. Without a question a starter in 2014.

Physically, what criteria do we need?

• We want that fullback to be different then our current breed. They need to be faster and more offensive minded with better on-the-ball defending.

• They need to be a stand-up defender that needs less help from the their midfield counterparts and is not always employed to just contain or minimize damage.

• They need to be able to cross the ball, but that skillset is nice-to-have, not a must have. They need to have one strong offensive trait at least.

Now how do we get to the answer?

Okay, let’s start by eliminating our best defensive midfielder, and perhaps the appropriate back-up, so that we keep our midfield balanced and strong.

At this point, I’m just going to take a shot at it (to make the column easier) and say I see it the following way:

Michael Bradley gets the starting nod by thismuch over Ricardo Clark in 2010 and maybe beyond.

Damn, the ball just went all the way over there

Damn, the ball just went all the way over there

My disclaimer, if Ricardo Clark could develop any sort of a first touch or ability to trap the ball and keep it near him, I might actually prefer him in that role presently. He arguably covers more ground than Bradley and is more thorough in his tackles. He is also slightly less prone to those not-so-nice, curse-your-tv visits from the ref waving yellow and red.

However, what’s the sense of playing defense or creating a turnover if you give away the ball more than earn it back through defense. Hence we’re backing Bradley currently as our 1st team defensive midfielder.

Spreken ze....NO!

Spreken ze....NO!

Jermaine Jones, whose saga is quickly becoming, shall we say, Favre-ian, is the big wild card. If you’ve seen him play he is clearly at least shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Further, with his temperament, the man is not coming to the USMNT side to move or defer his skillset to a different position. He’s the roll-of-the-dice, as likely a 2010 starter as a 2010 absentee altogether.

So who are our new wingback candidates: Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Sam Cronin and Kyle Beckerman. Come on down and make your bid.

Okay, one more haircut, let’s remove Ricardo Clark. Should Jones never make it over, Clark has just too much experience in the central midfield to move, further he presents an ideal back-up: a tireless worker who has played with all midfielders at the top level of the USMNT and a solid late game defensive placement if necessary.

Now, we are down to three: Kyle Beckerman, Sam Cronin, Maurice Edu.

Let’s break them down for their potential.

Kyle Beckerman

Positives:

Cool and the gang

Cool and the gang

Height: 5’10

Composure: The RSL captain is as cool as they come

Ability to get upfield AND make a pass: Beckerman has a knack of slotting the lead pass to perfection

Negatives:

Age: KB is 27 and we’ll be 31 already by World Cup 2014–yikes

Lack of exposure to international competition: Having played his entire career in the MSL is not familiar with the corner threats of Primera, La Liga, EPL, or Serie A

The Skinny:

Beckerman is probably just a drop too far past his prime to move at this point of his career considering he is not already a frontline player for USMNT. He won’t get the necessary caps and experience to really settle in at that role. Probably a non-starter in this conversation.

Sam Cronin

Positives:

Cronin, making the grade

Cronin, making the grade

Age: Cronin got his first cap just this past summer at Gold Cup 2009 and impressed in his short pitch time. At 22, he’s got the ability to grow into the role.

Excellent at positioning, perhaps the most critical skillset for outside defense.

Solid on the cross.

Versatile: Effectively plays inside or outside

Negatives:

Not the most physically intimidating

Still very, very young. Cronin has a handful of MLS games under his belt and all of a single USMNT cap.

The Skinny:

When Cronin was picked #2 in the MLS draft this year, he was deemed the most ready of all the prospects. He certainly has not disappointed in his first year. The only knock on Cronin is that he just so green and will not possibly be ready to face the competition at a new position for the 2010 Cup….the 2014 cup, that’s a different story, but at that time, might he be the replacement or back-up for Bradley or others?

Maurice Edu

Strengths:

Age: Edu is 23 and already has a year of MLS and a huge part of a Scottish First Division season under his belt

On-the-ball tough and great on aerials, Edu possesses phenomenal physical talent

History: Edu actually started in central defense for Piotr Nowak at the 2007 Beijing Olympics.

Familiarity with the opposition: Edu’s time on the USMNT and now time in Europe is giving him excellent exposure to the types offenders that will be on the pitch in South Africa.

Negatives:

Coming off a major knee injury. His inclusion on the USMNT 2010 roster is a major mystery.

Might be being bred for an inside position, with DeMerit and Gooch up there in age

The Skinny:

Ironically, it is the Maurice Edu role that Toronto was seeking to replace when they selected Sam Cronin in the 2008 MLS Draft. Edu for his part, has excelled in both the midfield and central defense, and is more than willing to step in wherever the coach asks him. An extremely gifted athlete, Edu could very well challenge for the defensive midfield role in 2010 if his knee were sound.

After that final review of Maurice Edu, I think TSG has crowned it’s candidate. In the spirit of improving the athleticism of our outside back flankers and putting our best eleven on the pitch, TSG would kill to see Maurice Edu try his hand at the outside back position if he were so game for it. Even if there is the consideration to move Edu inside after 2010 where you already have Clarence Goodson and Chad Marshall in competition there–Edu gains valuable pitch time now by playing in a position that is wide open for the taking.

We originally selected Sam Cronin over the in the poll we put up a few days ago on the right sidebar here, but the potential for the impact of Edu in back immediately is just too great. Seems like TSG fans agree with us as Edu is leading the poll by a wide margin.

Edu: More dangerous than Bellamy with a 9-iron

Edu: Exceedingly more lethal than Bellamy with a 9-iron

We’d love to see his aerial threat from the back and we know he can get up and down the pitch. It’s no doubt that Bob Bradley was thinking more offense when he attempted DaMarcus Beasley in the role during the Confederation Cup, he just got the wrong Glasgow Ranger.

What do you say Maurice? Want to give it a try? If you need any motivation, we’ll just offer you an excerpt of our recent interview with former USMNT’er PeterVermes when we asked him about his own versatility. Here was PV’s apropos response:

TSG: Speaking of versatility Coach, in our minds, you were the precursor to Rio Ferdinand–someone who excelled as a striker and then transferred to the defensive line and was just as effective. How did you easily make that shift? Or was it easy?

Peter Vermes: Attitude is versatility. You need two things: you want to win and you’ll do whatever it takes to win. Players have such high levels of all around skill now that it really just comes down to accepting your role and being a team player.

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39 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Andy on 2009/08/26 at 6:22 AM

    Fantastic post. Couple of things:

    First, Borussia Monchengladbach is in the Bundesliga not Bundesliga 2.

    Second, are we forgetting the not small matter of dominant foot? I see this as a rather essential component to any attacking ability from the wings.

    Thanks!

    Reply

  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 6:39 AM

    Thanks for the typo catch Andy. This was such a long post constructed over more than a week I went nearly blind on the other 100 typos.

    To your argument on the dominant foot, that is clearly the biggest weakness in the arguments above.

    My counterpoint(s) is/are this:

    – With both wingback positions, our middies have to drop so far into defensive cover (another reason we need possession in the middle) that our offense is already limited in attacking and counterattacking from the wings. Sadly, I’ll pick on Spector here in his coverage of Robinho (yes, I know Robinho is a top X offensive talent), take a look at those confed games and Donovan is virtually standing right on top of Spector to provide cover and Spector is a prime time player.

    – Conversely, I’m more worried about the defense first. Other case in point is Boca getting rounded and “insided” mutiple times on the left in that confed series as well as against Dos Santos in Mexico.
    Putting, in my opinion, Edu out there gives a lot more make up speed and allow the middies to press further up the pitch.

    I think our “team offense” will improve as the result of a more athletic wingback, but your point is the strongest one in terms of left back role for sure.

    I’m confident in Boca because of his experience, I’m concerned about his mileage going into 2010.
    Who’s our back-up there anyway? Bornstein (I actually like Bornstein a lot, a very poor man’s Glen Johnson)? Bornstein has been more than questionable on the main stage and unless Castilas enters the fold quickly, your back-up will most likely be a righty anyway.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Reply

    • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/26 at 6:54 AM

      I think if you take a defence first approach (like Bob Bradley currently does) you end up being a team that plays defence the entire game because you’ve neglected to focus on how you’re going to counter the attack. Instead, you end up defending against an endless onslaught of goal attempts and you struggle to mount any sort of quality midfield play. This is exactly what we are doing right now. You can’t neglect one at the cost of another (just a fundamental difference in philosophy on my part). It is very similar to American football in that you can have the best defence in the world, but if they are on the field for 70% of the game, they’re going to give up some touchdowns. It isn’t the offence’s job to just score goals, it is also their job to hold the ball, give the defence some space to play traps or other strategy, and the like.

      And John Bornstein is like a poor HIV-infected meth addict’s Glen Johnson. I think I’m going to vomit from putting those two names in the same sentence. I think Spector is a great player and is definitely the best right back the US has, but he is certainly not a world class talent (though I think he is one of the better players the US has as far as the quality of talent at each position). I don’t know what to do with Bocanegra anymore. He seems too undersized (read: not tall enough, not enough hops) to play centre back, yet he is a little too slow to play on the wings. He is an excellent player but I really wonder what the US will do with him as more and more quality young players enter the fray.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/26 at 6:46 AM

    I think the idea of moving one of these holding mids to wingfull is a terrible one. There are thousands upon thousands of American footballers who have been playing this position their whole life, why should we poach from a pool of mediocre talent at another position rather than looking for another young player from the U-21 team or maybe a middle aged player who hasn’t yet had any national team caps? This isn’t even mentioning the fact that while the offensive potential of players like Glen Johnson or John Spector is important, they are primarily on the field to stop wings from getting quality crosses and disallowing any sort of interior penetration. Not only is this defensive role distinctly different from the role of a holding mid, but it also has a very steep learning curve and a very low margin for error. I don’t doubt that many of the players you discuss are quite versatile and will learn quickly, but I think players who have extensive experience at their position, not only at the international level but at the club level as well, offer valuable insight that these converted mids just won’t get for some time. The time period for these players to be able to play at their peak ability is so short, we really can’t afford to groom players for one position and then expect them to convert halfway through their career. If we are going to convert any position to wingfull, I think the most obvious position to draw from would be the outside midfield, not a central holding position. It is unfortunate that the US has a wealth of talent at central mid and that only a few players can actually get on the pitch, but that is the way the cookie crumbles. I still think the potential for a player like Bornstein (who I am currently not in love with) is much higher than someone like Clark or Edu who have spent their entire lives playing a different position. I think the job is Spector’s to lose, mostly because he is an outstanding defender and he puts quality balls into the penalty area on the other end. I think Spector’s biggest weakness is his lack of speed since it limits his ability to stretch the field. I would really like to see Bornstein gain about 20 pounds of muscle and really work on his ball handling skills.

    The problem that the USMNT is struggling with is currently the same problem that Liverpool is struggling with. Last year, the team of Javier Mascherano (holding/defensive mid) and Xabi Alonso (attacking centre mid) was outstanding but this year, without Xabi, the team is struggling to transition the ball from the backline to the strikers. Rafa Benitez has anointed Lucas Leiva as the replacement for Xabi, but Lucas doesn’t really play that aggressive offensive role well. This has left LFC with two defensive minded mids, and thus they’ve suffered the same problems the USMNT has (possession problems, low passing percentage, trouble getting quality balls to strikers, etc.) Luckily for Liverpool, they have a few options in reserve. With the USMNT, someone is going to have to step up and show that they can play this role or we are going to have to bring up a younger player to fill this role. Bob Bradley currently seems ignorant of this gaping hole in the US midfield, since he still carries so many defensive mids on the roster. Hopefully with El Salvador and Honduras (I think these are correct) coming up, we will see some aggressive roster moves where we might be able to get someone like Stuart Holden into the midfield along with a Mike Bradley (the best holding mid the US has).

    Personally, I think Spector and Bornstein are the best we have from the current pool of talent (and personally I think Spector is much more than adequate– especially as he regains his fitness level during the club season), but if I had to choose a couple other players to possibly play at the wingback position, I have a couple in mind. I also would like to state that I completely disagree with the TSG/Bob Bradley mentality of putting the most talented eleven players on the field. I am of the belief that there is more to a team than talent (and I think this is a lot of the reason why the US struggles so much). The first person that comes to mind is Bobby Convey. I don’t know what has happened with Convey and I will openly admit that I haven’t seen him play since he has returned to the MLS, but I think he is a quality player who could easily contribute to the US defence. Note: Convey is left footed and accustomed to playing on the left side, and this article focuses mostly on the right side (since that is where Bornstein and Spector have been playing). I would also be interested in seeing Frank Simek get some time in once we cement our WC qualification. We dont’ get to see a lot of Championship football in the US, but the people at Sheffield Wednesday love him.

    These are just two guys, but I bet there are a lot more just chomping at the bit to get a shot at making the USMNT. I think it would be a huge mistake to take a player away from the position they’ve played their entire career rather than giving a younger player experience at a higher level in a position they know and love.

    Long post, I know, and I may have made some errors. Nice writeup though, stimulated a lot of good thought :)

    Reply

  4. Posted by Andy on 2009/08/26 at 6:49 AM

    You’ve convinced me. I agree that shoring up the D will allow our outside mids to actually play offense. So my concern about attacking will actually be accomplished simply by having somebody capable back there, even if they’re not doing the attacking themselves.

    Reply

  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 6:55 AM

    @Andy — that’s the biggest weakness in the theory though

    @MatthewN — love good debate, keep it up, but I will tell you this with no debate (and so that you don’t compromise your educated view in my eye, haha):

    Bobby Convey has virtually zero shot of making the USMNT ever again, even the Gold Cup team. He was our biggest liability in 2006 and missed a potential gamewinner open look against Italy (that’s unfortunately the first thing that comes to mind for me when Convey’s name is brought up).

    He has zero defensive chops at the highest level and presents no offensive threat. Let’s close the book on Convey.

    Wow, that’s the strongest I’ve been negatively in awhile — time for some more coffee or something. Maybe I’ll feel differently afterward.

    Reply

    • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/26 at 6:59 AM

      Like I said, I haven’t seen Convey in awhile, I just have really really fond memories of him. I’ll take your word for it that Convey just doesn’t have it anymore (though I will maintain my skepticism and try to check out a few Quakes games :) ).

      Reply

  6. Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/26 at 6:57 AM

    Oh, and I just wanted to say that the quality of the article (minus a few typos or whatnot) is absolutely outstanding. This is probably one of the best blogs (of any subject) that I’ve read. It stimulates thought, discussion, and keeps its readers informed. Thank you guys so much for putting together such a great product :)

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 6:59 AM

      @MatthewN — wouldn’t be good without good readers point out our mistakes. I am horrendous typer — it just took me 15 seconds for this sentence.

      Reply

  7. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 6:58 AM

    And one more note here, look at the cap rate.

    Let’s say these guys are just providing cover as a backup — assuming an attacking middie joins the fray for 2010, you’ve got potentially 33 US caps in Ricardo Clark and 32 US caps in Bradley ON THE BENCH if* JJ plays.

    Or you’ve got JJ as a capable back-up or Clark if Bradley plays.

    You don’t want Edu on that team on the reserves over a Califf or Kljestan, I do.

    Reply

  8. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 7:17 AM

    One final note as I dominate the commentary. Doug McIntyre over at ESPN.com is suggesting that Spector might be the solution at left back.

    Let’s put that one to rest right now for one global reason and one specific reason.

    One, you don’t weaken one position for another, the Cherundolo-Spector (with Spector slightly in the lead in my book) combination is set for the RB position in 2010. Cherundolo is always getting injured as well. You don’t disrupt your best 11 because of a weakness at one position. I might add that Boca on the left is still probably better than Spector playing on the left.

    Secondly, our best crosses currently are coming from the right foot of Spector. That’s our only outside wingback offensive weapon — you don’t take that away.

    Reply

    • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/26 at 7:27 AM

      I totally agree with you here. Who do we have that is a natural left foot and has the pace to stretch the field?

      Reply

  9. I think what we need most of all is a coach who is capable of selecting the best team for each opponent , I think we have enough depth in our player pool to just that. And, in that regard, I can think of 4 players off the top of my head who I think could easily fit into the USMNT defensive scheme of things. Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Laurentowitz and Michael Orozco. and, course, Jose Francisco “Gringo” Torres.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 9:39 AM

      Thanks for the feedback Dwight.

      I am actually in Bradley’s camp for 2010 though I differ on his game strategy.

      I’m not sure we have the depth in our player pool, at least yet. Parkhurst is a central defender exclusively who is foul prone. And Torres is still looking for his cleats after he got faked out of them to the tune of two goals against Costa Rica — he’s hardly defensive.

      I had to lookup Jeff Larentowicz just to remember he was.

      As for Orozco I probably should have included in the post, but he’s not on the radar yet either for BB (not sure why on this one).

      I’ll comment on this more, but the US really needs to define most of their roster now, so the players can get comfortable on the pitch together.

      Reply

      • Of course, I should have mentioned, that I’ve long favored 3-2-5 formations, especially when we have two genuine wingers (Holden & Rogers). 3 central defenders–big ones against big teams and smaller ones against smaller teams; 2 central midfielders–Parkhurst-Orozczo against the smaller teams–Edu-Bradley against the bigger ones, etc.; and 5 forwards (the two wingers), an inside left (Donovan, Davies), an inside right (Dempsey, Twellman), and a big no. 9(Jaqua, Casey, Cooper, Ching, Jozy)

        As for “Gringo” Torres–although, I’d agree that he is not primarily a defensive mid, he certainly seems to get the job done for Pachuca most of the time.

        And, Larentowitz has been working for the past several years under a master coach (and assistant coach) and alongside the the Absolute Master DM currently operating in America.
        For this reason alone he deserves consideration.

        Reply

  10. Posted by garbogas on 2009/08/26 at 8:45 AM

    Great post. Lots to think about.

    Personally, I think Boca at left back is worrisome at best. Let’s go through what Boca brings to the position:
    – defensively, he’s a natural defender, but he’s too slow to cover quick and agile wingers at the top level. You already pointed that out above.
    – his best defensive attribute is his toughness, but that’s a trait more suited to central defense than wing fullback.
    – offensively, he’s a trainwreck. I think I”m still counting the number of times he received the ball and either passed it straight to a Mexican player or boomed it upfield.

    I was initially excited at the idea of DeMerit freeing Boca up to play left back, but I don’t think Boca brings anything to the position and he’s a liability in some ways. Only because left back is such a weak position does Boca even merit a consideration there, but I think he would essentially be a safe choice that would give you ‘below average’ across the board.

    Because of that, I agree 100% we need to explore other options. All other options, thinking as creatively as possible.

    The biggest issue with one of the defensive mids moving to wingback is the timeframe. I agree that Edu is the best candidate, but the timeframe is an even bigger issue due to Edu’s injury status. None of the other candidates excite me though, so I’m left asking the following:

    Given Edu’s defensive history at defensive mid and central defense as well as his offensive skillset, can he learn to play wingback at a sufficient level between now and next summer?

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 9:43 AM

      Absolutely agree Garbogas.

      I think that is the biggest issue — time to develop and feel comfortable. Also, Edu’s coming off an injury another big “if.”

      I put the post up, because I think we need a dynamic player on the outside in the back (specifically one who can shut down defend) and some creative in coming up with that player.

      One thing really impresses me about Edu (from what I’ve read, not firsthand mind you). He steps in wherever he’s asked. He did that in Beijing and then with Rangers (after their unfortunate player incident there) and he looked equal to the task at two central roles.

      I think he probably has the right attitude and from at least what I’ve seen adapts to the situation quickly — which is of course important in terms of timing here.

      Reply

  11. Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/26 at 9:19 AM

    Matthew, great post…and you know how hard it is for me to compliment my older brother considering you kicked my ass throughout our whole childhood.

    I think your logic is sound, but if this happens, it has to happen now. (Send a Tweet to Edu, make him read the post, agree to it and then convince Bradley.)

    The US is in a tough spot here. Unfortunately, I really don’t see Bradley being this creative considering the back 4 he trotted out at Azteca. I still like the idea of sliding Spector over at least to see how he performs there during WC qualifying.

    Also, there may be another option, Edgar Castillo. He wants to play for the US and Gulati’s comments from last month suggest October is the target. I haven’t seen him play, but what I read makes him out to be a fast but undersized, attacking wing back. Overall, reviews have been mixed, and he event admits he needs some work:

    “Here [Tigres] I play on the left side,” Castillo says. “I’m not that great at defending yet, but I’m working hard on it. In the national team I could play the same position, bringing that offensive side of the game to the wing.”

    Anyone have some insight on his potential?

    Here’s an AP article posted to ESPN:

    http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=663109&cc=5901

    Reply

  12. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 9:50 AM

    Yeah, but you’re taller.

    First on Spector, I think we’re at the point where we want to set people in their roles.
    Take the case the Cherundolo goes down with injury after starting game one of group play in 2010. Now, you move Spector over there (who’s been conditioned to play the left) and you have to fill the LB position. Double disruption.

    I’ll go with you on Spector if you make it public that it’s his role to lose (which then puts you in a bit of quandry with your captain Boca who moved out there in the first place and might be our 4th best central defender at this point behind DeMerit, Gooch and Marshall (yes, I just included Marshall…the guy is 6’4” and has wheels and intelligence).

    I mentioned Castillo in the post. I have seen him play briefly. Similar challenges — you need him in the fold now and arguably with the different inerent styles in Mexican and American gameplay (tactics, movement, etc.), he’s going to be harder to integrate. He’s another wild card for sure.

    The 2nd Edu tweets that his knee is tip top — I’m going tell him he is the next coming of Roberto Carlos in my eyes.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/26 at 10:05 AM

      Re: Castillo…If you wrote shorter posts, I wouldn’t miss things. Oops!

      Edu returning to form and Castillo joining the player pool are both (allegedly) around the same time…October.

      As for Boca, its just like any aging, vet who’s been a great contributor over a period of time. The coach has to man-up, thank him for his years of service and tell him his time has passed as a full-time starter. Boca should still make the WC’10 roster, but he is no longer the Yanks best option in the middle for sure or on the wing against teams with any kind of speed (which is most of them).

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 10:07 AM

        I agree there too.

        Boca gets turned all to often and aside from a few headers, he’s not making a dent on offense.

        This might be it’s own post, but something worthy of more time.

        And remember, it’s saying a lot that Boca is not your first central “d” selection — DeMerit is 31 I believe.

        Reply

  13. Posted by garbogas on 2009/08/26 at 10:00 AM

    Seems to me that Castillo brings an attacking option but very little on the defensive front. Given your emphasis that whoever takes the position needs to be a shutdown defender, I would think Castillo is at the bottom of your list.

    Then again, I initially thought you were coming at this primarily from the perspective we need our wingback to have some possession/offensive ability. What’s more important, that or shutdown defensive ability?

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 10:04 AM

      I think we need speed and skill first.

      If you had to ask me my first priority — I would go with inidividual defensive play.

      However, just like in American football, it’s hard for the other team to score when you have the ball.
      From what I’ve “read” about Castillo, he’s prone to overpossession — I don’t think that’s a bad ting given the dearth of players on the US squad who have that trait.

      By being strong offensively with a Landon or Dempsey in front of him, it helps (not completely) to shut down the flank from that side.

      I’d like to see the dynamic he brings….that being said, I’m for on the ball, stand-up defending first for sure. That will enable our middies to get up the pitch and put pressure on the opposite midfield. That’s what I care about most.

      Reply

      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/26 at 10:07 AM

        For guys like Torres and Castillo, might their style of play not mesh with the USMNT despite what talent / skill level they may (or may not) possess?

        Reply

  14. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 10:09 AM

    I think it will take time to mesh Torres and Castillo’s style and a year is really not long enough.

    I’d like to see more of Torres, but if he has some good games, he’s your left wing back-up in 2010 at least over Robbie Rogers at this point — that’s a no-brainer.

    Reply

  15. Strangely enough, I was just writing about something similar. I think J. Jones makes our best formation the 4-3-2-1 christmas with Jones and two of Edu, Bradley, Feilhaber, Torres and Clark playing with him in a narrow midfield. Jones holds, while Edu and Bradley have freedome to destory and play box-to-box. Up top is Altidore or Davies with Donovan, Dempsey as the supporting attacking players. Their job is to pressure the opposing fullback and deny the pass straight down the wing, playing the ball inside where Bradley and Edu can pressure, while Jones holds an arc in front of the center backs.

    Our problem with defending on the wing isn’t that our fullbacks are completely shite (though they aren’t the best) it’s that Donovan and Dempsey don’t give them any help and fail to mark the runs inside, between the fullback and central defender. The fullback should defend any overlap on the outside while the midfielder defends any inside runs. Once that’s cracked, concede possession on the flanks, protect the space in front of the central defenders and only pressure in the middle. Our central defenders don’t suck any more, so the outside overlap and aerial cross aren’t particularly dangerous to us against most sides.

    We don’t keep posession well enough to use attacking wingbacks – if anything our fullbacks tend to venture too far forward too often and leave us exposed. I’ve written a lot about this on my blog. That said, the left back spot is certainly up for grabs so if someone interested in going to the world cup. Interesting that Spector, who’s pretty-well two-footed, is playing there for the Hammers. Anyways, I’m about to post a blog on the 4-3-2-1 tactics.

    Reply

    • Posted by Ben on 2009/08/26 at 1:53 PM

      “Our problem with defending on the wing isn’t that our fullbacks are completely shite (though they aren’t the best) it’s that Donovan and Dempsey don’t give them any help and fail to mark the runs inside, between the fullback and central defender.”

      I agree 100% with this statement. Although our outside defenders DO need a little more of an attacking mentality (except for Spectors excellent services) Donovan and ESPECIALLY Dempsey don’t do a good enough job of helping. Thus, our counterattacking style that works occasionally…I don’t mind Spector on the right, I do mind Boco on the left….He’s not bad in the middle! Leave him there, Demerit can’t keep possession! I do like the idea of Edu in at left back…He’s athletic and can somewhat hold possession/get forward at times. Get Dempsey out of the flanks, where he seems to disapear and throw him up top with Davies or Altidore.
      Then…wait for it…BRING ON STUART HOLDEN!!

      Reply

      • Posted by Kevin on 2009/08/29 at 4:21 PM

        I agree with everything you said except when you said Boca in the middle, and Demerit has bad possession.

        I’m not really saying that Demerit has good possession because I don’t pay any attention to that. Demerit is a Center Back and primarily has to be able to hold off arial threats. depending on the tactics of the team you will see a Center Back move up some, but mostly they stay back and are the anchor in the back for the team. So why does he have to have good possession?

        Boca is a complete mess, and I do agree that he should stick to the middle, but he should in no way start. Against El Salvador Onyewu will be out due to yellow card accumulation, so this is the exception. As the Central Defense backup, he should start, and Bradley should start Bornstein on the left. (I haven’t checked if Pearce is included in the call up, but if he is I would prefer him)

        “Then…wait for it…BRING ON STUART HOLDEN!!”

        Reply

  16. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 10:42 AM

    I’ll dispel a notion here: our fullbacks aren’t shite…they lack on the ball defending and need cover.

    I love your formation (and I’m not a formation-solves-things kinda guy). I actually really like it — especially with Jones and Edu getting on the pitch. That being said, we’re less than a year away from the Cup–given that games and practices are sporadic at best and attempting to integrate new parts I think it would be too much of a challenge at this point to go away from any modification of a 4-4-2.

    I do disagree on the point on our middies.
    I think they give far too much help, necessary may it be, and that leaves them out of position to cover those runs as well as pressure the the other teams reserve offenders.
    I’m discounting Donovan’s gaffe in Mexico — Donovan has been playing stellar outside of that game for the U.S. in defense. Donovan gets beat 1 time out of 100–it happens–and I have no idea what any health maladies played into that.

    Outside of the Gold Cup play against lesser teams, I actually never see our fullback venturing forward enough. In Mexico they were rooted to the half line. In South Africa, can remember many US defender crosses from the corner marker with the ball in play.
    I’m not sure we could use all the runs given our challenges in possession, but it’s also those runs that open up the midfield.
    The defenders are far too stagnant in my book. I don’t want them Scolari-like, just more Ferguson like. :>

    Seems like more Spector debate will continue — thanks for posting.

    Reply

    • Glad to contribute. With the exception of his tired, swine-flu riden legs failing him at the end of the Mexico game, I agree that Donovan has actually been pretty good defensively. I think he’s a better player when he’s given defensive responsibilities. He has them in the christmas tree system too, but in a way that should keep both him and Dempsey higher up the pitch, ready to counterattack with speed.

      But we’re in complete agreement as to the problems with our defending on the wings – I think we’re defending too much on the flanks in desperation to stop every cross and pulling our midfield out of shape, exposing a soft underbelly in the middle. It’s a holdover from when our center backs were rubbish and teams were likely to get free headers if crosses got played in. Our defensive tactics are focused entirely too much on pressuring the ball in some areas where it’s just silly. It reminds me of Dempsey’s first effort in the premier league – a failed attempt to slide-tackle C. Ronaldo. There is a time for pressure, and it is in central midfield and higher up the pitch. On the flanks, defenders should contain and keep themselves in position to defend.

      I’d like to see the midfielder defending the space inside the fullback on the side where the attacking team has the ball, not joining the fullback pressuring the ball out on the wing. He’s on his own and needs to keep himself between the ball and the goal. In the 4-3-2-1 our midfielders should hold a narrower shape where they should never even get as wide as the corner of the box and should probably not ever be deeper than 12 yards, even if the winger drives to the endline. They should be aware of and ready to track any runners into the channel between the edge of the penalty box and the edge of the 6 yard box.

      In terms of “attacking” fullbacks, what you seem to be talking about is our fullbacks playing out of the back better and getting forward enough to support possession in midfield. I agree completely that they don’t do this very well. That’s more a function of them not being comfortable on the ball, rather than any lack of running, athleticism or stamina.They don’t get very good support from Bradley and Clark, and usually no easy option and are force to play a long difficult pass. I’m hoping J. Jones can also help set the tempo and provide better support in this area.

      It seems to me that Spector is the most comfortable on the ball of our fullbacks, and best passer/crosser of the ball. Cherundolo can’t wait to get rid of it, but is a fairly close second. Bornstein is overconfident and gets dispossessed in dangerous areas. Boca lumps it forward ASAP. As for switching positions, players do that through the course of their career. Putting another defensive mid that isn’t particularly comfortable in possession at fullback doesn’ t fix the real problem. It’s often a better option to convert an outside midfielder to a defender but left side of midfield has been a trouble spot too. I’m hoping that Spector spends the season at left back for West Ham.

      Reply

  17. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/26 at 11:51 AM

    First I agree, this is a tough switch to make for a holding midfielder, from track and cover defending to 1-on-1.

    I’m also being pragmatic in that really you’re looking at 16.7% chance of playing all things being equal. If we don’t have a wealth of depth in the middle, it wouldn’t make sense to suggest it.

    Again I point to Essien here as an example of a transitory player as well as John O’Shea for Man U who used to play a lot more holding midfielder earlier in his career.

    In terms of attacking, I’m specifically talking about someone like a Glen Johnson, who overlaps, attacks on the dribble or on the one-two. Our d’s do fine supporting possession — I disagree with that contention — they just often are left without the next look because far too often you have Bradley or Rico not creating space with runs or moving the ball in the seems.

    I’m fond of saying you don’t need to go forward, you need the “threat” of going forward. To use a parallel like in American football, throw the deep ball once and it’s in the back of the cornerback’s mind that it’s a possibility. We don’t even have the possibility right now.

    You know who did it well in the Gold Cup. Heath Pearce up until the final game. Look at some of the offense created by he and Rogers and Beckerman even in the Panama game. Guess where Panama attacked afterward….not on that flank.

    The problem with Spector on the left is where does Boca go — is he still your best central defender? I’m not quite sure about that.

    Love the debate….thanks.

    Reply

  18. Posted by Wilson on 2009/08/26 at 10:47 PM

    I voted for Edu to be a fullback, I don’t believe the Marvell Wynne will develop soccer skills and would make a great centre back like Gooch. But I also prefer speed on the outside and Bradley has the athleticism to be a winger and can make tackles as well as push forward to attack. I like a back line of Bornstein-Boca-Gooch-Bradley, Beasley-Jones-Benny-Donavon, Dempsey-Jozy
    subs: Spector, Demerit, Edu, Stu, Davies, Ching

    ps don’t forget Howard between the pipes and Guzan on subs roster.

    Reply

    • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/08/27 at 7:59 AM

      I’m pretty sure the money isn’t on Damarcus Beasley even making the roster..?

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/27 at 8:11 AM

        We know Beasley is not starting at this point, but I wouldn’t put him off the roster just yet.

        Natural left foot–at least a willingess to play defense. I think for Beasley, it’s all about 2009-2010 club and country games.

        His experience and number of caps earn him the look from BB and his play must dictate if it’s just a look or representation.

        Let’s be honest how many other USMNT’ers or for that matter national players in general will be 28 when the World Cup begins and have almost 100 caps for country and 20 goals.

        That being said, it’s a long time since we’ve seen a game changing Beasley.

        Reply

        • Posted by Kevin on 2009/08/29 at 4:35 PM

          It might be good for Beasley to get a change of scenery. obviously he’s not even playing with Rangers and I wouldn’t even mind if he went to a lower division team as long as he gets some confidence, because that’s what he’s lacking right now.

          Reply

  19. Posted by Kevin on 2009/08/30 at 6:29 AM

    Ok you left pearce off the list. I still think he’s the best bet for attacking on the left. I believe you said “You know who did it well in the Gold Cup. Heath Pearce up until the final game.”

    Now on the note of the 4-3-2-1 I sort of like the idea. My problem is that I don’t we’re ready to play with one striker up top. the only way it would work out is if you have Dempsey in attacking midfield and Benny on the left. so you would have the debatable back line and then in midfield JONES-EDU-FEILHABER-DONOVAN-DEMPSEY-DAVIES. The only reason it would work out is because Dempsey is a very attacking minded player and maybe to see him finish off and play well in the midfield is to play him as an attacking midfielder. He would be an unorthodox one though because it would work out if while attacking he moved up as a striker if needed to but for the rest of the game play in the middle. It’d be a little strange, but I can see it. Kind of like what DeRosario did while he was in Houston. DeRosario isn’t your typical midfielder because he is a converted striker which is why he got in that deep and why he scored so many goals.

    Now back to the 4-4-2 it might be a good idea to try Holden in the center with Clark. (Bare with me, but this is another… Houston example) Clark and Holden link up and understand each other really well on the club level, so why not see if they can do it on the USMNT?

    Lastly I will post who I think should get the start and be subbed in(from left to right). I’ve changed my mind a little bit.

    AGAINST EL SALVADOR
    Howard-It’s a no-brainer
    Bornstein-pearce didn’t get called up.
    Demerit-with Gooch missing the game thats easy.
    Boca-I want to see what he still has in center.
    Spector-more offensive than Cherundolo.
    Bradley-I want to see how he does by himself in defensive midfield.
    Feilhaber-he’s earned it and I think Holden/Torres will too.
    Donovan-He by far should be captain. We’ll just wait till Boca is benched.
    Dempsey-Let’s try you as an attacking mid. Maybe you’ll do better
    Altidore-He did better with Davies up top, and for counter attacking style we need speed.(sorry Ching)
    Davies-I don’t think anyone will take this from him.

    Reply

  20. [...] ran a feature last week proposing that one of our multitude of quality defensive central mids should take a stab at a [...]

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  21. [...] our CB to WB column, we took Rico to task for his first touch and I think Bob Bradley has done the [...]

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  22. [...] posed a question a year ago about solving the gaping hole at leftback with a candidate from the midfield. Seems like moving [...]

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