(TSG’s USA-Costa Rica preview was written prior to Charlie Davies’ car accident.)
Fresh off a historic qualifying win in Honduras, the US was back in training in our nation’s capital today. Wouldn’t it be a great if the Striker-in-Chief happened to make a journey out to RFK?
We believe Coach USA and the USMNT should play for the win against Costa Rica, but not miss the chance to explore the depth of the USMNT.
To be clear, the USMNT should employ its aggressive attacking and counter-attacking strategy similar to Saturday’s 2nd half, but do so with a few new faces in the line-up.
Let’s get right to our customary preview.
- TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
- 11 at the Whistle
TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
Overview: The USMNT will be issued a stern challenge by the Costa Rican side that dismantled T&T at home over the weekend. CR was led by striker Alvaro Saborio (of the Championship side Bristol City), who netted twice on Saturday. Perhaps you remember Saborio who put the Yanks down less than two minutes into the match at Saprissa in June.
More importantly, Costa Rica comes in two points ahead of Honduras for the third and final automatic qualifying spot in the region. We all know by now that the fourth place finisher in CONCACAF has a date with the fifth place finisher from CONMEBOL for a tickets to South Africa. Right now it is likely that either CR or HON will have tickets to “The Battle of Argentina” and you can sure that will not be an easier route to the WC.
Expect the Costa Ricans to attack like they did in the first game at Saprissa with their Cup hopes on the line. The June 3rd return-to-qualification match-up saw Costa Rica rarely challenged in their defensive third and clinical in breaking down the US defense.
That game also signaled the beginning of Dempsey’s loss of form for the national team as well as a glaring display of the US defensive deficiencies when pressed by faster, quicker strikers. Starters that day included Mastreoni, Wynee, Beasley and Torres. The game also saw cameos for current USMNT starter Charlie Davies, former (and future?) hopeful Freddy Adu and Sacha Kljestan
June “lowlights” (certainly not “highlights”) — watch at your own risk.
» Oh come on, you knew we were going here first. Does one Jose Francisco Torres get atonement, vindication and revenge…or even playing time?
Before we even get to how the USMNT and Bob Bradley will strategize the game, we’re going to the most compelling storyline.
The June 3rd game at Saprissa marked the beginning of Torres’s stay in Bob Bradley’s sweatsuit closet. The Pachuca halfback started the game and was soundly beaten twice in defense–although only 1 goal was his fault alone. (See “highlights” above.) Before he knew it, Torres found himself banished to the bench after halftime and has only been seen since in spot duty, the last of which versus El Salvador last month.
To his credit, Torres was one of the few Yanks on that pitch that day generating any type of offense.
Bob Bradley has a way of sticking with players, but Torres hasn’t received that treatment yet from Coach USA. It would be a show of faith and challenge to Torres if he takes the pitch, especially as a member of the starting squad.
What does Bob do? We won’t make you wait until the end of the column. We say Torres subs early.
» Backtracking, what is the USMNT strategy?: Major minutes for the second squad, a continued full-court press to South Africa or a hybrid of the two?
The June 3rd match saw the beginning of the end of roster invites for some USMNT hopefuls Kljestan, Beasley, Wynne and Adu. The October 14th match will present the opportunity for veterans, injury returnees and newcomers to stake some claim, namely Goodson, Holden, Feilhaber, Cooper and perhaps Ching.
This time around Bob Bradley has the luxury of a Cup invite in-hand and has multiple ways to play this one. While Bradley came out Sunday and said the US would be playing to win the group, consider that statement more a shot across the bow for any new starters that Bradley employs on Wednesday. As in, “I expect a win no matter what team I field.”
Does Bradley take a look at as many extras as possible to determine how they play against a team in need? Or…
Does he pair one or two new guys (Torres, Cooper) with the foundation of the starting group to see if he’s missed a potential dynamic pairing? Or…
Does he come at the came with his best squad and make statement to the FIFA ranking committee? Or…
Does Bradley rest weary legs or reward good performances from Saturday?
We say Bradley goes with a hybrid approach. He keeps a core group of starters intact and takes a calculated look here and there at some potential new pairings. Bradley wants to finish qualifying as #1 in CONCACAF and will want to keep the integrity of the group strong by playing to win against Costa Rica.
» Does the Guz get a shot?
This is a no-brainer for TSG. Brad Guzan has sat patiently as Tim Howard’s caddy through nearly all of qualifying. This game should be used to get Guzan some first team time in the “Heaven forbid Tim Howard goes down” scenario as well as some time in a meaningful match. (Something he hasn’t seen for the national team since the Confed Cup tilt versus Egypt). Let’s just move on now.
11 at the Whistle
A Guzan selection in goal is certainly a good bet and a smart decision.
The backline could be a tough one for Coach Bradley. Does he play the line from the Honduras match to build chemistry or does he investigate other options?
In central defense specifically, expect to see Gooch for sure. The Milan man looked good on Saturday and is fresh. Does Gooch pair with Boca or does Captain Carlos get are rest allowing for Goodson or even Conrad to get some minutes. (Way too early for Goodson, but he’ll be on the bench.)
On the outside Bradley’s options are simpler. Bornstein should be in the starting eleven until a better option presents itself. On the right it could be Dolo or Spector? Our guess is that Bradley sticks with Spector to see if he can work out his defensive issues on the pitch.
DEF: Spector, Bornstein, Gooch, Boca
Bradley has more options and flexibility in the front six with the line-up hinging on how he chooses to use Lando.
While Donovan will keep the left half slot for the foreseeable future there is an outside shot Bradley deploys him further up the pitch (relieving LD of some defensive responsibilities) to put pressure on the Costa Rica. Our bet is that Landon stays wide left and potentially moves up (a la Deuces’ recent role) depending on the scoreboard.
As you might expect from TSG, we’re championing Benny Feilhaber getting moretime after his cup of coffee on Saturday, likely in place of Ricardo Clark, with Stu Holden manning the right flank again.
MID: Donovan, Bradley, Feilhaber, Holden
Up top, Bradley can choose from Saturday’s hero Casey (who missed practice today, Chuck Deezy, a “well-rested” Altidore, former favored target man Ching or even Bundesliga 2 striker Kenny Cooper.
This is probably the toughest call a few days in advance, but here goes. Let’s use deductive reasoning here…
Altidore gets one spot…Bradley will want to give the youngster some run and keep him in good standing on the USMNT. That leaves us with one opening. And let’s rule out Kenny Cooper…he’s been scoring overseas at 1860 Munich, but BB has shown a penchant for players earning their starts on the USMNT.
That leaves us with Ching, Casey, and Davies. With the U.S. looking for a win and Ching redundant to Casey, we say that Casey stays put and is rewarded for his performance on Saturday with another start. (We also wouldn’t be surprised if Davies gets a game breather from Bob Bradley either.)
ST: Altidore, Casey
Substitutes will depend on the flow of the game and score. However, we think this is where Bradley will go to the second (or third) line.
Subs off the bench: Torres, Cooper and…and…can I borrow that hat?
- Conor Casey’s spot? Davies? Ching?
Coach USA can go anyway on this one and, after Casey’s suprise start on Saturday, it’s anyone guess. Bradley will most likely goes with Davies or Casey. So let’s call it a 49% chance that Davies (or someone else) pairs Altidore.
- Dolo or Spector?
The never ending long straw, short straw. No idea here. TSG wants more pitch time for Spector, but there is plenty of good rationale for ‘Dolo. Fresh legs, speed on the corner, ‘Dolo brought back some serious suds from Oktoberfest.
- Torres starting somewhere?
It would be a shock if Paco started, but stranger things have happened (see Casey, Honduras, 10/10). Just like BB surprised USMNT fans Saturday, he’s probably good for another one. If so, this is it.
Probability: No idea
- Davies not in the 18.
Just call this a guess, but two bullets to back this up.
One, Davies is rumored to have a knock of some sort. That’s all we know.
Two, June 3rd saw Davies pull an Adebayor on a Costa Rican player’s groin. While it wasn’t clear if it was intentional, why put a first team striker at risk, especially if Costa Rica is losing their immediate World Cup bid in real time.
Probability: Again, no idea