Now that the harsh, though thankful, realities of Charlie Davies’ injuries are known, it’s time for Bob Bradley and the braintrust to start contemplating the front line going into World Cup 2010.
Taking a step back, TSG would promote that Charlie Davies was the 3rd least replaceable player on the States’ roster. That’s quite a statement for a player who only factored regularly starting in July 2009 and has less than 20 caps to his name.
Think about it.
There is Landon — irreplaceable on offense, on the left wing and defense. And there is Tim Howard. While Brad Guzan would deputize capably, USMNT fans have come to expect and probably demand Howard’s one to two saves a game and on field direction that change the score.
Next up? Mike Bradley? Nope, you’ve got Benny and Rico, not to mention Paco and maybe Jones or Edu. Dempsey, no again, in fact Stu Holden might be more than his equal on the right wing. Gooch or Boca? I guess we’ll find out here with Gooch’s knee tear but it’s not not incredibly hard to envision Chad Marshall , JayDeMerit, or even a Jimmy Conrad or a Clarence Goodson filling in admirably for either of them.
Altidore? A player who remains the single biggest wildcard for 2010′s Cup theatrics oddly wasn’t on the pitch to start for the States’ two most important qualifier matches, away at Honduras and away at Mexico and remains on the bench at his club team. Ruminate on that.
Davies? Well there is….
In fact there is no one for an abundance of reasons. Charlie Davies, the 3rd least replaceable player on the US national team, and now likely gone through the World Cup.
In July that wouldn’t have seemed like much. In October, it means the entire team dynamics.
Take a look at what Coach Bradley was developing on the left side: Bornstein, Rico, Davies and Donovan–perhaps the four fastest players at their position.
With the Davies-Donovan combination on the left, the U.S. was first using it’s offensive prowess to cover for what deficiencies the team may have at left back (depending who you speak with).
Is it coincidence that both Mexico and most recently Honduras started their attacks down the right side? Nope, they knew that throwing numbers up the U.S. right flank was much less dangerous. Had they tested the U.S. left flank, either opponent would have had to deal with the explosive, yes that is the right word, counter potential the Yanks deployed. (See Confed Cup, Brazil, Rico to Donovan to Davies to Donovan.)
In fact the Davies-Donovan offensive pairing, more than covering for defense, was perhaps the U.S.’s best 1-2 strike combination ever. Yes, I said that–with apologies to Joe Max-Moore and begrudgingly Eric Wynalda. This combo wasn’t lofting a cross onto McBride’s head or Reyna slotting a run for Clint Mathis–this was much more. This was World Cup-grade striking teams avoiding the U.S. left flank.
This was Donovan being able to have a player that matched his speed in possession who knew how to create space for the offender behind him. As we talked about in our Costa Rica review piece (see the LD section in player ratings), Donovan clearly suffered from Altidore, though strong on his own, and Casey not clearing or positioning fast enough for his midfield runs against the Ticos. Charlie knew exactly where to go and got there…fast.
Additionally, Davies speed in and of itself with the ball would open that filling position for Donovan to trail the play and execute. Opponents had to respect Davies’s ability to get up the pitch and round the defense. Altidore, sure he will turn the corner on the defender, but whereas Davies “happens,” Altidore “unfurls.”
Get my drift.
And even smaller subtle things were developing. Davies penchant to go extremely wide and throw a cross on frame as opposed to just breaking down his man (see El Salvador). With Casey and Altidore lining up on the other side that was a very healthy and high probability-type attack.
Yes, CD9 you will be missed on the pitch.
The riddle now is two-part: Who replaces Davies? and Does Bob Bradley change his entire attacking scheme or does he try to slot in a player with some of Davies attributes (speed, one-on-one ability) in front of Donovan?
Come to think of it maybe it’s just one question: Who allows the USMNT’s best player, Landon Donovan, to have the biggest impact on the game?
While the USMNT should expect to see Deuce on November 18th in Denmark up top (he’s already overseas and already a trusted member of the starting team), Deuce possesses neither the speed or the sheer determination to get to goal that CD9 did. Deuce is more prone in these days–not in 2006 mind you–to slow up a play for a cautious attack or show the ball a few times to the defender and then beat him as oppose to just challenge the defense on a quick counter (See Clint, T&T, Sept 10th).
So Coach USA will have to take a few months here to investigate and evaluate permutations in front of Donovan and then with a few months to go settle in to an offense that has the necessary parts behind it to make it work.
With this in mind, here’s our review of fifteen players who might get a trial up top ahead of Donovan. Mind you only the 1st two groupings or so will even sniff the starting line-up.
Group 1: The Likely Suspects
Positives: The Deuce is a seasoned veteran with a good understanding of Donovan’s game. He knows how and where Donovan likes the ball and
the two are comfortable feeding off one another. Mainly though, the former Revolution player scores goals–exactly what a striker is supposed to do.
It would be a boon to Clint who has also played his best up at top for Fulham FC. He would be free of the defensive responsibilities and tracking back that have fans questioning his desire in 2009.
Negatives: Deuce does not possess the speed or the single minded goal of getting to the net. Deuce also heads to the middle on his runs where other Galaxy stars like to frequent.
The Skinny: While TSG expects Deuce to get the nod up top, especially as both he and Altidore are the main US strikers overseas, the reality is Clint is at best, a forward, at worst, a decent wing halfback. Demps is at his best when he is linking in the middle and holding up play–this is the antithesis of exactly what Donovan needs ahead of him–namely someone to clear out.
Can the partnership work? Yes because Donovan more so than Demps is a dynamic player. That being said are we keen to see that pairing up top?
We’ll reserve judgment.
And a wildcard here, you may often see Donovan move up to the striking role if Dempsey can handle more of the wing half role. At least the USMNT gets some versatility.
Likelihood: Highly likely
Positives: Jozy possess the ability to both turn the corner and dish off the ball to a cutting Landon. Only 19, JZA may be at a much higher level come August 2010.
Negatives: JZA is not that mature yet with linking play quickly and controlling the ball. Also, wherever he drifts the opponent sends an extra defender who would be coming right into Landon’s operating space.
The Skinny: US fans got a preview of this in the final WCQ game against Costa Rica. Altidore sitting on top of Donovan and it didn’t look half bad. While JZA meandered around the pitch (not a terrible thing), Coach Bob’s though process it just perhaps to the put the States’ most pure and dynamic skill on one side. A lot of this will depend on whether Donovan and Altidore can develop a chemistry and JZA’s maturation as a player.
In this case, Dempsey or a target man, like Conor Casey moves to the right.
Likelihood: Nearly as likely as the Deuce in our opinion.
Group 2: Might Get a Look
Positives: Casey has shown a penchant for mixing in some finesse and strikability with his bang-around game. Despite being betrayed by his touch in RFK on October 14th, he possesses an admirable first touch.
Negatives: More suited to going up and receiving the ball, Casey does not possess the combination of speed with bull rushing that Davies did. CC has not shown a consistent ability at the national level to integrate himself into the side as evidenced by scoring in only one of his 16 USMNT appearances.
The Skinny: While Casey possesses a lot more player movement and on-ball abilities than he gets credit for, he is at best wildly inconsistent and at worst one dimensional. Shows a penchant for losing the ball on counterattacks (see Chicago, Honduras, June 6th) which is not a “skill” you want to have in front of Donovan. A quality reserve player in our mind. Not nearly ideal in front of Lando.
Likelihood: More likely than another brace in global competition.
Group 3: Only in a Pinch
Brian Ching, Kenny Cooper
The Skinny: Both players have heard the boo birds at the national team level. While Ching’s star seems to be fading with age, Cooper’s is at least holding steady due to his recent accomplishments overseas. Your better bet here is Cooper, but he seems most comfortable when being fed in a clear position to lash a shot. Cooper is more of a near-the box, not on-a-run sort of player.
Neither player, mind you, may make the World Cup flight. In fact, if you asked me right now, I would bet on that.
Likelihood: You Tell Me
Below this line, you’ve got players who have a world to prove if they hope to even get on the charter to World Cup 2010.
Group 5: Hey Coach, One More Shot?
Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe
The Skinny: All three players are, in some capacity, what we’d call “Diet Charlie Davies.”
EJ possesses the speed that had USMNT fans salivating for him to sub in during WC 2006. Alas, he didn’t bring the game instincts and consistency that merited more than just a late game cameo against Ghana in 2006. EJ, though, has been an afterthought at Fulham and continues to fight for pitch time outside of the reserves.
The Renewed Freddy Adu, as TSG has dubbed him, brings the dynamic creativity that had Chuck Deezy celebrating stanky leg style. Unfortunately, he’s not truly a striker, doesn’t bring the same pace and worse he gets knocked off the ball more easily than Schevchenko in the EPL.
As for Adu, a cameo on his home continent may be in the offing, but we’d recommend the youngster belt on a few lbs of muscle and truly set the Iberian penninsula on fire with his play over the next 6 months.
Rolfe was a January 2009 camp call-in by BB after having subbed in during the earlier rounds of qualifying however he failed to distinguish himself. It’s a shame for Rolfe that the Denmark friendly is not a few months later as Rolfe accepted a transfer to Danish club AaB Aalborg during the January 2010 window.
Another potential member of this group? Real Salt Lake speedster Robbie Findley.
Likelihood: Count on at least one of these players getting another look over the next few months
Group 6: You Look Surprised to See Me?
The Skinny: Let’s just cut to the chase immediately here.
The mercurial Cunningham, who is everyone’s favorite name du jour, has been here before. The Dallas striker capped for the USMNT ten times between 2001 and 2005.
At 33-years-old, having worn out his welcome at numerous stops, and with a steady diet of MLS defenses for the past 10 years, do we really expect Cunningham to be an impact player on the world scene?
TSG says no. Cunningham will get a look and may be a reserve if all the dominos topple the right way, but our magic 8-ball doesn’t have the best things to say here.
Likelihood: Cloudy with a chance of Cunningham, you bet
Group 7: Are You Dribbling a #3 ball?! Are Those Diapers You’re Wearing?
Marcus Tracy, Preston Zimmerman
The Skinny: This is something straight out of the Soccer National Enquirer, but if Bob Bradley wanted to go the way of then England coach Sven Goran Eriksson circa 2006 (Theo Walcott), he could take a flier on a USMNT U-something player. Maybe Coach B can catch another Charlies Davies’s lightening strike in a bottle?
Other possible take-a-looks from the junior corps include: Gabriel Ferrari and Jeremiah White–White is playing with USMNT super sub Benny Feilhaber on AGF in Denmark right now. It would be worth it for Bob Bradley just deal one of the youngsters into a friendly as wild card in case maybe, just maybe.
Likelihood: Depends on how much BB wants to travel
—– Below this line….forget about it—–
Group 8: Umm….It’s Not Ringing
Brek Shea, Edson Buddle
The Skinny: Let’s just move on.
Likelihood: Let’s just move on.
Group 9: You Stinking Traitor
The Skinny: Sadly enough, yes, the absolute best American-born option to inhabit Davies striker role is none other than…curses…the New Jersey born Rossi who now suits up for the Azurri.
Most will remember Rossi for his June brace that led Italy back against the Yanks in the Confed Cup. Rossi’s ability to blast shots from afar only contributes to his ability to take his defenders 1-on-1. As well, he plays on the left side already.
Group 10: Back to the Future
The Skinny: While long-time fans might pine for a cameo to get Mr. McBride back on the national team pitch, the former Craven Cottage standout is just that….former.
Likelihood: Got a DeLorean?
Sure, where there are a few players we maybe missed along the way–Chad Barrett, Adam Christman or maybe even a Chris Pontius–but the reality is Bob Bradley is a creature of repetitions, veteran play and earning your chances once squad worthy. So once you get past, say, Group 3 above, you’re really talking about some long odds in even any of those strikers meriting consideration with just 10 months to go.
Bob Bradley real inner debate will probably stem more from the following question:
Who is in form and raised their game among the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and, yes, Conor Casey and how do I structure an offense ahead of Landon and the midfield that suits my team.
In RFK you saw a glimpse of what Bradley was thinking and if tomorrow were the early weeks of August 2010 you’d probably see it again: Moving Altidore around to create match-ups up top and space on the opposite wing for Donovan with Dempsey, not Casey, most likely to slot into that role.
This strategy will rely on Clint bringing his Fulham form to the natties and just as importantly Jozy’s development as a player.
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