Will Injuries Challenge Coach USA’s Plan?

The USMNT friendlies are just over two weeks away….and once against TSG is already super stoked…and thinking about them.

chad m

How's the knee Big Guy?

Going into the matches against Slovakia and Denmark (and concurrently the Netherlands match in March next year) Bob Bradley will have a modicum of line-up questions to answer brought on by injuries to the first line, many questions that the  fanbase is already all too familiar with, like:

♦ Where do I integrate Clint Dempsey back into the team now that he’s fit?

♦ Who is Charlie Davies’ starting eleven replacement? Is that where I slot the Deuce back in?

♦ I’ve got Jay DeMerit still living in a dark room and Gooch hobbling, who am I slotting in next to Boca? Do I take Chad Marshall away Warzycha with the MLS championship coming the next week–is Marshall even fit enough? Do I bring over Conrad who’s golfing? Clarence, Danny and Parkhurst are all in the area, should they be in the 18?

While all of these are very fitting questions for where the USMNT is right now; these are most likely not the questions that Coach B wanted to be asking this late before the World Cup next August.

More important for Coach Bradley than the question of “Who fills the void in central defense for the next 6 months or longer?” is the puzzle of “When will I have my top 11 together so I can start building chemistry and movement?”

A retracing of the lead up to World Cup 2006 cements just how critical that 2nd question is.

The US played a cream puff schedule of friendlies for the most part before the tourney with Coach Bruce Arena trying out multiple line-up permutations (after doing some digging I didn’t see one line-up where all eleven players were precisely the same as another…can you believe that?) in advance of heading to Germany.

The results?

• An embarrassing group stage exit with no wins in three games that we all remember all too well.

• A 4-5-1 line-up that showed zero ability to attack outside of 1-on-1 play because players weren’t familiar with one another.

• A whole the size of Nebraska in the midfield when John O’Brien couldn’t go after the first game loss to the Czechs

Do you know how many friendlies that Claudio Reyna played with O’Brien or back-up Pablo Mastroeni? Two. Just two out of 11. Can you believe that?

Reyna: "What?! What?! Me and Red only played one friendly together before this mess."

Those results many believe were in part the outgrowth of Arena using the USMNT international friendlies to figure out his best players at each position, not the best line-up of players as a whole and giving them time to mesh.

Coach Bradley–fans should be thankful–didn’t want to make that mistake. His very static and conservative line-up selections (while sometimes frustrating) and his mantra of “playing people who are fit and playing for their club team” speak to a recognition of the challenges of lack of familiarity.

Alas the recent injuries force him into the very predicament that was to be avoided.

Further, in the case of the central defense, what does Coach B do when Jay DeMerit and–presumably after a lengthier hiatus–Oguchi Onyewu come back? Does he try to slot them in and recapture the chemistry or does he go–as he did through qualifying–with those who are playing?

The return of players, nearly as much as their injuries, is sure to be disruptive.

Not the types of decisions that Bradley wanted to be making at this juncture. So, while TSG is not prone to issuing proclamations, consider these challenge when you’re evaluating the US performances leading up to and into the World Cup.

Oh and by the way, if you’re so inclined take a look at all the different central defender permutations that were going on in the lead-up to Cup 2006–you’d be amazed.

25 responses to this post.

  1. The US didn’t lose all 3 matches in 2006. The US drew with Italy, 1-1 (I always tell people that the US was the only team that Italy couldn’t beat in the tourney). I was wondering if Edu could play center back? I seem to remember him playing the position in the olympics. Am I smoking something?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 7:42 AM

      Matt — thanks for pointing out the error in the piece. Meant to write no wins…thanks to Bobby Convey field goal attempt from 10 yards.

      On Edu (or even Jermaine Jones playing that position) I think the overarching point of the piece is it’s not one isolated player. It’s have that core group of players together for many reps.


    • Posted by Brad on 2009/10/29 at 3:04 PM

      Hahaha yes! Does anyone remember the Colbert Report right after Italy won the final? He was like “congratulations to this year’s World Cup champions…. the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!!” There was red white and blue confetti and balloons and then he went on about how obviously we are co-champions since we tied Italy and are obviously equal to them, and he ended with “and of course this was all made by possible by Italy accidentally kicking the ball into their own net.” It was hilarious.


  2. Posted by dallen on 2009/10/29 at 8:20 AM

    We don’t have time to try to be creative with Edu, imo.

    Our depth:

    In the event that Gooch and DeMerit don’t make it back, I’d go:

    And pray none of them go down.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 8:32 AM

      Dallen: in regards to “we don’t have time to be creative with Edu” — while he’s played with the midfield (and defense at the Olympics) that’s the point of the piece — we don’t have time.

      I think once line-ups are trotted out you realize that BB has quite a dilemma on his hands — the USMNT doesn’t have a ton of depth at the highest quality levels and compounded with injuries now how much time do you investigate which replacement players vs. driving a chemistry.

      Not to make this a human interest piece, but I feel for BB’s predicament — he’s done a capable job of slowing introducing new players (Davies, Holden, even Bornstein sort of) while keeping together continuity — now his steady as she goes approach will be tested because of things outside of his control.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 8:33 AM

        @Dallen: Oh — and I have to look at this Gonzalez kid — is he really that good and World Cup worthy already?

        I’m categorically not in the camp of Danny Califf at this point.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/31 at 1:02 PM

      Who exactly do you mean by Cameron? Do you mean Geoff Cameron? If you do than I know I’m not the only one that thinks he could step up and play CB.


  3. Posted by dallen on 2009/10/29 at 9:14 AM

    I listed them top to bottom in terms of readiness to step in with the established group so I’m no fan of Califf either.

    Gonzalez has the tools and I think will be one of our cb’s in 2014, but he is nowhere near ready for next summer. I like what I’ve seen of him in MLS and in the friendlies against Milan and Barca this summer. An inch taller than big Gooch, strong and surprisingly nimble for a big man with the ball at his feet. Still pretty raw and needs to work on positioning. I should qualify all this by saying I’ve only watched about 5 or 6 Galaxy games this year and all of those on tv.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 12:55 PM

      @Dallen — that’s more than me on Gonzalez — I have to check this guy out — I think along with goalies the USMNT is going to be set at central defense for a very long time.


  4. I’m wondering how many of those 11 friendlies that Claudio Reyna missed because of injury? I know he was out for at least 2 months with a broken ankle around that time. I really do like the point you are making, though, and I agree that Arena tried to do too much tweaking with the lineup prior to the cup. It would be optimal for Bradley to find the lineup he likes best early and allow that group of guys to play together in several friendlies before heading to the World Cup finals. The fact that the injuries came to two of our most irreplaceable players is pretty frustrating as well. I have to say that I’ve been impressed with Coach Bradley’s willingness to move players around to find the position that suits them best. He tried it with DeMarcus Beasley with not-so-good results and he tried it with Landon Donovan with great success. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind if Coach Bradley wanted to try Donovan at central-attacking mid, moved Bradley Jr to defensive central mid, and gave Torres or Rogers the chance to show what they have at left wing. Meanwhile, try Dempsey at forward and Holden on the right. I think that move could be pretty potent, although it’s a pretty big shake-up to our optimal lineup. The loss of Gooch is pretty big, but I trust DeMerit to be able to step in once he’s healthy. I think Marshall could slide in there as well… I don’t really like our other options nearly as much though. Man am I itching for some USMNT soccer.


    • Posted by brian on 2009/10/29 at 10:53 AM

      Dempsey could fill in at forward depending on the matchup, but he won’t replace Chuck deezy’s pace (rhyme unintentional). Bornstein scares me on the wings. The November friendlies will probably be missing a lot of domestic players. I would like them to link together more passes and see if Holden can get involved down the right flank whipping in quality crosses. We just have to hope that everyone else is healthy and in form next June, and if we get a decent draw this team has a good chance to make the final 16.


      • Yeah, my comment was assuming that CD9 is unable to get back into shape in time for the World Cup. Our other “pace” options at forward are pretty poor, in my opinion. Donovan is an option up there, but I like him so much better in the midfield. He gets so many more touches in the midfield, which increases his chances to make plays, plus he has a tendancy to wander back into the midfield if he is not getting enough service at forward, which lessens our chances to attack and stretch the defense. It’s also a nice luxury having his defense in the midfield. I also worry about Bornstein… mostly because of his mental errors, but the last several starts for him have been more positive than negative and I’m hoping he’s learning to lessen those mental errors as he gains experience.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 1:01 PM


          You almost…almost had me with Donovan at CAM, but then I remembered ’06 due to this piece and the challenge with Donovan in the middle is it’s just too much traffic for him to get through.

          I mean, I know he can float, but then you have both he and Dempsey doing that.

          I like how you got Torres or even Rogers (who really reminds me of a young Deuce (without the 1-on-1 attackability, but with more vertical speed and power.) on to the field.
          It’s hard not to want to see more of Torres after RFK.

          I’ll have given Donovan up there more consideration, but I just really like him at LH right now for his ability to dart inside and get a foul or unleash a shot with less opponents to go through.


  5. I hope Chuck Deezy is lying on a metal table with about 1 million acupuncture needles sticking out of him just like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, getting electro-pulsed right back into fitness just in time for him to hear Bob Bradley’s big theatrical voice to say “Welcome to the World Cup”.

    Speaking of chemistry, I reckon the few weeks together before the World Cup is enough time for a centre-back partnership that’s logged serious minutes together to be alright. Boca/Onyewu and Onyewu/DeMerit are no worries. If a DeMerit/Bocanegra gets some minutes to gel in the spring, that’s a good thing. Whichever couple players he chooses to fill in at CB in the upcoming friendlies is auditioning for the 4th CB slot on the roster.

    I think we’ll see Bob continue to let the team evolve, seeing how various players might slot in, rather than putting it through any kind of radical overhaul. Edu and Jones won’t be involved in November but will get their shot once the year ticks over. We may see some of the Euro-based outsiders that weren’t involved in the Gold Cup or get an audition. I hope he calls in Eric Lichaj in from Villa to see what he’s got to offer after a solid start to his month-long loan. Maybe Castillo?

    Otherwise, I just want to see some players that have played lesser roles throughout qualifying give a chance to show off what they can do in a starting role. Let’s give Kenny Cooper a start up front along with Torres in central Midfield.

    Maybe try one of those crazy 4-3-2-1 type formations we’ve been going on about that proved highly effective vs. Denmark on the PS3. Strangely, on PS3, the formation marginalized Clint Dempsey somewhat but had Torres (sandwiched between Bradley & Jones in midfield) declared Man of the Match with a 10 rating. We’re not going back to the birth of modern football and playing the WM and we probably won’t see a 3-5-2 so we’ll be seeing 4 at the back but we can argue a lot about how to arrange the remaining 6 players (4-2-3-1, 4-1-3-2, 4-3-1-2, 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-2-2-2, 4-6-0)


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 1:12 PM

      I need to watch Lichaj — haven’t seen him. What are his attributes?

      It does take shorter for the central defense partnership to gel, but honestly I don’t think there has been good communication with the central defender and their paired wing fullback. Gooch and Spector (if that is the combo) certainly need more time ironing that out.

      They were off in El Sal, both Honduras games and against T&T — somehow they are going to need to work on that.

      You were able to get Jones over the US on Fifa ’10?
      That would be cool.


      • Young player who’s been with Villa for 4 years and come up through their academy to be on the edge of the first team. He impressed against Porto and Juventus during Villa’s preseason, playing left and right back in those games respectively. A season long loan was rejected over the summer because he’s in their plans for the near-term but reports indicate he had an impressive debut on his month-long loan-move to Lincoln. If he’s seeing first team minutes at a potential top 4 premiership side by seasons end, I think he deserves serious consideration.

        Jones is eligible for the US side on Fifa ’10, so I went ahead and added him to the national team setup. He’s 1 point higher than M. Bradley overall, but 8 points higher than Clark. Had the 4-3-2-1 set up so Dempsey was tucking inside from the right, with Dolo bombing up the wing. Spector was on the left tucking in while the center backs slid over. Donovan was set out wide on the left – sort of half 4-3-2-1, half more expansive 4-3-3.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/29 at 3:01 PM

          You know, I’ve always heard the name, but he wasn’t on my Americans radar….until now.

          Didn’t know he played the full 90 against Juventus in the Peace Cup final that Guzan dominated. Check out his player rating here: http://www.villatalk.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=4045

          I like everything I’ve read about the kid….best being that he’s a midfielder who plays a lot of outside fullback and gets up the pitch on offense…say what?!

          Now I want to know how John Thorrington and Cory Gibbs made Jan camp last year and this kid didn’t. Hopefully he’ll be in line for invites this year.


  6. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/10/29 at 7:43 PM

    If I was Bob i would call up Brek Shea, Robbie Findley, and. . .Dilly Duka yes that’s right I said Dilly Duka. He can play everythin from Holding Mid to Supporting Striker


  7. Ummmm… did you see Brek Shea at all in the U-20 games? He was terrible. That was against 20-year-olds… he’d get destroyed at the next level. Unfortunately, so would Duka. I think either could factor into the mix during the next World Cup if they both improve, but no way should they be anywhere near the 2010 WC.


    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/10/30 at 6:58 PM

      The Brek Shea thing was a joke that goes back to previous posts. But I honestly and irationally believe Dilly Duka is the second coming of Diego Marshavin


  8. Posted by Shane on 2009/10/31 at 10:54 AM

    I think people are putting to much into the chemistry, or lack of time to Gel..
    Edu should be match fit soon. If Rangers have him in the starting XI for the remainder of this season, and if he is on good form we would be fools not to use him.. I think playing time should factor into the starting XI, We have to many good players not playing in Europe, yet they still start for the nats…

    I do agree with looking at Findley, dude has pace and thats what we need up front.. if he dedicated everything from now to 2010 to makeing himself better that would be awesome..

    Jeff Cunningham over Conor Casey!! Casey is infected with double LL syndrom (Lazy, Lucky) doesnt play defence at all just barrels into people.. I think Cunningham would be a better striker from the MLS..

    And lastly. Am I the only guy that thinks Brad Davis from Houston is extremley underrated… Dudes got skills on the left side, deadly on set pieces.. Give him a shot too..


  9. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/31 at 11:28 AM


    Agree on Findley — he should get a look.

    I also agree that Brad Davis should get a look against higher competition.

    On the main point of my post, I don’t think enough people actually take into account chemistry.

    You only need to look at the empirical data around the World Cup shortcomings in 1998 and 2006 to realize that having the starting XI on the pitch together, having them playing at their clubs as you point out, and developing chemistry is of utmost importance.


  10. Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/31 at 12:59 PM

    I agree on a couple of things. Davis SHOULD get a look at higher level competition, but I’m not sure he can. Starting to look at Findley a little bit more now. My question is this will Iceman be missing from MLS Cup playoffs on nat duty? I don’t really wan’t three starters on my team gone during the playoffs. That would just suck.


  11. Posted by Shane on 2009/10/31 at 11:36 PM

    Chemistry is important no doubt..
    But I feel like we need some depth at Roster..


  12. […] We’ve been following Lichaj for about 3 months now since stellar column contributor Ryan put him on his depth chart way back when–see the comments section here. […]


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