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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.